Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: police

This quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

What might Dr. King say to us today?

In the wake of the holiday that honors him, I’ve been wondering “what might Dr. King say to us today?” The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a man whom many of us consider a moral beacon for the ages. His life ended more than fifty years ago, but we value moral beacons because their guidance transcends their own times.

We certainly could use a moral beacon right now. We’ve just lived through a year of historic tumult and upheaval. The pandemic has disrupted our lives on every imaginable level. We lived through a long summer of mass popular demonstrations against systemic racism. An incredibly divisive political season has so far crescendoed (at the time of this writing) into the spectacle of a thank-God-failed insurrection/coup d’état.

What might Dr. King say about all of this? It’s impossible (unless you believe in séances) to ask him directly. But some of the things he wrote and said point us toward his probable reading of some of today’s major recent events. If I tried to address all of today’s issues with his thoughts, this would be a very long post. Instead, I’ll focus on two top headlines of today.

What might Dr. King say about the insurrection at the Capitol?

Dr. King loved his country. Even though he opposed white supremacists in positions of power, he still could write, “the goal of America is freedom.” In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963) he cited “the American dream,” and the goal of “bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”

The white supremacist mob that stormed the Capitol would have looked all too familiar to him. Their (literal and spiritual) parents and grandparents created the Jim Crow South where he focused his resistance work. Of their racist laws, he wrote, “All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”

As seen from directly above, an angry crowd of Trump supporters beat a Capitol Police officer who has fallen on his face on the Capitol steps.
The insurrectionists attacked this police officer with a crutch, a night stick, fists, and assorted poles—including a pole attached to an American flag. (WUSA9)

He also would have condemned their violence. King decried “hate filled policemen [who] curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters,” but his whole life was devoted to nonviolence. He would have unequivocally decried assaults such as the one pictured above.

Violence brings only temporary victories; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, never brings permanent peace,” he wrote. Moreover, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

What might Dr. King say about the impact of the pandemic?

I think he would have been most outraged by the stark, enduring, inequalities the pandemic laid bare. The scourge of poverty, and the systemic racism he sought to dismantle all his life, roared into vivid prominence when COVID-19 pervaded the nation.

This chart, based on data from the American Community Survey of county public health departments, shows that rates of infection were much higher for Latinos and Blacks in San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Alameda Counties, and the death rate for Black people was almost double that of any other group. Latinos came in second.
This chart captures a snapshot of data from May 5, 2020 that demonstrates the uneven impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on different racial groups (Todd Trumbull/San Francisco Chronicle)

Unequal access to health care, environmental pollution in poor neighborhoods, and inadequate access to healthy nutrition in “food deserts” had already afflicted communities of color with higher rates of diseases and health conditions that made residents of these communities more vulnerable to the disease and its most virulent manifestations.

In this case, we don’t have to ask, “what might Dr. King say?” because we know he said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We know he advocated for “the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.

In 2020, we outgassed a lot of platitudes about the value of “essential workers,” many of whom are Black, Latinx, or Asian. But although they can’t work remotely and therefore court death each day they go to work, they often still don’t have adequate health coverage, and they weren’t in the earliest cohort of vaccine recipients, even though they were supposed to be near the front of the line.

A hallmark of capitalist systems is tiers of access, a hierarchy of who gets how much, of what quality, and when. As King put it, capitalism “has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.” In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, he said, “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.”

What might Dr. King say about where we go from here?

I think he’s left us plenty of guidance on that question, too. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools,” he warned. He also said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight,” he wrote from the Birmingham jail.

A Navajo Nation food bank.
Native Americans of the Navajo Nation people, pick up supplies from a food bank. It was set up at the Navajo Nation town of Casamero Lake in New Mexico on May 20, 2020. (Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images and ABC News)

On a different occasion, he warned, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

Let’s not be too late. After all, “The time is always right, to do what’s right.”

IMAGE and QUOTATIONS CREDITS:

IMAGES: Many thanks to WUSA 9, for the horrifying photo of the police officer being beaten by the insurrectionist mob at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. I’m grateful to graphic artist Todd Trumbull of the San Francisco Chronicle for the “Racial Disparities in COVID-19” chart from May 5, 2020. I also want to thank Mark Ralston of AFP via Getty Images and ABC News, for the May 20, 2020 photo of the relief station in the Navajo Nation. Many thanks also to Gecko & Fly, for the header image.

