Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: police work

This meme shows police violently throwing a protester on the ground. The superimposed words read "Protect and serve Yer doin it wrong"

Abolish the police?

If we abolish the police in the 21st Century, why should people need XK9s in the future? 

Wait! That wasn’t the question at the top of your mind?

Here are Jan's XK9 books, that she'd published by June 2020: "The Other Side of Fear," and "What's Bred in the Bone."
Learn more about Jan’s XK9 Books on her website. She writes science fiction police procedurals about sapient police dogs on a space station. Cover artwork for The Other Side of Fear is © 2020 by Lucy A. SynkCover artwork for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee

Actually, it wasn’t my first question, either (although I do have answers). When I originally learned about the movement to abolish the police, my first question was why would we do that? 

Then I realized that by asking that question I had already marked myself as a person who owns property and benefits from white privilege

Clearly, there was a disconnect happening. I needed to remedy it by educating myself.

Why would we abolish the police?

Let’s start with my “Why would we abolish the police?” question. The answer depends on why the questioner thinks the police exist. Well, their motto is “to protect and serve.” But protect what? Serve whom? That’s where it starts to get dicey

This meme shows police violently throwing a protester on the ground. The superimposed words read "Protect and serve Yer doin it wrong"
(Meme courtesy of Cheezeburger.)

Functionally, throughout their history police forces have existed to protect the property and persons of some of the people from basically everyone else (except when they don’t protect property or the personal safety of civilians). And in recent days we’ve heard many authorities cite “protecting property from destruction” as a reason for cracking down on protesters who linger past curfews.

They also don’t exist to protect public safety in all the ways we tend to believe they do. Did you know that according to the Supreme Court, the police are not obligated to protect a person from physical harm, even when it is threatened? 

Above all, they primarily exist to serve the current power structure, for well or ill. And that’s a big part of the problem. If you have a racist or corrupt power structure, police exist to support it

Police in riot gear advance in a line through billowing blue tear gas smoke, with their batons out.
Minneapolis police advance through tear gas on a group of protesters. (Photo courtesy of Scott Olson/Getty Images, via NPR).

Do we have a racist or corruptible power structure in the USA?

I feel kind of silly, even writing that question. Of course we do.

We certainly have a racist power structure in the USA. If anyone can have lived through the last several years and still doubt that, they probably live in a gated community, are relatively wealthy, white, and only watch Fox News. In other words, they very carefully tune out many distressing aspects of reality

But you can’t close your eyes, cover your ears, yell “La-la-la-la!” and magically transport yourself into a post-racial America. No such place exists.

Do we have a corruptible power structure in the USA? A look at the situation in Ferguson, MO, in 2014 offers a window on such a power structure. It was a community mostly run by the minority population of white people, with a mostly white police force.Racial profiling led to repeated arrests for petty infractions, and jail time when fines weren’t paid. The city basically criminalized poverty, as well as driving or doing almost any other action while black.

A person holds a poster that lists all kinds of things people weren't safely able to do "while black."
The most discouraging part? This list only hits the “famous ones.” (photo courtesy of KISS).

But wait! The police are the “good guys!” Right?

Well, they’re certainly supposed to be. Both in real life and in our mediathey’re portrayed as (and quite often are)braveself-sacrificing, and strong protectors of the weak or vulnerable

A white DC police officer interacts pleasantly with several black kids, in a demonstration of community policing.
The District of Columbia has been at the forefront of the “community policing” effort. But is it enough? Many don’t think so. (Photo courtesy of Governing)

But again, whether you view them as good guys or not depends on your experiences. After some of the experiences and understandings explored in this blog post, you may be starting to feel less happy with the police.

But . . . abolish the police? Entirely? Is that realistic? And is it even remotely desirable? Don’t we actually need the police for a lot of important things?
What about murders? What about armed robbery? Car theft? Rape? Human trafficking? Fraud? How would we deal with those things, if there were no police? I have yet to find comprehensive answers from the “abolish” advocates, other than promoting a decentralized approach that parcels out some duties to other agencies. 

