THE BLOG
12/23/2014 11:55 am ET Updated Feb 22, 2015

A Fixable Problem for Our Society

There is no society that can survive without the rule of law, and the danger to the rule of law comes just as much through no cops at all as it does from bad cops. The answer to America's woes is not an actual or psychological war against all cops because of the criminals among them. From the point of view of conflict analysis and resolution, a field of study and practice that thousands of us are engaged in, polarizing approaches to human conflict only make matters worse, not better. Protests against injustice are good, healthy, the essence of democracy and empowerment. But demonization in those protests is dangerous from whatever motive. This is a consistent pattern and empirical reality around the planet.

Time and again societies go through an endless action/reaction spiral of conflict, in this case of excessive toughness on crime and then softness on crime, an excessive trust in brute force, and then a total loss of trust in authority, such as in the '60s. Neither extreme helps save lives or bring peace, safety, security and justice.

In order to seek justice and restore public confidence in the rule of law, it is essential that the federal and state authorities begin to vigorously pursue bad cops and insist on severe penalties for excessive force. But this punitive measure will not be enough, and may worsen the backlash of force by police. The fact is that most cops do not commit these crimes, but everyone, from cops to unions to white citizens, begin to close ranks and prevent justice from unfolding. Justice only works when it works for individuals, when it separates the good from the bad for every constituency of society, including the police.

Community policing needs to be restored to its pre-9/11 commitments. Counterterrorism influences on policing must be scaled back dramatically, especially the corrupting influence of military and counterterrorism training with its absurd technical firepower, and shoot to kill orders. The emphasis must go back to community/police collaboration, a far more sure way to conduct both normal policing and counter-terrorism, from everything we have seen globally.

Another crucial point. Excessive use of deadly force by the police is coming at exactly the same time as the unprecedented use of deadly force with guns by American citizens upon other citizens. This is no accident. The hair trigger tendency of brute force by police cannot be separated from the reality that they are facing an absurdly armed American community due to the corruption of the American gun lobby.

The fact that the police tend to use excessive force on the unarmed and on minorities is not a surprising response to their own fears from our analysis of global violence in history. Displaced fear on the innocent is a typical response to excessive and humiliating fear.

I remember not long after 9/11 pulling to the side of the road on a darkened street of Washington, DC, simply to check my email. A police car pulled up behind me, flashing its lights blindingly. The policeman came to my window, started yelling at me, his voice shaking, he was clearly distraught and frightened to death of me and my dangerous cell phone.

We have to acknowledge that these fears have a deadly effect on untrained police and they go into automatic forms of excessive force or anger. Another necessary step toward safety and justice consequently is that the police themselves must feel safer on the streets of America, and that can only happen with training but also a vigorous push back against the gun lobby.

Many police have shown great skill in methods of conflict prevention and management. I have interviewed a number of them over the years, and there is much intuitive intelligence on this among them. But the system is not in place to insist on this approach, nor is there a system in place to train and test all police on these skills.

No one should be carrying a gun in a civilized society who has not passed tests on conflict prevention and management skills for crisis moments. There are a growing number of conflict resolution experts around the world who have advised military personnel. But the home front is now facing the greatest danger from polarized thinking, demonizations and counter-demonizations, an unwillingness to expose, fire and prosecute bad apples, and a lack of awareness of the need for conflict prevention and management skills for anyone holding a gun. This is a fixable problem for our society, and we need the fixes to be put into place now.