QUOTES: Many of these resources supplied overlapping quotes, while others offered new insights. For a deep dive into the wisdom and sayings of Dr. King, I appreciate Christian Animal Ethics, The African Studies Center of the University of Pennsylvania (complete text of Letter from a Birmingham Jail), Gecko & Fly, Food for the Hungry, In These Times, and Common Dreams.

This illustration shows many diverse ages, races, and cultures.

Politics on Rana Station

In last week’s post I promised to talk about politics on Rana Station this week. As I said in that post, I built the Station’s system on ideas garnered from decades of teaching, studying history, and observing our contemporary society.

Those experiences inspired the guiding question, What kind of environment would allow ALL of my students to reach their full potential?

Three children play in an outdoors setting with found objects.
Natural spaces offer many free-play options, which are good for kids. (uncredited photo from Community Playthings)

I’ve spent most of my career teaching both urban and rural students from lower-income areas. I knew our current system definitely wasn’t cutting it.

But the more I studied, the clearer it became that the problems were bigger than schools.

Children do well where everyone around them does too

Thriving children come from thriving communities with good safety nets and essential needs provided for. Unfortunately, the United States doesn’t have such a system. The Covid-19 pandemic has made that fact plainer than ever, and it was already painfully clear to anyone paying attention.

Members of White Coats for Black Lives demonstrate at a Black Lives Matter rally in June 2020.
Members of White Coats for Black Lives demonstrate at a Black Lives Matter rally in June 2020. (Photo by Maria Khrenova/TASS/Getty, via Yes Magazine.)

When I taught in more well-off parts of Johnson County, Kansas, I saw places where many students did succeed. Those kids were never hungry. Most had excellent medical care. Their families enriched their backgrounds with travel, summer camp, outings museums, zoos, concerts, or other experiences.

Children still sometimes “fell through the cracks,” often for the same reasons inner-city or rural kids did. Only about 5.3% of Johnson Countians fall below the poverty line, but for those who do, services are sparse and mass-transit leaves much to be desired. But even kids from well-off homes could suffer from mental health issues, domestic violence, or drug habits that impacted all aspects of their lives.

How could Rana Station do better?

I didn’t build my fictitious space station to be a political manifesto. I knew from the start that I couldn’t geek out on “mastery learning,” decriminalization of addiction, restorative justice, or other pet ideas, and still write an entertaining science fiction mystery. (Instead, I opted to do that in blog posts. You’ve now been warned!)

A protester demonstrates in support of supervised injection sites in Philadelphia in December 2019.
A protester demonstrates in support of supervised injection sites in Philadelphia in December 2019. (Matt Rourke/AP, via Baltimore Sun.)

But I could write the station’s governmental system into the background of the action as a thought experiment. Insert ideas as they became appropriate. Discard things that slowed the narrative.

What’s different on Rana Station?

As I noted last week, I don’t believe in utopias. There’s no possibility of a “perfect system,” if it’s run by imperfect beings—and everyone’s an imperfect being. But we can try to do better than whatever our current system has become. That’s what I’ve tried to reflect in the politics on Rana Station.

I do believe strongly that diverse cultures foster a more resilient society, so I’ve tried to depict a variety of cultures and species in these books. There are four different kinds of sapient beings among Rana’s citizens.

Faces of different ages, races, and cultures fill this illustration by "Franzidraws."
I believe a diverse community builds in greater creativity and resilience. (Illustration by “Franzidraws.”)

Ranan law and civic culture regards all backgrounds, body-colorations, family configurations, and cultures as equally acceptable. Readers of my two currently-published books know there’s no stigma attached to homosexuality. I have plans to expand that to other gender identities as well. My research goes forward, and as I learn, I hope to find good opportunities for representation.

My love of diversity “outs” me as a dedicated multiculturalist. Just don’t expect all this diversity not to generate differences of opinion. After all, emotions and conflict are the soul of good fiction.

Other than diverse sapient species, what’s different?

Many of the human characters live in large, extended families of relatives, in-laws, and sometimes friends who’ve become “family by choice.” Their residence towers are multi-household dwellings, kind of like an apartment building, only everyone’s a relative. Space to grow food is at a premium on Rana, so they build up, not out.

