Policing 2020

We are in a tailspin, one crisis piling onto another has brought us to the brink with no leadership to set a path toward a future. The hubris of our current administration is staggering, to say the very least. Top to bottom, with little space between, there are messages of distortion, distraction and just plain downright lies.  Truly, we have fallen far in just a few short years; yet perhaps not so far at all. Perhaps what we are seeing is the what has been there all along, the ugliness that we drove underground in our demand for political correctness, our need for a polite society; perhaps the election of this horrifyingly unqualified President has ripped the bandage we have been using to cover up the illness we never addressed.

The murder of George Floyd forced us to finally acknowledge there is something wrong in the Shining City on the Hill. Something deeply flawed, rotting and ugly that was undermining the American Dream of freedom, justice and prosperity for all. Laws were written with good intentions; other times, laws were wrong when passed yet remain viable and unchallenged. Sometimes, as we have today, what one President does to begin to unravel the wrongs without Congress the next undoes with the stroke of a pen, simply out of petty pique. Which brings us to where we are today with policing in America, how did we get here?

The simplest answer is watching the murder of George Floyd, all horrifying 8:46 minutes of Derek Chauvin kneeling on his throat while he died, miserably on a public street, begging first for his life, for breath and finally calling for his dead mother.

The more complex answer is 158 (one hundred fifty-eight) years the Emancipation Proclamation the first step in freeing all American slaves was signed. It would require three Constitutional Amendments (13-15) to give the African American former slaves the first steps toward civil rights and recognition as true equals under the law. Just over a century later Civil Rights activists took to the streets, leading to the greatest decade of upheaval and change, beginning with the murder of Emmit Till and ending with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Here we are today, some things have certainly changed some for the better and many if we look closely for the worse. It has been 52 (fifty-two) years since Dr. King was assassinated, I wonder what he would think of us all today? In this, I can only confront one of the issues, overly aggressive policing and what it has done to our communities, more specifically our many Black and Brown communities nationwide.

So finally to the crux of the matter policing and what can be done to stop the overly aggressive stance they take today, especially with Black men but frankly with all Black and Brown people. There are some simple answers and then some more complex answers. The most complex, you cannot change the hearts and minds of men and women with deeply ingrained bias and prejudice; you can, however, force them to act in a way that you wish by making it too personally costly to do otherwise. Over time, you will weed out those who are simply incapable of change.

My personal recommendations in no particular order:

  1. Reassemble the division of the Justice Department that reviews patterns of abuse. Bring back Consent Decrees, with federal jurisdiction and limitations on federal money to those cities where clear non-compliance is found. This applies to all, large and small, cities and state levels.
  2. Require “if you see it intervene and tell,” which effectively removes the Blue Wall. Those who do not tell are as guilty as those who abuse the power of the badge and in the future, should be treated equally harshly.
  3. Create an independent State Attorney’s Prosecution division under the jurisdiction of the State Attorney General for the investigation and charging all police misconduct.
  4. Fully remove qualified immunity from police, and all other public officials for that matter, and require all those who serve to carry individual liability insurance. Without coverage, they cannot serve on any police department in any capacity, and certainly, they cannot carry a deadly weapon.
  5. Create a national database, ensure no officer fired for dereliction, abuse, or any other misconduct can be hired by any other department. The combination of this with liability insurance would rapidly reduce the “bad apples,” and we would all begin looking at leadership closely again.
  6. Require a minimum of a two-year degree in Law Enforcement with additional Police Academy training and a 6-month apprenticeship.
  7. Fully de-militarize all police forces and stop immediately the sale of military weapons to any force.
  8. Stop immediately the use of Choke Holds and other physical restraint techniques that have proven to be deadly.
  9. Change the role and power of the Police Union, they should no longer be weighing in on controversial issues, matters of policy or protecting the “bad apples” at the cost of the public.
  10. Require Body Cameras and Dashboard Cameras be on at all times during all stops; any deviation from this is cause for dismissal.
  11. Require partner rotations every 6 months. I know this seems strange, but long-term partnerships create loyalties that are frequently dangerous to the public.
  12. Require on-going professional training of all police. Not just that they are able to shoot their pistols, but in other skills needed for them to work with the public.
  13. Require regular psychological evaluations of all members of the police, especially those who regularly work with the public. We need to accept their jobs can be hard, they can see and face traumatic situations daily. They shouldn’t be the enemy, we need to make certain they don’t become the enemy by giving them tools and helping them cope.
  14. Require their social media is open to evaluation, yes everyone has free speech, but those who serve must be willing to be observed as well.
  15. Divide and conquer, create non-policing agencies to support community needs and no longer use the police for these issues. Retrain 9-1-1 to identify and direct calls to the correct agencies. This is a longer-term goal and will require police, public and citywide cooperation as each determines what their true needs are.
  16. Re-write the 1994 Crime Bill. This requires everyone to come together and acknowledge how misguided we were, now badly this Bill hurt so many and then to take it apart piece by piece. This will require we begin thinking of Crime in new ways. It will require we begin thinking of incarceration in new ways. It will require we begin thinking of many of our mistakes and how we might finally, if not correct them, address them and move forward together.

