Reconciling Calls in D.C. For Vice Squads With Black Lives Matter

Last week, the president of the D.C. Logan Circle area Area Neighborhood Council (‘ANC’), in response to an increase in murders, called for the reinstitution of vice squads. I had some doubts:

This works, until an innocent yet somehow suspicious young black man is shot while minding his own business. This might lower crime, but it also can lead to some real abuses. When you tell the police to look for trouble, they usually find it, sometimes even if it’s not really there….

This plan… will lead to confrontations between police and citizens (that’s the point). Unless the D.C. police department is unlike any other department, some of these stops and arrests will escalate over something trivial. I could easily see someone losing his cool after being stopped for public urination or some other minor infraction (not that I approve), and things then spiraling out of control.

…the proposed zero tolerance approach tends to lead to confrontation, which inevitably will lead to improper arrests (at best). It also might delegitimze the police, since these stops will often be discretionary–which is to say arbitrary.

We can’t claim Black lives matter, and then call for strict policing proposals that suggest maybe they don’t matter so much

Given that, not that long ago, there was concern about police ‘jump outs’ in D.C., it seems popular opinion might have swung the other way, so we are willing to target young black men. Of course, the intersection of “we” and “young black men” might not be that large (and it’s worth noting that, as best as I can tell, the entire Logan Circle ANC is white, all eight of them).

Council Member Brianne Nadeau seems to share some of the same concerns:

I have recently been asked to weigh in on proposals to temporarily bring back the MPD Vice Squad, also known as “jump out squads.” The practices employed by them, which involves officers pulling up to a location and arresting a group of people, have been retired by MPD, and have been widely criticized. I cannot support these proposals, and I do not think they help us achieve the long term, sustained outcome we truly want for the District. When violence and drug activity were at their worst, what made the biggest difference was residents partnering with MPD, taking back their blocks and being part of the solution.

As D.C. becomes more white and less black, I fear that stricter policing–which will lead to increased arrests, justified and unjustified–will become more popular. At the same time, I’m sure some of the people proposing this insist they are nothing like those other communities with problematic policing.

Fear knows no boundaries apparently.

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