Washington, D.C. Council member David Grosso wants to “have a conversation” about how to change policing practices and relationships with the citizenry within the District, though it seems all anyone hears is that he wants to ban police officers from carrying guns.
First things first: D.C. Council member David Grosso would like to assure you he has no plans to introduce a bill banning police officers in the District from carrying guns.
But Grosso’s offhand comments, aired at a Wednesday night D.C. Council hearing on policing practices, have certainly stirred up the conversation he says he wanted to start.
“My staff won’t let me tell you that I think we ought to get rid of guns in this city, and that police shouldn’t have guns, so I’m not going to tell you that,” he said at Howard University to a smattering of applause. “I think we have to reimagine the way that we relate to one another, across the board, and that includes [the D.C. police department].”
“I’m not introducing any legislation,” Grosso (I-At Large) said in a Thursday phone interview. “I’m just trying to have a conversation beyond the knee jerk of what people say all the time.”
That means, he said, challenging the orthodoxy of assuming that all cops need to carry firearms at all times: “When you have a gun, it changes the dynamic completely. If we had a police force that could be trained to de-escalate situations without a gun like in other countries, I think we’d be in a better place. … Call me a radical, but I’m trying to change things in our city.”
Frankly, firearms aren’t remotely the issue, and Mr. Grosso doesn’t seem to have the ability to communicate his intentions very well.
The citizenry isn’t getting upset with law enforcement because they carry firearms. The citizenry is upset with the tactics, attitudes, and seemingly corrupt judicial justification of some law enforcement actions where firearms have been deployed.
It appears to the public that somewhere along the line, law enforcement tactics seemed to shift to a mode where officers became quicker to draw their weapons, and quicker to fire their weapons. Worse, the perception is that the agencies themselves, prosecutors, and the courts have largely decided that they’re going to give officers a great degree of latitude to employ force, without the public appearance of adequate and equitable oversight.
I’m emphasizing that phrase, because that is the real problem. That is what we’re seeing in Ferguson, Missouri, and Beavercreek, Ohio, and any number of other incidents across the Republic.
The public is ready and willing to listen to law enforcement explain why the use of force in a given incident was necessary.
Unfortunately, it now appears to the laity that when a questionable use of force does occur, that the agency collapses around the officer or officers involved in a bristling and rhetorically combative defensive posture. The public feels that prosecutors are on the side of and perhaps too close to law enforcement to be impartial, and often feel that the judicial system is similarly compromised.
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Perception is important in the dispensation of justice, and there have been so many highly publicized and questionable incidents so poorly explained and justified that many citizens have lost faith in the ability of our current system to fairly dispense justice.
Merely stripping law enforcement of firearms—which Grosso says he isn’t really proposing—isn’t going to remotely solve the real issues of training and trust.
There are much deeper issues involved, and unfortunately, no one in positions of power seems to want to have a conversation on how to address those issues.
While Mr. Grosso very poorly articulated his desire to change how the police interact with the public, at least he’s willing to think about reversing a troubling dynamic. That’s more than we can say for most elected officials.