Saturday, June 6, 2020

Help The Police

Source: Flickr/Taymaz Valley
I bristle when I see the words "Defund Police" on a sign, because it's another example of a complicated idea being boiled down to a catchy phrase that lends itself to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and righteous anger.  I say "righteous" because people who are concerned about crime in their neighborhoods have every right to be concerned about a rallying cry that makes people think we're going to take the police away, unjustly punish the good cops along with the bad ones.

Let's start with a valid concern.  Police are being used too much for too many things, including on-the-spot crisis counseling and social work.  As Alex Vitale writes in The Guardian, "The schools don’t work; let’s create school policing. Mental health services are decimated; let’s send police. Overdoses are epidemic; let’s criminalize people who share drugs. Young people are caught in a cycle of violence and despair; let’s call them superpredators and put them in prison for life."  You don't call the cops for a headache (and here's where you insert a joke about your in-laws).  Why are we continuing to stretch their job description into areas that don't involve protection from immediate bodily or property harm? 

It's time to think about creating new types of first responders, just as we created paramedics at fire stations -- remember the TV show Emergency?  We already have animal control officers.  We can have people trained specifically for drug issues, neighbor disputes, and low-level petty crimes, freeing up officers to focus on the more dangerous assignments.

Here's where I especially shudder at people saying just defund and disband:  what happens when we have an active shooter?  Who do you call?

You need police.  You need police departments.  But you need a department to be focused on a narrow, definable set of problems.  The police action that took the life of George Floyd started with a forgery call -- a complaint about fake bills.  Could a specialized financial crimes unit, minus the lights and sirens, with rapid-response capabilities have made a difference here -- money cops?

A lot of what I am saying here is going to sound weird or mushy to you.  New ideas usually do.  But as we all know, establishing law and order can be done without rolling tanks through the streets and firing tear gas.  Being hard on crime and smart about crime can exist in the same universe, if we are willing to think creatively and not write off alternatives to a gun and a badge as the musings of liberals and pacifist wimps.

And don't say, "Defund Police."  Say, "Reinvent Policing."  Or, "Police Smarter."

Yeah, none of those look good on a sign.  Not angry enough.  Too cerebral.  Sigh.  Can you tell I'd make a terrible activist?

Friday, June 5, 2020

Part Of The Solution

Malcolm X once said, "If you're not a part of the solution, you're part of the problem."  I've found that bit of advice to work for quite many things, even though he was talking about the civil rights struggle.  Now, the original context and intent comes through crystal clear as we are outraged by the death of a black man at the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis.

I am a white man with a black girlfriend.  Technically, she's not black but Irish-Caribbean, but when have subtleties mattered to bigots?  As I have told you before, Princess Sherri has been called just about every epithet you can think of and probably a few ones they haven't.  Fortunately, they have never done so in my presence with her, or they would have felt my wrath.  Sherri has told me, though, that she can feel the piercing glances of people, both black and white, when they see us together, wondering just what in the sam hill she's doing with a white boyfriend.

Racism isn't in our genes.  We have to learn it from somebody.  I have been blessed to have been raised by people who set the right example, albeit imperfectly.  I had a grandmother who once referred to one of my friends as the "colored" boy in the 1980's.  My family has had other imperfections as well, which I'm not going to get into, because nobody is doing this perfectly.  Nobody can.

My first encounter with the n-word came on the school bus in my elementary days.  One day, suddenly, all these kids were saying it.  White kids were saying it to white kids.  I didn't know the source of it then, but I'm certain they heard it after watching the blockbuster miniseries Roots.  They suddenly found this word of incredibly shocking power, like a two-year-old who discovers the word "no."  I'm betting they didn't know the history or the hurt or the prejudice behind it.

I found it strange in the 1980's when I heard black people use the word with other black people.  I got two explanations for this:  one, co-opting a hateful word and making it your own takes away its hatefulness.  Two, it's not the n-word with an "er" on the end; it's the n-word with "a."  I don't buy either one.

"If you ever had to sit in the back of a bus or drink from a separate water fountain, you wouldn't be using that word," I told Sherri.

I didn't have the so-called "black experience."  I had the bullied experience, which I hope gave me some kind of empathy, some means of understanding prejudice and pain personally and directly.  I have learned a lot from Princess Sherri, and I learned as I went.  I'm still learning.