How do these large, extended families keep from killing each other? In part, cultural norms have grown up to govern “best practices” in extended-family dwellings. But some people just don’t thrive in these settings. They are free to move out—or sometimes the family decides to evict them. And for disagreements or mediation, they have Listeners.

A child psychologist and a young girl talk.
Listeners on Rana Station are trained mental health specialists. Here, a more Earthbound child psychologist and a young girl talk.(Photo by Valerii Honcharuk.)

Listeners are trained psychologists and social workers. Like physicians and other physical-health-care professionals, They make up part of the health care infrastructure. Unlike in our contemporary USA, mental and physical health care is viewed as a universal right. So are access to food, education, and shelter.

What kind of system do the politics on Rana Station reflect?

Rana’s list of basic rights might seem to peg me as a socialist for some, although that would technically be incorrect. In my opinion, these are basic infrastructure elements that any reasonable government should provide.

A system that doesn’t supply essential benefits to the people who support it with their votes and taxes is pretty darn corrupt, in my opinion. Why have it, if it doesn’t benefit all of its citizens, including those experiencing hard times?

People gather around a raised bed at a community garden in Oakland, CA.
Unlike in the United States, food insecurity is virtually unknown on Rana Station. Here, a group gathers at the Acta no Verba Garden in Oakland, CA. (photo by Leonor Hurtado).

My sympathy for restorative justice and Summerhill-type “free schooling” might make some think I’m an anarchist at heart, but that’s not my philosophical home. Observant folk might also notice I didn’t “abolish” the Orangeboro Police Department, among other things.

The presence of a vigorous business community and varied personal-income levels on Rana Station might argue that I’m a capitalist. That’s probably accurate, although I regard capitalism in much the same way I do fire: uncontrolled, it can consume and destroy everything. Appropriately regulated, it can power widespread benefits.

Politics on Rana Station, and unintended consequences

If Rana sounds like a nice place to live, it might suit you in the way its founders (both fictional and me) hoped. But that warning about utopias holds, here.

The system has its weak links, failures, and faults. The Orangeboro cops and their counterparts on other parts of the Station find plenty of work to do. “Enemies, both foreign and domestic,” keep Rana’s leaders busy, as well.

And they open up lots of opportunities for stories I hope you and I can both enjoy.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Community Playthings, for the uncredited photo of the children at play. I’m grateful to Yes Magazine and photographer Maria Khrenova of TASS/Getty Images for the photo of White Coats for Black Lives demonstrators in New York last summer (June 2020). I appreciate the Baltimore Sun and photographer Matt Rourke/AP for the photo of the demonstrator who called for safe drug-use sites in Philadelphia last December (2019).

Thanks very much to 123RF for the “diverse community” illustration by Franzidraws, and for the photo of the psychologist working with the young girl, taken by Valerii Honcharuk. I also appreciate Food First and photographer Leonor Hurtado, for the photo of the community garden group from Oakland, CA.

A group of armed young men at a gas station in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during protests in August 2020.

How can this be legal?

By G. S. Norwood

“How can this be legal?” is a re-blog from The Weird Blog.

We live in crazy times. At a time when most of us are just trying to stay safe from the coronavirus pandemic and stay afloat in an unstable economy, we have seen armed counter-protesters turn out to threaten peaceful protesters in a quiet town like Weatherford, Texas. How can this be legal?

Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse, at left, and his fellow militia member Ryan Balch, walk along Sheridan Road in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on the fatal night.
Photo courtesy of Channel 3000 (no photographer credited).

Protesters and militiamen have died in places like Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon, due to the presence of heavily armed militias.

The President of the United States called on a private militia group to stand back and stand by.”

We have heard rumors of armed militiamen making plans to guard polling places on Election Day.

The FBI and state authorities have arrested more than a dozen men for plotting to kidnap the governors of Michigan and Virginia.

How can it be legal to create a private army? Send heavily armed civilians to public places to “protect property” like gas stations and statues without consent or coordination with local law enforcement?

Legal Scholars to the Rescue

Turns out I’m not the only one asking that question.

The Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection has been studying the rise of illegal militia organizations in all fifty states. They have challenged militia groups in court on constitutional grounds. Filed amicus briefs in other court cases. Advised communities on how to meet the challenge of active militia groups. They even sent a letter to the chief of police in Weatherford, Texas, advising him on applicable law.