But unpacking many of the angles will take at least another blog post or so. I’m looking forward to examining how the “abolish” and “defund” advocates may turn out to inform (or not)the process of reforming, reducing or in some cases completely dismantling the ways policing is done–as well as implications for the future (both ours in reality, and in my science fiction).

IMAGE CREDITS:

The covers of Jan’s books are from her website. The meme about protecting and serving “the right way” is from Cheezeburger. The photo of the cops and the tear gas is courtesy of Scott Olson/Getty Images, via NPR. The very long list of unsafe things to do “while black” is from KISS, and the photo of the officer doing “community policing” is from Governing. Many thanks to all!

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 crisis dog Tikva, a Keeshond, with responders at Ground Zero.

Service dogs for first responders

In light of Wednesday’s post, here’s a video about service dogs for first responders. 

Thank goodness, leadership in some areas has begun to cut through the “tough-guy” culture in many agencies. It’s high time we recognize the huge impact of stress on first responders. When more than twice as many police officers die by suicide than in the line of duty, something is seriously wrong!

Anyone who’s followed this blog for a while knows I’ve posted about service dogs many times before. I’ve featured dogs who help calm child witnesses in courtrooms, and others who aid deaf people, or help with mobility.

Some comfort hospice patients, or support recovery from PTSD. Especially as they’ve become more widely used to treat PTSD in military veterans, it’s logical to expand the idea to include service dogs for first responders.

Dogs’ roles have evolved

This kind of caregiving role for our canine friends isn’t a universal centuries-old tradition. Over the millennia they’ve been our co-hunters, herding dogs, and guard dogs. But in isolated instances people have used animals as helps in therapy or guides throughout history

L-R in a wonderful composite photo created by Tori Holmes for Bark-Post: A mural from Herculaneum shows an ancient Roman dog used to guide a bind person.  Morris Frank and his guide dog Buddy walk down a city street (she is popularly considered to be the first guide dog in the US). The third photo portrays a contemporary guide dog with her person.
L-R in a wonderful composite photo created by Tori Holmes for Bark-Post: A mural from Herculaneum shows an ancient Roman dog used to guide a bind person.  Morris Frank and his guide dog Buddy walk down a city street (she is popularly considered to be the first guide dog in the US). The third photo portrays a contemporary guide dog with her person.

Our contemporary understanding of what a service dog can do began in Germany after World War I. Former ambulance dogs found new roles as guide dogs for blinded veterans. The idea spread to the United States, where trainers established several schools.

Developing the concept

From there, a whole new chapter in the relationship between dogs and humans has unfolded. Service dogs now help people deal with all kinds of medical and mental health issues

But the first time I became aware of therapy dogs helping first responders cope was through stories about therapy dogs at the site of the 9/11 wreckage

This photo shows crisis dog Tikva, a Keeshond, with responders at Ground Zero.
Crisis dog Tikva, a Keeshond, helped responders cope at Ground Zero. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

Individual agencies have begun bringing in therapy dogs occasionally. In the 911 Call Center for Sheboygan County, WI, a team of therapy dogs visits on a regular schedule. 

Back in Fairfax County, home of the police in our opening video, they also have a Goldendoodle therapy dog named Wally in Fire Station 32. Therapy dogs have been brought in to help firefighters battling wildfires in Californina (I hope in Australia, too!).

I think this trend of providing service dogs for first responders is positive. What do you think? Should more agencies should explore it as a way to offer our first responders some relief?

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to VOA for the video about therapy dogs in the Fairfax VA Police Department. I deeply appreciate the three-photo composite of guide dogs through the centuries from Tori Holmes and Bark-Post. Finally, I want to thank the New York Daily News for the photo of Tikva the Keeshond, and the accompanying article about therapy dogs at Ground Zero.

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