Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: law enforcement

At left two Kansas City PD officers hold up a sign that reads, "End police brutality!" At right KCPD Chief Rick Smith and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas kneel for a moment of silence for George Floyd, while holding up an "I can't breathe" T-shirt

Crossing the line

The phrase “crossing the line” has a special resonance for me today. 

Crossing a deadly line

Like many metro areas in the United States over the recent weekend, mine saw day after day of large, mostly peaceful crowds demonstrating in the streets. The protesters came out to decry the actions of four Minneapolis police officers who slowly (it took almost nine minutes), publicly, murdered a man in the street by kneeling on his neck and back. 

Protesters hold signs and give speeches at a march for justice in Kansas City
Nareen Stokes, mother of Ryan Stokes, a local man killed by police, speaks to the then-peaceful crowd in Mill Creek Park near the Kansas City Country Club Plaza. (Photo by Carlos Moreno. Many thanks to KCUR Kansas City).

That’s a deadly example of “crossing the line” that should never, ever be condoned. But that kind of “crossing the line”–extra-rough treatment of people from certain neighborhoods, with a certain skin color–by police happens all too often

Is there a systemic racism problem, or is it just a whole lot of unfortunate, isolated incidents? How you answer that question probably depends on your background, experiences and race. There’s even disagreement among police. Black officers see more of a problem than white officers, in recent polling.

Certainly, the officers in the George Floyd case crossed a line, although getting charges and convictions will be difficult. This wasn’t the first time Officer Derek Chauvin, the neck-kneeler, got in trouble for mistreating citizens, although one hopes it is the last.

Why do police officers cross those ethical lines? 

Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time knows I’m not a hater of the police. I’m concerned about their well-beinginspired by their service, and generally convinced that we’d be in a world of hurt without them. I write novels about (mostly) admirable law enforcement officers, and I do my level best to extrapolate realistically into my futuristic world.

A poster available on Amazon lists danger signs of officer stress
A poster available on Amazon lists danger signs of officer stress, and management cues. (image courtesy of Police Posters on Amazon).

But people are people. While most applicants go into law enforcement with good motives, no profession is populated solely by angels. And although many seek an exciting career, police work may be more than they bargained for. The job gives officers a front-row seat on more trauma and ugliness than most civilians would see in several dozen lifetimes.

Wounded, traumatized people can grow callous or violent. A persistent old-school police culture further tends to ignore the advice of psychologists about dealing with stress. Instead, there’s pressure to “suck it up” and get on with the job. To self-medicate for depression or stress with alcohol or other substancesNobody does their best work while drugged.

Crossing other lines

Unfortunately, I need to get back to those protests I mentioned at the beginning of this piece. Because although during the day most protesters peacefully exercised their First Amendment rights, things changed at night. 

Night after night, rioters have vandalized, looted, and burned businesses and carsIt happened here in Kansas City, and in many other cities, too. One shocking casualty that hit the science fiction community extra-hard was the loss of the legendary Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore in Minneapolis.

It’s as if the transition from day to night turned people mean. In part, it seemed to become a self-fulfilling cycle. Authorities imposed curfews, in an effort to prevent violence. Police attempted to disperse crowds, in many cases using tear gas or pepper spray. Angry protesters fought back, and all hell broke loose.

After dark, the protests turned uglier. A Kansas City PD vehicle burns on Saturday night.
After dark, the protests turned uglier. A Kansas City PD vehicle burns on Saturday night, May 30, 2020. (Many thanks to Fox 4 News for this photo).

I think a lot of us would echo Terrence Floyd’s plea, “Let’s do this another way,” besides destruction. Yet it is important to pay attention to the roots of the contemporary violence. If riots are the language of the unheard,” we all owe it to ourselves to listen. And also to pay enough attention to discern between angry, fed-up people and calculating opportunists.

A better kind of line-crossing

But I’d like to close this post on a brighter note. For all the anger on display, for all the ugliness after nightfall, and for all the brutality being protested, there were moments of positive “line-crossing.” Of police officers taking a knee, joining a march, and reaching across barricades. And there were more of them than I recall having seen in past rounds of protests.

They, too, were mostly appalled at the way George Floyd died. Police forces in most of our cities are engaged in a long, slow effort to reform relations with their communities of color. There are a lot of fences to mend. A lot of history to overcome. That’s why people are in the streets–again. Too many times, police officers have crossed that line in the wrong ways.

At left two Kansas City PD officers hold up a sign that reads, "End police brutality!" At right KCPD Chief Rick Smith and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas kneel for a moment of silence for George Floyd, while holding up an "I can't breathe" T-shirt
Possible signs of change in Kansas City? At left two Kansas City PD officers hold up a sign that reads, “End police brutality!” At right KCPD Chief Rick Smith and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas kneel for a moment of silence for George Floyd, while holding up an “I can’t breathe” T-shirt. (Photos courtesy of Forbes, via Twitter and Katie Moore/Kansas City Star).