Go to their website, and search for yourself. You’ll find fact sheets on the laws governing militias in your state. These sheets include advice on what you can do to defend yourself if heavily armed civilians show up at your polling site on November 3.

The Bottom Line in Texas

A group of armed young men at a gas station in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during protests in August 2020.
Photo courtesy of Spectrum News/Sabra Ayres, via Bay News 9.

It all boils down to this: You and your buddies can meet up, take target practice, drill, and participate in private tactical exercises all you want. Wear camo like it’s high fashion, and buy body armor wherever it’s legally sold.

But if you take action—step into a public situation claiming law enforcement authority without being called up by the governor—you’re an unauthorized private militia and you’re breaking the law.

Simply put, your private army cannot self-activate. Only the duly recognized law enforcement authorities can deputize you to “lend a hand” when needed. You can’t just jump in because you think it would be a good idea.

How can this be legal?

Just to make it all clear, I’m going to contrast militia activity on the Weatherford square with the activities of a group I once belonged to: The Weatherford Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association.

The members of the Weatherford Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association, as the name implies, are all graduates of a six-week training course taught by the Weatherford Police Department. In the course you learn the basic duties of a Weatherford Police officer, undergo a background check and, if you’re interested, earn the right to volunteer for the Weatherford Police Department.

I did a lot of filing and shredding as a WPD volunteer. Other Citizen Police Academy volunteers ride on patrol with officers. They are frequently asked to help with crowd and traffic control during such large public events as the annual Parker County Peach Festival.

In a pre-Covid era, women at the Parker County Peach Festival sell locally-grown peaches from an outdoor booth with a table filled with small baskets of peaches.
Parker County Peach Festival photo courtesy of Megan Parks Photography and Durham Video and Photography.

It’s All in the Authorization

That’s the key. The Police Department asked for help. CPA volunteers are directed by, and answerable to, the Police Department. They don’t just show up in a reflective vest and start bossing drivers and pedestrians around.

A group crosses the legal line anytime they take on a law-enforcement role without being asked. Unless they coordinate their activities with the good people in real law enforcement agencies, they are breaking the law.

Go to the Georgetown website. Learn about the law. More importantly, know who to contact and how to document your experience, if you feel some guy with a gun is crossing the line on Election Day.

If you find yourself wondering “How can this be legal?” you may find out that it’s not.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Channel 3000, for the photo of Kyle Rittenhouse and his fellow militia-member Ryan Balch in Kenosha. We also thank Spectrum News, Sabra Ayres, and Bay News 9, for the photo of the civilians in camo and ballistic armor, also in Kenosha. And we appreciate Megan Parks Photography and Durham Video and Photography for the photo from the Parker County Peach Festival.

Five white men in matching t-shirts, at least three of whom also wear military-style tactical vests and appear to be armed, stand together and exchange looks with four black men who stand across from them, wearing matching T-shirts of a different design bearing the words “#UNITY #JUSTICE #PEACE.” What are they thinking about this encounter?

What are they thinking?

By G. S. Norwood

When armed civilians take to the streets, what are they thinking?

The news out of Kenosha, Wisconsin, is bad. A 17-year-old boy, armed with an assault rifle, killed two protesters and wounded a third. I wanted to finish up this cycle of protest-related blog posts by trying to answer the question: What are they thinking?

Peaceful Protests or Armed Militia?

To get to that answer, I’ll recount a conversation I had online with two men who appeared to support the presence of heavily armed civilians at otherwise peaceful protests.

Before we get any deeper, I want to make clear that in the protests I discuss in this post, people marched peacefully in Weatherford, Texas, and other small towns around the Dallas/Fort Worth area. It was broad daylight. Nobody broke windows, toppled statues, or looted places of business. Nobody announced any intention to commit such acts of destruction.

The local police were both aware of the protesters’ actions and in place to keep the peace. Conditions might be different in other parts of the country, but this is what I saw, and learned from others who were present at the protests, including law enforcement officers.

Online Rumors

After a July 25 march in Weatherford, Texas, to protest the Confederate statue on the Parker County Courthouse lawn, rumors began to spread on the internet. They whispered that the group was going to march again at 3:30 pm on Saturday, August 8.

What are they thinking? Several men ride in the back of a black pickup truck with dark-tinted windows. A large black rifle and scope is tripod-mounted on top of the truck’s cab, next to a large Confederate Battle Flag. Behind them is a limestone storefront from the square in Weatherford Texas.
Photo by Trice Jones, via Dallas Morning News.