If we want to follow Malcolm's advice, I think the solution has to start from the bottom up, rather than the top down.  We can spend a lot of time and money creating oversight boards.  We can have community dialogues.  We can promote equal hiring and anti-racism initiatives.  We can pass new laws.  We can march.  We can protest.  We can boycott.  But in the end, nothing changes unless we change behavior.  This isn't a police brutality problem; this is a problem of failing to learn.

I watched Los Angeles burn during the Rodney King riots.  Little changed.

I followed the Trayvon Martin shooting case.  Little changed.

I saw the video of the police chokehold on Eric Garner.  Little changed.

I watched Ferguson, Missouri explode after the killing of Michael Brown.  Little changed.

I watched Baltimore come apart after the death of Freddy Grey.  Little changed.

Now we have George Floyd's death in Minneapolis, prompted by an unnecessary and dangerous restraint that began with a forgery investigation --  not an active shooter, not a hostage situation, not a terrorist threat.  Forgery.

You can't justify a cop treating another human being that way, black or white or any other color, given the circumstances.  How much more marching and shouting and black-lives-mattering do we have to do before people start getting it?

We can't rely on the top-down solution anymore.  Those don't stop bigots, haters and segregationists.

If I had the smarts to tell you what solution we should be using, I would probably be working for one of those equality organizations instead of producing newscasts.  The best I can do is relate a few theories.

I think it all starts at home.  I think bigoted parents raise bigoted kids.  That degree of bigotry can vary from passive-aggressive to goosestepping mindlessness.  Do we consider raising a kid to be a bigot a form of child abuse?  Do we start taking kids away from bigot families and deprogramming them?

I think we need to apply more peer pressure.  We need to call out prejudice when and where we see it, quickly, online or in public, where we can pile onto it and squash it.  We're doing that now, as I write this, but we need to keep doing that after George Floyd is out of the headlines.

We need to be honest about our experiences and what we don't know about other people's experiences, struggles, and pain.  No fake wokeness.  Saying "help me understand all this" shouldn't be frowned upon or stomped on as ignorance.  Let's help each other understand.

Let's avoid defunding police.  You're punishing the innocent along with the guilty, and it's a hypocritical move if you're motivated by justice.  Moving money around doesn't quash hate.

Let's stop thinking about this as a police problem.  Let's start thinking about this as a prejudice problem.  Cops don't beam into this world from another universe.  They come from the same neighborhoods as the rest of us.  Fixing prejudice is going to take all of us working with all of us.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Everyone's A Suspect

As I write this, the Senate is preparing to open the third impeachment trial in our nation's history. And while I'm ready to absorb the proceedings against you-know-who, I keep thinking this trial is too limited. Instead of just the occupant of the White House on trial, it should be all of us as voters.

The center of this whole affair is not whether the president did this or that, but whether we're willing to allow him doing this or that. The question isn't about whether it's Constitutional or not, but whether we believe as Americans that the Constitution doesn't apply here, doesn't apply to the president asking the leader of another nation to help dig up dirt on a political foe.

Why would we believe that? Because, dummy, all the kids do it. Because all politicians are dirty rotten filthy scumbags who do this kind of thing anyway, out of the earshot of others, without government transcribers or witnesses or whistleblowers in on the phone call. Because that's the way things get done nowadays. Because, politics. It's just that somebody got caught this time.

Someone, possibly Chris Cuomo, presented this crummy reality to Don Lemon on CNN, and Don nearly lost his ability to speak. Get out the mirror, he seemed to sputter out. (I wish I could find the clip to show you here.)

Yeah, everybody does it. But does everybody excuse it? Here's where we as voters get put on trial. People will give a pass to an inordinate number of legal and Constitutional sins if the sinner's ideology is in alignment. Boorish speech, crazy tweets, falsehoods, bigoted tendencies, and sexist behavior don't matter if, at the end of the day, they come into the right (or left) house of worship.

So we need to face our own interrogation here as voters. Do we believe the Constitution actually has meaning, when it spells out that the president must affirm to faithfully execute the duties of office, and will do the best to preserve, protect and defend what's laid out in that document? If our response is, "Yeah! He's faithfully executing the duties of his office by going after those do-nuttin' godless Democrats," then forget it. Get me a crown. We'll have a coronation on Pennsylvania avenue instead of an inauguration. A king ye want; a king ye shall have.

