‘The New York Times’ Reviews 3 New Books That Discuss How to Confront and Reform Racist Policing

Dallas Police Chief David Brown at a prayer vigil for five officers killed by a sniper, July 8, 2016. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images North America)

A Life in Faithful Service to the Community That Made Me
By David O. Brown with Michelle Burford
Illustrated. 255 pp. Ballantine Books. $28.

Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment
Edited by Angela J. Davis
321 pp. Pantheon Books. $27.95.

Policing Black Men
By Paul Butler
Illustrated. 304 pp. The New Press. $26.95.

Black people have never been truly safe in America. Police brutality and the use of excessive force have been enduring features of our history. Today social media has allowed us to make our collective vulnerability newly visible to the general public. Not since the civil rights era, when images of police officers beating peaceful protesters made the nightly news, have we engaged in this level of national conversation about racial inequality. With formal segregation behind us, the racism that pervades our society has pooled in the criminal justice and law enforcement strategies that developed in the wake of Jim Crow. We police black and brown citizens and lock them in cages like no other country in the world.

Three new books lay out an alternative path. In “Called to Rise,” by the former Dallas police chief David O. Brown, we learn how a black law enforcement officer ascended the ranks and reformed the department, helping to make the entire city safer. “Policing the Black Man,” edited by the activist and law professor Angela J. Davis, brings together 11 essays from scholars and criminal justice practitioners who offer forward-thinking policy suggestions. And in the most readable and provocative account of the consequences of the war on drugs since Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow,” the law professor and former federal prosecutor Paul Butler argues that our society must be completely remade in “Chokehold: Policing Black Men.”

Brown, who is best known for his handling of the shooting deaths of five Dallas police officers by a sniper in July 2016, believes “we will make progress only when we set aside our assumptions and really start listening to each other.” He admits he didn’t always think this way. When Brown was a patrol officer in the 1980s, he ascribed to the dominant approach: “Put the criminals in jail, and let God sort them out.” In the 1990s, the Dallas police chief at the time assigned Brown to a community policing program. Brown had been “a cop who gloried in locking away villains,” but his “instincts had slowly shifted,” and he began to see the value in having police officers “connect with the people they served.”

In 2010, Brown became police chief, and he had his officers go door-to-door to meet the people they were charged with protecting, attending homeowners association meetings and block parties, hosting basketball games and offering counseling sessions at local schools. (He also lost his 27-year-old son that year, to police gunfire. His son, who had bipolar disorder, was killed after fatally shooting a bystander and a police officer.) Brown’s approach, based not on arrest numbers but on police-community engagement, led to a historic decline in Dallas’s crime rate between 2010 and 2015. Brown retired in 2016, after he noticed an uptick in the crime rate, which he attributes to budget cuts that led to staffing shortages.

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SOURCE: The New York Times
Elizabeth Hinton