I hope that you’ll allow me a serious question about non-violence. A friend of mine is committed to your perspective. Here is my question: “Do you advocate local, state, or national police personnel carrying and using weapons? If not, why not? If so, when & how? Does weapon use contradict maintaining a perspective of nonviolence?”
Weapon use certainly contradicts a perspective of nonviolence. As for carrying a weapon, lets be honest: the act of carrying a weapon signifies a person’s willingness to use that weapon. What purpose would carrying a weapon serve if it didn’t communicate the threat of violent force? And that threat of violent force is at odds with the goal of de-escalation—the reduction of violence that is the very objective of the nonviolence practitioner.
The main purpose of police forces, self-described, is to keep the peace, and the widespread belief in our culture is that “peacekeeping” means using threat power to deter acts of violence. In nonviolence, the goal is to stop violence through methods that de-escalate, that is, reduce, and ideally, stop the violence so that the underlying causes of the violence can be addressed. The level of violence in a conflict situation increases over time, and in nonviolence it is necessary to recognize how pervasive and entrenched the conflict is before deciding how to approach it. In America, and especially in those areas that have the highest crime rates, the violence has become fairly severe and it is going to take a lot of work and a multifaceted approach to begin to bring the level of violence down and start healing the underlying causes. Furthermore, we are facing a situation in many cities where the police have become entangled in the conflict: there have been incendiary incidents where officers have brutalized (sometimes fatally) civilians, and the level of resentment and hatred engendered by these acts has compromised the ability of many police departments to carry out their mission. It would not be realistic to expect police forces to abruptly stop carrying weapons in this situation, nor is it realistic, really, to expect that armed police forces to effectively reduce the level of violence in our cities, given the degree of distrust between them and the people they are meant to serve. Nonviolent third parties, however, can work to end violence, and they can (in fact they must) do so without carrying weapons. Known as unarmed civilian peacekeepers (or sometimes called “peace teams”), these individuals trained in the methods of nonviolence can act as neutral third-parties in areas laden with violence and conflict to help protect innocent people and diffuse tensions to create space for those doing the work of addressing the root causes of violence and crime. Many experiments with peacekeeping of this kind have actually been in war zones in other countries, but there is starting to be increased interest in domestic peace teams. This type of peacekeeping works with and within neighborhoods to reduce violence and rebuild the social fabric, and could work to mend the relationship between local police and the public. In an ideal situation, unarmed peacekeeping could replace the current approach of armed police forces as a way of creating safe neighborhoods. This could be through the continued presence of unarmed civilian peacekeepers, or through training the police in nonviolence, or both. Remember that in some countries (such as the UK and Norway) regular police officers are not armed (though such countries often have ‘special forces’ that are). It is only the level and degree of violence in the United States that makes it necessary for police officers patrolling neighborhoods continuing to carry guns.
For more resources, check out Nonviolent Peaceforce (focuses on international unarmed peacekeeping) and Michigan Peace Teams.