I am certain I have missed somethings in this and I apologize for the length, I have watched and listened for days trying to come to what I thought might be the best “right” answer. We cannot “Defund” the police; we can, though, make them more effective and more community-focused. We cannot change the past, we can change the future.

Things I recommend if you are interested:

American Son (Netflix)

13th (Netflix)

Just Mercy (Netflix)

https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2020.html

Bow Your Head and Weep

harriet tubman“If you hear the dogs, keep going.
If you see the torches in the woods, keep going.
If there’s shouting after you, keep going.
Don’t ever stop. Keep going.
If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”
― Harriet Tubman

Today across this nation in Cleveland, Ferguson, St. Louis, New York, Beavercreek, Salt Lake City and countless other cities families will sit down to dinner with less to be thankful for, with an empty chair at their table and it is likely mothers and fathers will weep at the loss of their child to violence. Parents, spouses and children will bow their heads and instead of thanking whatever god they pray to, they will ask “Why”. They will weep as they find themselves bereft of their loved one and struggling to understand why the system they were told to trust did not work, why the life of their husband, father or child did not matter. Today across this nation, families will weep as they mourn the loss of their beloved and lost members to police violence.

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We are a terrible nation, a nation that turns away from entire communities, blaming them for their failure to thrive within a greater society determined to see them as always ‘less than’ and undeserving of the rights and privileges embodied by this nation’s founding documents and ‘moral’ standard. We are a tragic nation, built upon theft of land and resources, blood of innocents, indentured servitude, forced labor, rape and violence; yet we have the unmitigated gall to hold ourselves, as a nation, up as a standard of excellence. We dare to act as police and moral arbitrators, condemning violence and human rights violations across the world while within our own nation we fail to uphold the Rights and even Humanity of our own citizens.

Today, families weep and we should all be weeping with them. Those of us who do not send our children out into the world with fear in our hearts each time they leave our side, we should hang our heads that we do nothing, say nothing and enable this genocide within our borders to continue. Yes, I said it, We Enable. By our silence, through our failure to stand up and say,  ‘no more’, each timescreen-shot-2014-11-25-at-4-33-18-pm we fail to demand answers for the depraved acts of murder by those tasked with defending the law and protecting citizens, WE ENABLE and WE AGREE they are in the RIGHT. Each and every time we listen to media pundits, elected officials, journalists, has been’s and never were’s such as Rudy Giuliani disparage entire communities WE ARE ACCOUNTABLE along with them for enabling the horror story of structural and institutionalized racism that has destroyed the soul of this nation and its people. It is us, as much as them that allow and enable Genocide to escalate unencumbered by Law or Justice.

I am saddened there are those in this nation who refuse to face up to the fact there truly are two nations, truly two systems of justice, two systems of opportunity, two systems for damned near everything. It is not about ‘responsibility’ and ‘accountability’ as some would have us to believe. It is not about pulling your pants up, speaking better English, getting a job or any of the other idiotic and ignorant bile that spews forth from the lips of those who have never been at risk a day in their life simply for the skin they were born in.

Any one of us can say all day long, “I personally am not a racist”. However, the problem with that statement, so long as ‘I personally’ do nothing to actively fight against the institutionalization of racism within this country I am passively agreeing to its continuation, I am by my refusal to stand up and speak out, by my refusal to put myself in harm’s way agreeing my life, my way of life matters more.

screen-shot-2014-11-25-at-4-34-05-pmTime and again, the President of this nation has been called divisive by those who hate him for only one reason, who fear him for only one reason. Time and again, the Attorney General has been called divisive for speaking out on issues of race and violence. We have had for nearly six years our first Black President, our first Black Attorney General; this combination scares the hell out of those who see their power base slipping and they are fighting hard, with ugly tactics to convince this nation these two men are the cause for the rise in violence, the rise in racist language and attitudes. Those who see these two men of calm as divisive have deceived their base and even many of us into believing a story, a fable of Black and Brown rage and danger, one that is escalating and must be controlled by occupation forces and murder. The truth is, this President and this AG have spoken infrequently and with cautious language on issues of race, they have used the Bully Pulpit rarely and with great restraint so as not to offend those who would use their words to stir the already boiling caldron of White Rage and Fear.

