Sunday, December 14, 2014

On Race, Cops, and the Future

I have a black husband and children (who, although multiculti, would usually be viewed as black by a police officer), and black nieces and nephews, so trust me, I am outraged by and terrified of racial profiling and police brutality. At the same time, I don’t see any justification for demonizing police officers. I am appalled by the divide that has opened between the Black Lives Matter Movement and law enforcement. It has gotten to the point at which a police officer who publicly expresses a need for change is called a traitor by others in law enforcement and where someone like myself who speaks up in defense of police officers is lambasted by lefties (those who did this are not even black, by-the-way).

How have all police officers suddenly become racists? That type of blanket stereotyping is what racism is all about, isn’t it? When we stop seeing people as whole individuals with value and start not really seeing them at all then we have a dangerous “ism” going on. All police officers do not use excess force. Police officers work hard and don’t get paid enough for it, like other ordinary folks. On top of that, police officers regularly risk their lives at their job, which is hard on their families as well as the officers themselves. How is it OK to literally or metaphorically beat up on hardworking public servants? I fear that liberals have a knee-jerk reaction to authority and too easily view law enforcement as an evil machination of the power structure. C’mon people. Some police officers are racist, some are not, like everyone else. Some police officers use undue force, some do not. Many police officers have not received proper training, which can result in tragedy. Some are ignorant. Some are well-trained and sensible. When I was arrested peacefully protesting the manufacture of nuclear weapons at the Lawrence Livermore Lab in 1983, the arresting officers I encountered were careful, restrained, respectful, and well-trained. I had a brief, deep, genuine conversation with one of them while he was cuffing me and leading me away for transport to jail.

No genuine dialogue can happen in the midst of violence. Violence simply breeds more violence. I am mystified as to how a violent protest will solve the problem of police brutality or racism. How are the violent protests supposed to address the injustice meted out in the courts in Ferguson and NY? How do violent protests inspire change? So people are angry. I get it. They need to grow up and formulate a constructive response. Everyone needs to communicate. Communication is not head-bashing, mace spray, rubber bullets, punching one another, storefront windows being broken, and theft of TVs and sneakers. We need creative solutions and alliance. We need rallies like the one that happened yesterday when the mothers of slain black boys and men spoke out in the Capitol.

Not all protesters are looters. Not all police officers are racists. All of the above have the capacity for transformation through peaceful means. I am heartsick that we, as a nation, seem to have managed to grossly simplify a complex dynamic, deeply rooted in the shameful history of this country spanning centuries. Brown and Garner are the latest in waves and waves of unjust murders going back and back and back. There have been so many, too many to name them all. Too many mothers’ sons. I fear for my own sons. I also have friends and relatives who are fine police officers, who went into law enforcement to preserve the peace and to help people. Seriously, who could possibly believe that people go into law enforcement with the express goal of killing black boys and men? Jon Stewart recently said, “You can truly grieve for every officer who has been lost in the line of duty in this country, and still be troubled by cases of police overreach. Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive. You can have great regard for law enforcement and still want them to be held to high standards.” Thank you. Because I mourn Brown and Garner does not mean I have no regard for the sacrifice and hard work of police officers.

I am hopeful because the discussion of training for police officers is now in the limelight. Officers need better training in how to diffuse a tense situation, how to de-escalate a confrontation, how to make good decisions when lives are on the line. They need training in appropriate response. Also, officers need to be screened better when they apply to become officers. Not everyone is cut out for law enforcement. It takes a special kind of person. Those who have served in combat in the military and who suffer from PTSD are, in my opinion, not an appropriate choice as police officers. A couple of years ago an incident occurred in Sonoma County where an Iraq War combat vet (known to suffer from PTSD) who was a police officer killed a 13-year-old child playing with a toy gun because the officer misinterpreted what he was seeing. I don’t think that someone with PTSD from combat should have been in that situation to begin with.

We are a country at war with itself and the war is between our history and our future, not between blacks + protestors and police. A country built on the violence of genocide, slavery, and racism needs a lot more than better training for police officers to achieve peace, equity, and justice. I am outraged by the deaths of Brown and Garner, and I am outraged by so many other deaths that preceded. Racism is the disease that has caused these murders. Only 12% of the U.S. population is black but 23% of people killed by police officers are black. The numbers tell the truth. There is only one way to successfully fight racism and that is constructive dialogue. People need to tell their stories to one another and they need to listen to each other’s stories and they need to hear. I believe that the power of stories is our only way out of this mess. The racist foundation of this country requires more than education to be replaced with a viable alternative, it requires change of heart. We need to feel each other’s pain on a heart level, not just a head level, and we need transformation to result.

The lives of our children down through the generations depend on this peaceful dialogue. It will not happen while people are hurling bottles and epithets at one another. I am for my black brothers and sisters and I am for hardworking police officers.  These are not mutually exclusive, as Jon Stewart points out. I can support both. Moreover, it’s not about them, them, them. What “they” need to do. What “they” need to change. It’s about us. We must be the change. You and I must change. Let’s start.

Richmond, CA Police Chief Chris Magnus standing in solidarity with protesters. 
He was reprimanded and criticized for wearing his uniform to do this. I applaud his courage.

1 comment:

Marianne said...

Love this post, Amy. Send it to your local paper, too.