Violence, although not always necessary, has become a ubiquitous force in the United States. Police brutality and shootings have become a major issue in our society, and oftentimes, violence is used unnecessarily in these cases. Police officers commonly argue that violence is used out of defense, when in reality these officers were never the victims of these situations. It is not difficult to pinpoint the reason for why police officers feel the ability to commit these acts of violence. They are given guns to brandish as they please and with minimal consequence.
The issue of police shootings goes hand in hand with school shootings and other general gun violence. But the difference is that the role of a police officer in society is that of a protector, yet in these instances, they are doing quite the opposite. According to the Washington Post, there were 994 people shot and killed by police officers in 2015. Since then, there have been nearly 1000 shootings by police officers each year. Although some of these cases may truly be defensive and arguably “defensive,” there are other ways to calm a situation so that it does not escalate to death.
When I was young, I attended a Unitarian Universalist church. I was a reluctant attendant, but every so often I tried my best to listen to the sermon that was given to the congregation. On one particular day, I recall the cushion on top of the pew under me was no match for the hard wood of the pew itself. I sat next to my mother, gazing up at the colorful stained glass windows. The images in the glass depicted biblical scenes, even though this was not a Christian church, and I was never taught about the bible. For me, church was not a tool used to teach about religious beliefs, but more so about values. On this particular day, our minister spoke with sadness in his voice. As he paced up and down the stained red carpet aisle, his signature beige suit creasing as he walked. He was talking about a recent tragic event. People died. I didn’t know the weight of what that meant. But the point of the sermon was that violence is not necessary to win battles. Our minister took a moment and pointed to the place where Martin Luther King Jr. had stood and preached in our church. A golden plaque hung there, commemorating. He had preached about nonviolence, just as our minister reiterated to us decades later.
In New Haven, Connecticut, a police recruitment center teaches a nonviolent philosophy to its recruits, created by civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. The philosophy has several principles that define it, the first being, “Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people: It is a positive force confronting the forces of injustice, and utilizes the righteous indignation of the spiritual, emotional and intellectual capabilities of people was the vital force for change and reconciliation.” By saying that “nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people” implies that it is easier to use violence than nonviolence. This practice not only shows that there are alternatives to using violence, but it provides hope that people will see that violence is overused, especially by police officers. This concept of reconciliation through nonviolence is essential to moving in a positive, more fair, society, where police fill their designated role correctly.
Nonviolence doesn’t always work, but neither does violence. The true role of a police officer is to keep people safe, and by using violence unnecessarily, they violate the description of their role. Rather than being trained in how to operate a gun, police officers should be trained in nonviolent methods of communication and conflict resolution, so that the number of deaths from gun violence we see and hear about goes down to zero.