We are not divisive because we point out racism, whether it is police murdering or the KKK marching with police escorts while peaceful protesters are tear gassed and shot with wooden bullets. We are not divisive because we identify the documented fact a Black Man is 4 times more likely to die in custody than a White Man, a Hispanic Man is 2 times more likely to die in custody than a White Man. We are not divisive because we find it disturbing when mass killers are taken into custody alive if they are White, but Black Men and Black Children with toy guns are killed by cops. We are not divisive when we identify the difference between media coverage of college students rioting during a sporting event or festival for squash and communities rioting in response to police murdering their children without fear of reprisal. We are not divisive when we point out a wealthy White teenager walking out of a courtroom with a new syndrome, Affluenza (he is to wealthy to go to jail it might harm his delicate sensibilities or future) preventing him from going to prison after killing four people in a drunk driving joy ride, but a Black teenager is killed for jaywalking.

We must begin to stand up, to point out what is wrong with this nation and the leadership of this nation that we do not demand better. We are not divisive, what we are is challenging a system that has consistently shown itself to be Racist, unjust and weighted towards one group in this country. Either we are one nation, with one rule of law, one set of values and principles, striving toward the betterment of all citizens … lifting all boats in a rising tide; or we are a Slave State, intent on the debasement of an entire group of our citizens, the death of their next generation.

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Today, families gather to give thanks far too many of those families will instead shed tears of anger even fury at the loss of a loved one to violence at the hands of police.

Where does it end?

We must begin to stand up, to scream our demands for change. We must begin to silence those who turn away and refuse to see what is before them; we must demand those who are tasked with protecting our citizens; we must demand those who are elected to office high or low, perform their tasks to the benefit of all citizens not just those who can pay for their services; we must stand up and demand journalists, pundits and others tasked with delivering information become fair, balanced and perform their tasks with integrity and ethical standards or be taken off the air, a return to the standards of old is necessary to raise this nation out of the mire of ignorance we have fallen into.

It is time to rise up out of our apathy. It is time for us to bow our heads and weep with the families who will gather today with an empty chair at their tables. It is past time for us to demand a change to this failed experiment that is the two-nation system of have and have not, divided by the color of our skin and the privilege those of us born with the fortune circumstance of White skin have not earned.

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It is time to acknowledge we have a problem and it is not the criminality of the Black Community it is the Criminality of a nation built on privilege, brutality, greed, violence and a desire to retain what was never earned but stolen.

It is about fixing what is broken in this nation no matter the cost.

Mothers, Fathers and Nations

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

1 Corinthians 13:11

When I was a young, beginning even before I was a teen I started to run away. By the time I was fourteen I was deemed a habitual delinquent by the juvenile court system. I was also considered past redemption by many. At the age of fourteen, I was removed from my parents’ custody and placed in foster care, shortly thereafter I ran for the last time. I have written some parts of my story in Broken Chains, it might explain why I was a runaway, why I was a Juvenile Delinquent.

There was a time, many years ago when many told me, including judges and my own mother they didn’t expect me to see twenty-one they certainly didn’t expect me to ‘make anything of myself’.

I say all this because I did make it to twenty-one and beyond, today I am a grown woman; I am alive with a loving though slightly dysfunctional family. With two sons, grandchildren, friends, a decent career, my own home and mostly the things I want in life when I want them. I have books to read, a good education; I have seen the world (even if I complain about travel). I have been most fortunate, surviving heartbreak and violence in my life to become ‘Victorious’.

This isn’t the story of me; this is about a mother’s heart. I thought it was important to say first where I came from, to say first someone in fact many someone’s saw my promise and gave me a chance, thus I am here.

My two sons were a gift. I did not bring them into the world but I married their father when they were barely potty trained. At the ripe ages of two and five, they were already handfuls, already opinionated and full of themselves as little human beings. Our first run in after my marriage happened the first weekend they came to stay, with Number One Son hands on hips and head twisting side to side like a cobra spitting, “I don’t have to do what you say you aren’t my mother”.

I glanced at their father sitting calming and silently on the couch behind me and realized at that moment this would be the weft of our relationship, especially with regard to his sons. Staring at these two small humans, I realized I had the opportunity to shape lives, it was frightening and my heart hit my throat. I knelt down in front of them so I could look Number One Son in the eye, “You are right, I am not your mother but in this house your father does what I say and so will you. In this house, you will not smart mouth me. You will say Yes Mam’ and No Mam’, Please and Thank You. In this house I will tear a knot in that narrow butt if you smart off to me again.”