That needs to change. Our communities are calling for it. Police departments surely know it can’t continue this way, and some places appear to be doing better

Let’s nurture that change. Let’s find ways to encourage and reinforce itIt’s time for crossing the line of division, and reaching out toward healing.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to KCUR Kansas City and photographer Carlos Moreno, for the photo from Nareen Stokes’s speech. Police stress poster image courtesy of Police Posters on Amazon. Many thanks to Fox 4 News for the photo from Saturday night. Photos of connections between police and community are courtesy of Forbes, via Twitter and Katie Moore/Kansas City Star. I appreciate all of you!

This photo shows a wide shot of a large crowd, many in dark clothing with protest signs, facing off against police in New York's Grand Central subway station.

Nothing is simple

Nothing is simple, although it may look that way from the outside.

I found an article the other day in one of my online research resources, Police Magazine. It reported on a disturbance in New York City’s Grand Central subway station. 

A group called Decolonize this Place organized it as part of a daylong series of demonstrations. This is the third time this group has staged demonstrations since earlier in 2019.

This photo shows a wide shot of a large crowd, many in dark clothing with protest signs, facing off against police in New York's Grand Central subway station.
A still from a video from New York Post, via Police Magazine, showing the protest in the terminal. (Police Magazine/New York Post)

They didn’t manage to close it down, as they’d hoped.

What they did manage to do was get national TV and other news coverage, and slow things down in Midtown. Reports on the size of the crowd and number of arrests varied. They left banners and sprayed graffiti, and tweeted about it. And they made an effort to look both intimidating and impossible to identify. Seems pretty obvious this group is up to no good, right?

Well, nothing is simple.

What’s the goal of the disruption?

This group clearly hates the police. According to their tweets, they want to “end all policing & destruction of public order . . . to bring public safety back to NYC.” They also want all mass transit fees ended, so the rides are all free. 

This retweet by NYC PBA of a Decolonize video says, "New Yorkers should pay close attention: this is true endgame of the anti-police movement, an end of all policing & destruction of public order. Our members have spent their careers--and in some cases given   their lives--to bring public safety back to NYC. We can't go backwards"
Photo from 1010 WINS Radio, via Twitter. (Note the
linked Twitter video contains profanity).

Let’s unpack this. First of all, “end all policing” is connected to “destruction of public order.” 

The goal is “to bring public safety back to NYC.”

While the article in Police Magazine did list their goals as “no cops in the MTA, free transit [and] no harassment, ” they focused more on the disruption and vandalism

That’s not surprising. Their aim, as stated by MTA Chief Safety Officer Pat Warren (quoted in the article), is to protect “transit services that get New Yorkers to their jobs, schools, doctors and other places they need to go.” Simple enough.

But nothing is simple.

How can the protests promote the need for public safety?

I’d just read another article about a UK study that demonstrated a 14-21% reduction in crime when the police patrolled subway stations every 15 minutes. These platforms previously had not had a police presence–exactly what the New York demonstrators are demanding

The article even went so far as to make a direct comparison: “London’s Underground, akin to NYC’s subway system, was the first underground railway in the world, and now services more than 1.3 billion passengers per year.”

The police show up and crime goes down. That’s pretty simple, isn’t it? But nothing is simple.

This photo shows a seating area at the Canary Wharf stop of the London Underground, with a train in the background.
A study showed police patrols every 15 minutes in the London Underground deterred crime. Yet Decolonize this Place is demanding that police stop patrolling the New York City subways. Does this make sense? (Photo courtesy of Forensic).

Who’s protecting whom, and from what?

The London Underground recently has seen delays from demonstrations, too, but those were staged by climate activists seeking attention. One of the biggest worries there seems to be terrorist attacks (and with good reason)

But hardly any of the London Underground’s users seem to think the police themselves are a danger to public safety. No so, for Decolonize this Place. They demonstrated to remove them from the subways entirely

The New York City subway system’s police officers, interacting with an assortment of low-income persons of color have been captured in distressing videos that went viral. This apparently happens frequently in the subways. 

Six homeless persons doze or sleep on a bench in a New York subway terminal.
The number of homeless persons living in the New York City subways has jumped by 20% recently (screencap of a video via ABC-7 News)

The MTA recently (and controversiallyhired 500 new officers to patrol the subways. They are there to address “quality of life” issues, such as illegal food vendors and the growing number of homeless people living in the subway system. 

Meanwhile, the NYPD has been cracking down on low-level crimes, and that’s no surprise, since that kind of crime is up. But that often means focusing on persons of color, whether it’s because of simple economics or racial bias. But addressing those issues, no matter how tactfully, is no simple matter.