It appears a lot of us are quite comfortable with having a monarchal leader. As I have said before, we ought to just put King George III on the next presidential ballot and give people the chance to be transparent about their desires. It would save us a lot of hypocritical gymnastics, as people try to defend the actions at the top while saying they believe in that document.

As a nation, we're supposed to be better than this. But we don't want to be. We don't for a multitude of reasons, mostly because politicians don't want to be better, either. But that's okay as long as we get what we want. America's greatness is not measured by liberty and justice but by how far it tilts to the right or the left, moderates and reason and prudence be damned. How the nation gets there is not the issue, just as long as it ends up there.

We know what the outcome of this impeachment trial is going to be even before it starts, as both sides dig in and fortify their positions. When it's all over, we will hear a mix of grumbling and griping along with celebration and gloating, not just from those in Washington but from those who put them there.

Because, politics. Case closed.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Be Resolved

We are now in the dawn of a new decade. You may have awakened to a crisp new day or shaken off that hangover. Wherever you are, however you're coming into the new year, and whether or not you've actually made any resolutions, at least resolve to do this: in any way possible, big or small, or any combination of the two, you will do everything you can to avoid giving aid and comfort to HATE.

As I write this, we are still searching for answers in two shattering events on the last weekend of 2019: the stabbing attack on several Jews at a Hanukkah party in New York, and a deadly shooting during a church service in Texas.

I am not here to point fingers at perpetrators beyond those who actually carried out these acts. And let's not even ponder about what may be ahead of us in this election year. But I will set before you an uncomfortable truth: these acts -- and many hateful acts before them -- are carried out partly because the person behind the blade or the trigger believes somebody has their back.

HATE, unfortunately, gets results. HATE gets people to act. HATE gets people elected. HATE tears up communities in the name of accomplishing an ideological goal. HATE motivates in all the wrong ways to achieve an otherwise respectable goal. HATE, we are seeing, is becoming an acceptable and unfortunately beneficial means to an end. And that is why HATEful acts are thriving and multipying, even as we condemn them.

Or are we really condemning them?

Most likely, you are not a HATER, nor are your family and friends. Good for you. You're part of the solution, but you need to be more.

Here's a self-test. Let's start with your social media accounts. Who are you liking and retweeting and sharing? Are they thoughtful analysis or just idological bile? What are you writing in the comments? When was the last time you used any of the following words: snowflake, boomer, libtard, nazi, socialist, dumbocrat, republitard? Do you know where the "block" function is?

Are you getting your news from non-agenda-based sources? Please don't tell me no such creature exists; that's so bush league. We have a word for that: propoganda. It doesn't matter if you agree with it already, like I hear people tell me when I challenge them on why they listen to agenda-driven talk radio. If you already agree with it, why listen in the first place? Why do your own thoughts need verification, espcially from people who are not accountable to you or to the electorate? Mother told you to eat your vegetables for a good reason: they were good for you. Did you tell her those vegetables were raised by enemies of America?

Are you HATING on reporters because you genuinely HATE what they are doing, or because somebody told you to? Are you subliminally taking marching orders and denying it?

Is your circle of friends limited to people who look like you, act like you, believe like you and share your level of woke-ness? Do you dismiss moderates as milquetoast people? How are you going to live in this world if you don't live in it?

Are you willing to excuse detestable people if they give you what you want? Are you willing to allow politicians to play you like a fiddle? Are you willing to write on that ballot, "None of the above?" Are you afraid of people who say you are wasting a vote?

Now add up your scores and responses. I won't give you a number. I will leave that to you and GOD. If you feel convicted, the time to change is now.

This goes beyond what you do face-to-face, beyond the sphere of your relationships. This goes beyond attending vigils, further than promises of thoughts and prayers. This is a mission statement that pervades every corner of your being. It says you will no longer be a tool, either active or passive, for those who use HATE to get what they want. They will not have your back; you will have your back turned to them.

You don't need to go out and change the world. Start small. Let the actions and acts built up. Let math do its work. Be patient. The problem didn't begin overnight, and we will not fix it overnight.

Above all, savor the small victories. Stand up for those who refuse to be HATE conduits. Notice and praise them. Build them up. Give them refuge and quarter, if only in the comment section. GOD is in the big as well as the little. You will not see the big if you don't see the little.

Be a blessing, not a curse.

Stand for righteousness, not "right, just us."

Build and fix.

Let GOD work through you. That is why you are here. Even if you don't believe in GOD, that doesn't matter. HE believes in YOU.