As the incidents in Charlottesville recently showed us, our country is dealing with more and more heated racial tensions. As a result, law enforcement must appropriately do its job and protect individuals when there are public demonstrations.
Charlottesville was a sad example of what happens when various offices and agencies don't work together effectively. The mayor, city council, police chief and even the governor's office have all said more could have been done, but it's not really their fault. Municipalities must be prepared for future public demonstrations, because these events will continue happening, and law enforcement and the government officials must be better prepared and learn from the lessons of Charlottesville.
The best preparation for future protests begins with an improvement of the relationship between the police and the communities they serve. Whether it's Charlottesville or Baltimore or Charleston or Ferguson, there is a dire need to have community re-engagement between local citizens and officials nationwide. Communities and its citizens need to work together and not against one another.
Beyond that, important lessons must be learned and adopted regarding policing of potentially violent protest events. In Charlottesville, the white nationalist rally-goers and the counter-protesters agreed on one point: the police did not do enough to prevent the violence as the crowds grew and tensions flared. Critics say both Charlottesville Police and Virginia State Police stood on the sidelines as skirmishes erupted between the white nationalists and the leftists who had gathered. The two groups confronted each other with shields and pepper spray.
It wasn't until police declared the rally an "unlawful assembly" and Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency that police ordered the gathering to break up and scattered the crowds throughout the city.
But the police did not actually break up the crowds. As a result tensions escalated from opposing voices and protesters and spilled over as the march broke up.
Police were outnumbered and inexperienced in what occurred in Charlottesville. And this can occur anywhere unless law enforcement is better prepared for these kinds of demonstrations and events in the future.
It's true that bigger cities like New York or Washington D.C. have more experience in these kinds of confrontations, and may have handled things differently. That said, every municipality and city and town around the country needs to learn from what occurred in Charlottesville and ask themselves some tough questions on whether they are prepared and if not what do they need to do to make sure they are.
Law enforcement needs to approach such situations with a clear plan that discourages confrontation and does not rely on hopes that eventually both sides will simply disperse. Any strategy that relies on hopes instead of planning and action merely asks for trouble.
History teaches us to learn from our mistakes. Let's hope that other cities in America and their police leadership took note of what occurred in Charlottesville, so that we are better prepared when future protests and demonstration occur among multiple groups. Law enforcement must do everything it can to protect the public and keep us safe.
Derrick Parks is CEO of Metropolitan Protective Services Inc.
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