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.