As early as 8:30 am, Facebook commenters had spotted some guy in a heavily armored pickup truck with a trailer parked on the square, apparently waiting for the marchers. Others appeared as the day rolled on. Local law enforcement was out in force, detouring traffic away from the square, and calling in reserve officers to monitor the situation.

Right about here you might wonder, “What are they thinking will happen?”

No marchers appeared and, according to a friend within the D/FW progressive community, no march was ever planned. Perhaps it was another example of someone trolling the militia, as happened at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July 4.

Asking For A Friend

I asked another friend, one of the reserve law enforcement officers called to the square that day, what the official line was on vigilante policing. That is, “private armed citizens threatening other private, possibly armed, citizens in public places.”

He said he couldn’t speak for the officials, but personally he was not a fan. His response echoed the opinion expressed by other former law enforcement officers I know.

That was the point at which one of his other Facebook friends said state statutes and the Constitution allow “protection of property, including that of others.” He said they were there to protect the statue, in case the protesters tried to pull it down.

A stone statue of a man with a goatee, dressed as a Confederate infantryman with a rifle, stands atop a stone base dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy “In honor of the United Confederate Veterans of Parker County, 1861-1865.” The statue stands on the grounds of the Parker County Courthouse in Weatherford, TX.
Photo by Tony Gutierrez, via Dallas Morning News.

While my reserve officer friend agreed that state law allows private citizens to protect property, he offered a more nuanced response. “Her question was about ‘private armed citizens maintaining order by threatening other citizens . . .’ which is NOT allowed by statute or otherwise. I doubt seriously that a citizen that tried to justify the use of force ‘protecting a statue’ would stand much of a chance in court.”

As a former law enforcement officer, who has to maintain his state law enforcement certification to continue to serve as a reserve officer, he has actually studied these questions.

Then a second person commented that, “For a lot of them, [the armed civilians] they’re not specifically protecting the statue. The BLM and Antifa are known to destroy the surrounding area of statues.”

Which isn’t significantly different than just protecting the statue, so still isn’t a legally defensible excuse for armed civilians to threaten protesters. But I wanted to understand the rationale for coming out armed.

What Are They Thinking?

So, I asked one of the commenters, “Isn’t it the job of the Weatherford Police Department and the Parker County Sheriff’s Office to prevent that kind of property destruction? Not the job of private citizens? Do you have any credible information that the WPD and PCSO are incapable of doing the job taxpayers pay them to do in an effective and professional manner? I have always found the professional law enforcement officers in Parker County to be well-trained and highly capable.”

The commenter responded, “I never said the law enforcement agencies here were incapable of doing their job. I personally think that it would serve all concerned much better if there were no armed citizens looking like they were ready for a battle on the town square. I think that there should be a good number of people prepared, however, if things got ugly, to be there quickly to back the LEO up. Some of the folks parading around down there are not helping Weatherford, Parker County, or themselves look good.”

Five white men in matching t-shirts, at least three of whom also wear military-style tactical vests and appear to be armed, stand together and exchange looks with four black men who stand across from them, wearing matching T-shirts of a different design bearing the words “#UNITY #JUSTICE #PEACE.” What are they thinking about this encounter?
Photo by Jason Janik, via Dallas Morning News.

Then I asked, “Isn’t that what reserve officers are for? Trained and TCOLE certified? They would operate in coordination with, and under the command of, WPD, PCSO, and/or DPS. Otherwise you just have a bunch of freelance cop wannabes, operating on their own ‘best judgement’ with no accountability. Seems to me that just makes the whole situation harder for the actual cops to contain.” Nobody responded to that one.

What are WE Thinking?

What are they thinking? It appears to be that they’ll take their guns and go to the protest to “uphold the law” with no real training in what the law actually says, and no grasp of the fact that cops have to let the BLM people march and speak too.

The cops can’t take sides or they undermine the rule of law for everybody. If a bunch of freelance wannabes ride into town to enforce the law as they see fit, they are just winging it on the back of their self-aggrandizing hero fantasies. They make things worse for the real cops, who are trying to do their real jobs.

George Fuller, the mayor of McKinney—another Dallas suburb about 100 miles north and east of Weatherford—put it a different way when a small militia group showed up on the town square there. “As far as those outsiders that are coming in; get on the damn bus and go home. You are not wanted here, you’re not liked here, you don’t add anything other than division, and you look silly. Go play G. I. Joe somewhere else.”

A summer of protests, marches, confusion and disinformation now promises to plunge us into an autumn of more protests, marches, confusion, disinformation, unasked-for Federal responses, and a divisive election. On The Weird Blog and on my sister Jan’s “Artdog Adventures” blog, we’ve spent much of the summer commenting and exploring the issues that have arisen. Anyone who’s read them knows where we stand.

So the themes of Jan’s posts will vary for a while. At least until something else happens to make us ask, “What are they thinking?”

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to the Dallas Morning News for all three of the images in this post. We’d also like to salute photographers Trice Jones (a local activist?), for the photo of the guy in the truck with a gun in Weatherford TX, Tony Gutierrez, for the photo of the Parker County Confederate Veterans Memorial on the courthouse grounds in Weatherford TX, and Jason Janik, Special Contributor and an AP-affiliated photographer, for the photo of typical-for-2020 militia and protesters. These appear to have been in McKinney, TX, but they represent their compatriots well.

A city worker power-washes "Defund the Police" from the road outside the Atlanta Police Department, after the protests in Atlanta.

How (and why) might we defund police?

It appears that when people say, “Defund the Police!” they often don’t mean completely. They usually appear not to mean “dismantle the police force and don’t replace it,” although some do. I started examining the ideas of abolishing or defunding the police in the previous post on this blog.

Defund the Police, like Abolish the Police, is an arresting (sorry), but inadequate slogan. Like most ideas, if you take the logic to its farthest extreme, it’s a terrible idea (hint: for real-life applications, never go to the farthest extreme). But people have begun to have valuable discussions about the way forward.

In this Kevin Siers cartoon, two protesters carry a large banner, emblazoned with a very long slogan that takes up several lines and goes off the edge of the cartoon. Part of it says, "Defund reform repair reeval ... improve rework reenvision ...reinvent cleanse reshape recreate ... Police." One says to the other, "We need a new slogan!"
(Kevin Siers cartoon courtesy of Charlotte Observer/McClatchey)

Deciphering what they actually mean

In the simplest statements I’ve heard, the idea is to reallocate some funds from the local police department. Then to spend them building up departments that would be more appropriate responders to certain kinds of situations. Police solutions often end with someone arrested or ticketed, possibly taken to jail. That’s appropriate for some things, but not for others.

For example, if it’s a mental health crisis, deploy some kind of mental health equivalent of EMTs (and yes, I know we don’t have those yet). This would radically reduce the number of incidents in which a mentally ill person in crisis (but mostly a danger only to themselves) isn’t confronted, further agitated, and then eventually killed by police.

Another example we often hear cited is when police are called to deal with persons experiencing homelessness. What do these people need? Certainly a better place to live. Many also need mental health counseling, physical health care, possibly addiction treatment, additional education so they can find a job, or other services. What can police do about them? Usually none of those things. They can arrest them, or force them to go somewhere else. That’s pretty much it.

A large, multi-spout teapot labeled "Defund the Police" pours tea into cups marked "education," "universal healthcare," "youth services," "housing," and "other community reinvestments."
(Illustration courtesy of Aleksey Weintraub, @LAKUTIS via Twitter)

Why many say policing itself needs a re-think

Diversity training is only as good as the trainer who teaches, and the personal investment of the people who show up. Until individual officers take the messages to heart–and until there’s greater diversity and cross-cultural understanding in most police departments, cultural clashes will continue to fuel bad outcomes.

If the overall culture of the department doesn’t change (and changing police culture is an uphill climb), street-level outcomes won’t, either. Many American police are actively trained to distrust their communities, and to believe every encounter could end in violence against them. They are taught to “fear for their lives” almost as a default-setting. The “warrior” mindset of increased police militarization isn’t helping any of us.

Even when radical overhauls happen, there’s often still a gap between desire and result. It’s discouraging. But allowing ourselves to feel defeated and saying, “I give up” isn’t a sustainable solution. Sweeping problems (and problem officers) under the rug doesn’t work. Perpetuating and doubling-down on “how we’ve always done things” doesn’t cut it. We’ve been doing that for decades, and the results keep getting more extreme.

