sylvia_photoWhen most people think of ways to improve public safety, the idea that typically comes to mind is increasing the number of police in our communities.

But as policing as an institution is coming under increased scrutiny in light of widespread media coverage of controversial police shootings of unarmed people, many are questioning the wisdom of hiring more police as the preferred solution to fighting crime. I agree.

In fact, the best crime fighting weapon is to decrease inequality and increase trust in our society. The most equal societies have the least social ills and have the most trust among their citizens, according to a book I have read and recommend, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality is Better for Everyone by British researchers Kate Pickett and Richard G. Wilkinson. It makes a ton of sense. Give marginalized people access to high quality education, good jobs, better pay, and a generous social safety net, and they won’t be so desperate that they turn to crime to survive.

So, a more equal society is a safer society. The more people feel economically safe and secure, the less likely they are to fear their neighbors and want to buy guns for protection. It’s no wonder that the United States is the most unequal of the advanced democracies and has the most guns per capita and the highest level of gun violence.

A culture that prizes profits over the well-being of people is ultimately self-defeating. A society that views certain of its members with suspicion and treats them as less than human, rather than as full citizens, is self- defeating. And a country that allows a small number of its population hoard a disproportionate share of the wealth at the expense of the majority population, is self- defeating. These are the ingredients that contribute to a less safe society.

How do we end inequality and make the U.S. a safer country? Changing attitudes and culture is key. First, we should view all our fellow citizens as human beings, with the same right to a dignified well-being as we would have for ourselves. Next, we should regard all work as having value and deserving of a just compensation; the labor of the domestic worker is as important as that of the CEO. Then, we should value the public sphere as much as we do the private; our public institutions and our public spaces deserve our support and enough resources to thrive. Next, we must end draconian punishments for petty offenses; leave the quality of life issues for civilians to deal with creatively, and leave our police to handle the truly violent elements. Finally, we must break down the barriers to political participation that keep the less affluent and the less connected away from influencing public policy. America has to practice real democracy, not simply preach about it. We have come at a crossroads and we have a choice. If we pay attention to world history, a widening divide between the haves and have-nots only ends in one way, and it’s not pretty. Instead, let’s take the other path, the one toward broad societal prosperity, healthier and safer communities.

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