Dear Sheriff Jim DeWees,
Dr. Natasha C. Pratt-Harris
I sympathize with you and every member of the law enforcement community. It’s been one week since we lost two of Maryland’s heroes and Harford County Sheriffs – Senior Deputy Patrick Dailey and Senior Deputy Mark Logsdon. Their service to the people of Harford County and their losing their lives and likely saving the lives of many is immeasurable. One cannot perceive the threat that David Brian Evans (the deceased gunman) posed to the community and to his estranged family in Harford County. Both men will always be remembered for their service, their relationships with their families and friends, losing their lives while in the line of duty, and saving countless lives.
As a criminal justice professor, I teach aspiring law enforcement professionals. One of the truths that is taught in the classroom is the imminent danger law enforcement professionals are faced with every hour of the day, every minute of their shift, and every second of their posts. The average person will likely never understand the worry that a family may have about their loved one, a law enforcement professional.
My immediate response to your open letter to President Barack Obama was one of understanding. I understand, like many, your heart is crushed that we lost two of Harford County’s, and our country’s, finest. You expect, like many, that everyone is mourning their loss, and understand the vital role they played. You expect that, like Governor Larry Hogan, President Obama makes a public statement and acknowledges the deaths of Dailey, Logsdon, Moszer, Barney, Geer, Ballantyne, Goodding, and Conrad, all officers killed within an eight day period in the U.S., and Barney and Cottrell killed earlier in 2016. Your letter helped to shed light on the humanity that is policing.
I have studied and taught the discipline of criminology/ criminal justice for nearly 25 years. Nearly four decades of policing has been shaped and prodded by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush, William Clinton, and George W. Bush. From President Reagan’s War on Drugs, to President Nixon’s War on Drugs, to the get tough on crime policies, and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 have solidified policing from one that has a top down approach to one with a bottom up approach. The top-down approach targets the most serious offenders, while bottom-up policing targets the least serious offenders. We are all vulnerable to this style of policing.
In your open letter you wrote about unarmed men, women, and children who have been killed by law enforcement. Your letter sheds light on the common fears that members of the law enforcement community share with many in the inner city and men, women, and children of color. These groups have been characterized by unnecessary contact with law enforcement because of the wide array of discretion given to law enforcement. These groups also live in fear of gun violence that plagues whole communities. Many will not understand the fear that the community, parents, and individuals have about their loved ones losing their lives.
I encourage you to read books like Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” Alexander’s book sheds light on why Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Yvette Smith, Shereese Francis, LaTanya Haggerty, Kendra James, Aiyana James and hundreds of other unarmed persons have been killed by law enforcement professionals and the relationship between their deaths and the War on Drugs. I also recommend “The Beastside: Living and Dying While Black in America” by D. Watkins and the “Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America” by Jill Leovy. Both books shed light on the fear and reality of lives lost in inner city communities and the significance played on solving these crimes.
Like you, I feel strongly about President Obama’s response to issues. I strongly encourage you to write President Obama another open letter in support of gun control. President Obama’s gun control stance will speak volumes to why we need to make certain that persons like David Brian Evans, who evaded the police for nearly 20 years after shooting his ex-wife, should never have had access to a firearm in any state in the United States. We all can do our part to make this world a safer place for everyone.
Dr. Natasha C. Pratt-Harris is an associate professor and coordinator of the Criminal Justice program in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology with Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD.