In the 90s, I was teaching English at a poorly performing high school in a dangerous section of Brooklyn. We were one of the few schools in the city to have a metal detector program. Students would have to pass through a single door where they would be greeted by the district’s metal detector wand-waving team. The system had some big problems. First, it made the school feel like a prison when it should have felt like one of the few safe places in these kids’ lives. Second, it only took place once a week and on that day, arriving students would see a row of marked vans parked in front of the school’s entrance. Anyone who wanted to bring a weapon to school just had to bring it on one of the other four days of the week. And third, the system, like so many others these kids encountered, was inherently racist. All the students in the school were Black and each had to pass through those metal detectors, even the honor students who had exhibited years of excellent behavior. As a white teacher, I could walk right around the metal detection system on my first day in the building.

After this experience, I went to graduate school where I wrote my thesis on school violence and the use of metal detectors. As part of my examination, I surveyed parents and students at few high schools with metal detector programs, including the one where I had taught during the preceding years. What I found was that an overwhelming percentage of the students and parents thought the metal detector programs were both stigmatizing and obviously ineffective. But, by a similarly wide gap, those parents and students wanted the metal detectors to stay in place. That makes sense when you consider the daily danger that these kids faced. When we think of rough neighborhoods, we usually think of those who perpetrate crimes. What we (and by we, I mostly mean white liberals) forget is that these are also the places inhabited by the victims of those crimes. For them, poriferous security was preferable to no security.

This is one of the reasons why defund the police was such a counter-productive slogan. When it first entered popular consciousness in 2020, I had a conversation with my brother-in-law Douglass Fitch, a Black pastor who was an active participant in the civil rights movement. Like the kids and parents from the neighborhood where I taught, Douglass doesn’t need anyone to tell him that some police are racist, some units are corrupt, and that when it comes to equal treatment under the law, justice just ain’t. What Douglass and others want are better police departments, less corrupt officials, and a less racist legal system. But, as he said during our post-George Floyd conversation, “I sure wouldn’t want to live in a city without police.”

For the kids I taught, even a weak protection system was better than no protection. That’s how you feel when you are at risk. While their anger towards police and the justice system was similar to what was being justifiably vented on the streets of America in the summer of 2020, there was, among the kids and parents who lived in what was one of the rougher neighborhoods in Brooklyn, a general desire for more police on the street, not fewer. For me, the survey results were a wakeup call. And in some cases, it’s better to be awake than woke.

NYT (Gift Article): Democrats Face Pressure on Crime From a New Front: Their Base “In Democratic strongholds like Maryland, a rise in violent crime has pushed the party’s candidates to address the issue of public safety in newly urgent terms. Even before the recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, reignited the debate over gun control, day-to-day gun crimes and other acts of violence were rattling the American electorate.”