By the end of that first weekend, both of those boys had been swatted and stood in a corner. Number One Son never was swatted again, ever; though he found a few corners to his liking over the years. Number Two Son on the other hand, he was me all over. When my mother use to say to me, ‘some day you will have a daughter and she will be just like you, then you will reap what you sow’, honestly I thought I had dodged that bullet, until Number Two Son, he was my Waterloo. During my marriage to their father, their mother and I made a pact, to raise them with love. We didn’t always agree on tactics, but we did agree on one thing we wanted these young men to survive to adulthood.

 

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It is thirty-two years later, water has passed under the bridge, I divorced their father seventeen years ago. In that divorce the best thing I got was custody of my youngest son, no one fought this; his place in my home was secured with love. At the time he was just turning seventeen, he and I had a unique relationship. While his brother was the child of my mind, he was the child of my heart and soul. His mother and I agreed the best place for him was with me. His father did not want him, walked away without a backward glance.

My two sons were by no means angels, they weren’t devils either, like so many they were simply teenagers. They weren’t complete delinquents though Number Two Son certainly worked hard at achieving this goal. Certainly if you saw them during their teen years, walking down the street you might have crossed to the other side. They had their days, with tongue piercings, eye brow piercings, tattoos and sagging pants, hair midway down backs and dyed colors not intended for humans, Goth finger nails (black and dark blue were popular) and yes experimentation with marijuana and drinking that I am aware of. My sons were no angels.

Do not get me wrong, I fought hard for Number Two Son, for his safety and his sanity. Some things you can ignore, some things you can shrug off as childish; other things you yank chains and demand change. I knew too well the path he was following and I put a leash on him, marshalled every resource I had and fought hard to save him. Number One Son, he played at being ‘Cool’, but really he just wanted to grow up and be part of the crowd. He didn’t want to rock the boat; he listened and was smart enough not to be truly stupid about the choices he made.

I tell the story about my two sons because it is important, Number One Son just turned 37 this week; Number Two Son will be getting married next month. Both have good jobs, their own homes, lovely families, brilliant futures. All it took to get them here was love, patience, belief, a few tears and sometimes a whack upside the head. All it took to get them here was giving them a chance to thrive on their own, the opportunity to grow up a support system and trust.

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Though I sometimes worried about Number Two Son reaching adulthood, I never once had to worry either of them would be gunned down in the street by a rogue cop. Every child in this nation has the right to grow up and achieve their full potential. Every parent has the right to raise their child in safety, without fearing the people who are paid to protect our neighborhoods will murder their child.

Every child has the right to walk down the street in broad daylight or at night without fear. Every child in this nation has the right to an education, to hope, to a future. Every parent in this nation has the right to believe their child can be successful in life including education, work, family and home.

Every parent has the right to believe they will outlive their child. Every parent has the right to believe they won’t bury their child due to violence, especially police and vigilante violence.  We have seen far too many mothers and fathers burying their children due to violence and especially recently due to police violence against mostly unarmed young Black Men. It is hard for me to call them men, so many of them aren’t out of their teens, so many of them haven’t yet reached their majority. So many of these young ones couldn’t even tell you what they want to be when they ‘grow up’, yet they are gunned down in the street by cops or vigilantes, or by a ‘good guy’ with a gun who ‘feared’ for his life and made up a story to justify what there is no justification for.

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How did we get to this place? The media are complicit with the police painting each shooting as justified; each young person becomes a ‘thug’ and the murderer the ‘victim’, even as brokenhearted parents bury their child. When did we become so lacking in compassion, so deficient in empathy as a nation or a people. When did we lose our heart, perhaps we never had one to start with and now it is more obvious with every loss more reported on within social media and the contrast so clear.

I realize I am blessed, along with their other mother we are both blessed. We have sons who are alive, healthy and grown to adulthood. There are far too many mothers today who can only visit their sons at gravesites, who will only see their child as a teenager in photographs because that is the age he was when he was gunned down in the street. This must end and only we can end it. Every parent has the right to see their child grow to their full potential in safety. No parent should have to bury their child due to violence.

Only we can end this. Only we can stand up and demand change.

Only we can stand up and demand a change to Police behavior across the nation through better hiring practices, training, education and penalties.

Only we can stand up and demand Stand Your Ground laws be repealed nationwide.

Only we can stand up and demand changes to gun laws, nationwide.

Only we can stand up, demand the Department of Justice do their job and investigate police violence.

Only we can stand up and demand more money for education less for incarceration.

Only we can end this violence. Only we can protect our future by protecting our children, all of them.

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