Respect is not as simple a matter as it may seem. 

This 1981 news photo shows uniformed British police moving toward a barricade and bonfire, behind which a group of demonstrators hide.
1981 Brixton Riots in the UK: first large-scale clash between low-income black youths and white British police in the 20th Century. (Photo from The Royal Gazette)

As far as I can tell, one clear problem with NYPD and MTA officers’ approach is that it never seems to be respectfulDefensive, definitely–and in the current environment, caution is warranted

But whatever their intentions, the effect when they surround a tiny, elderly churro vender with four or five much taller armed police officers and handcuff her is pretty darned intimidating.

This is not a new thing, this antagonism between police forces and the working poor. And it’s not isolated to New York City. Fines that unfairly burdened lower-income residents of Ferguson MO fueled some of the fury in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing. And all too often cities’ attempts to “deal with the homeless problem” turn into efforts to chase the homeless out of town–or at least out of sight. 

In this CBC photo officials use a construction front shovel loader to dump debris from the homeless camp into a dumpster for disposal.
Officials used heavy equipment to clear out a homeless camp near Moncton, New Brunswick last May (photo by Shane Magee/CBC)

Even efforts designed to be helpful don’t always succeed. Many places create task forces that include social workers to coordinate with the police, but their success is mixed. “Neighborhood policing” doesn’t always have the desired result.

It’s not just the working poor who feel disrespected. Police officers also have every reason to feel they are not respected. Indeed, too often they are violently targeted. “Bad actors” among sworn-officer ranks get sensational headlines, and besmirch the ones who honestly struggle each day to serve their communities.

Nothing is simple. Especially not efforts to negotiate the delicate balance of respect, accountability, and public order that characterizes interactions between the police and the working poor

But it’s quite simply true that everyone’s safety and security depends on finding a way.

IMAGE CREDITS: 

Many thanks to Police Magazine (and New York Post) for the coverage of the protest, and to 1010 WINS Radio and Twitter for the tweet from Decolonize this Place. I’d also like to thank Forensic for the photo from the London Underground, and ABC-7 News for the screencap of homeless people in subways. Additionally,  much gratitude to The Royal Gazette for the historic photo from the Brixton Riots, as well as The Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) and their photographer/reporter Shane Magee for the photo from the Moncton NB homeless camp.

Who and where are the “Good Cops”?

This week’s Artdog Image of Interest is a Video:

Today I’d like to share my little platform with a guy whose Internet identity is “Mike the Cop.” He’s part of the Humanizing the Badge organization, which is doing its part to share a perspective on law enforcement officers that we don’t always get from the media.

If we’re genuinely interested in exploring the extent of our diversity, then this is ALSO a minority who should be heard from. So if you’re willing to listen, Mike has some concise, true and important things to say about “Good Cops.”

VIDEO: Many thanks to Mike the Cop’s YouTube channel for this video, to Humanizing the Badge for helping me find it, and to the vast majority of our law enforcement officers, who serve every day and do their best always to be good cops.

Peace and Justice and Black and Blue

The events of this month so far have left me feeling torn in pieces.

From Dallas, before the attack. Can we see more of this, please, and less of what came later?

Anyone who reads my blog from time to time will likely have noted that I am interested in, and largely sympathetic toward, law enforcement. Yet another dominant theme for me is social justice Indeed, on July 2nd, I announced that my theme for the quotes and images of this month would focus on diversity as a major strength of my homeland, the United States of America.

I chose it because the ugly rise in open racism that I have seen in recent years troubles me deeply, and I believe the most patriotic thing I can do is oppose that trend. I’m not the only one in my country who feels torn by seemingly competing loyalties, or betrayed by the oversimplifications it’s too easy to fall into.

If I am supportive of the police, am I automatically unsympathetic to the minority communities that have so often been targeted, or oblivious to the seemingly-endless cases of unarmed black men (and boys) killed by police?

If I affirm that the protesters often have an all-too-valid point, am I undermining the authority and values of law enforcement, or denying the value of the rule of law?

No. I want a third way. I want a way where everyone’s intrinsic value is affirmed: where ALL neighborhoods have access to good food, good education, health care, and job opportunities, and where the presence of the police is honestly welcomed.

As President Obama said in Dallas, we must keep our hearts open to our fellow Americans. “With an open heart, we can abandon the overheated rhetoric and the oversimplification that reduces whole categories of our fellow Americans not just [to] opponents, but to enemies.”

I pray he was right when he said, “I believe our righteous anger can be transformed into more justice and more peace.” But it won’t happen if we stay back in our bitter, angry corners and refuse to see each other’s humanity. Each one of us has a responsibility to step up: to do all we can to make that vision a reality in our world.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Quartz, for the photo of the protester with the cops. 

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