A city worker power-washes "Defund the Police" from the road outside the Atlanta Police Department, after the protests in Atlanta.
A city worker power-washes “Defund the Police” from the road outside the Atlanta Police Department, after the protests in Atlanta. When the protests subside, will calls for reform be as easy to erase or ignore? (Photo by Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

What is policing supposed to do?

It gets down to questioning the very purpose of policing. Why do we have police? To keep public order, so we feel safer in our neighborhoods? To respond to (or ideally limit/prevent) crimes such as murder, assault, rape, fraud, and similar invasions of property and person

Do they have a role in limiting vandalism, truancy, and roving bands of unoccupied youths, or should other programs address those ills?

Do we want police to prioritize our privacy and personal autonomy at the expense of the privacy and personal autonomy of others? How much governmental intrusion is acceptable, and are we okay with knowing that some people experience more heavy-handed treatment than others?

De-criminalizing our society

Many proposals start with a laundry-list of things to de-criminalize. I’ve already mentioned de-criminalizing homelessness in this article. A strong case also can be made for de-criminalizing addiction and drug possession

Much is made, in gun-violence arguments, of the urgent need for better mental health services. Yet we are a very long way from de-criminalizing mental illness and creating a robust safety net of mental health services.

De-criminalizing poverty is another consideration. We could do this in part by examining all proposed statutes, civil codes, and local ordinances to see which disproportionately afflict poor people. Another good starting place might be not over-policing poor and minority neighborhoods.

This cartoon by artist Barrie Maguire makes the point that de-criminalizing drug addiction would free up jail space.
Decriminalizing addiction, drug use and other “offenses” that could better be handled by other agencies would also free up jail space (Barrie Maguire cartoon courtesy of the Philadelpha Inquirer).

Where do we go from here?

Some”de-fund” arguments focus, not on policing itself, but on problems that perpetuate the conditions that encourage crime

Even before the pandemic threw them into glaring prominence, inequalities in educational opportunities, in health care, in food security and economic opportunity were major concerns. So it’s not surprising inequities claim prominent places on many people’s “to-reform” lists. Yet all of those things get less money from local governments than policing. Many cities’ biggest budget item is its public safety budget.

Some observers fear we’re rushing into things with half-baked approaches to revamping police forces or radically altering them. Others fear we’ll only use half-measures, then reluctant politicians will have an “out” to declare, “well, that didn’t work!” a few weeks or years from now.

But what if we were really serious about this? What if we actually tried a well-thought-out plan to readjust the way we do social well-being, including efforts to ensure law, order, and justice for everyone? For real.

I think we’re all still trying to figure out how that would look. But next week in this space, I’ll take a stab at relating my own vision and thoughts to my stories about policing in the future on Rana Station.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to the Charlotte Observer/McClatchey, for the Kevin Sierscartoon. The “Defund the Police Teapot” illustration is from Aleksey Weintraub, @LAKUTIS via Twitter. It appears to be a clever adaptation of a photo of an actual, multi-spout teapot from Tea Exporter India (now a defunct link) via Alobha Exim’s Pinterest board. The photo of the city worker power-washing the street in front of the Atlanta Police Department is by the formidable Alyssa Pointerof the Atlanta Journal-Constitution The remarkable Barrie Maguire (who also did a stint at Kansas City’s own Hallmark) is a marvelous fine-art painter of Irish-inspired work, but he also created cartoons for the Philadelphia Inquirer for a while, including this one dramatizing prison overcrowding.

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!

This photo shows fireworks over the pier at Imperial Beach, CA, just after sunset.

Happy 4th of July!

It’s my country’s birthday! A great reason to share a collection of images, and to wish you a happy 4th of July!

Let’s start with a thought I’d like to see catch on more, in my country:

This is a flag-themed 4th of July greeting with a picture of the Statue of Liberty, and the words: "May we think of freedom not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right."

Here’s a follow-up, to honor those who’ve dedicated their lives to preserving the freedom we cherish.

On the background of a blurred flag image, with a sparker burning at left, the words on this image read: "As we celebrate our nation's freedom, we honor the courageous men and women dedicated to preserving it. Happy Independence Day."

Of course, you know who’ll be working on the 4th of July–just as they do every holiday. Many thanks and best wishes for a safe and happy Independence Day to all the first responders out there! I’d like to thank them and their families, who share them with the rest of us on days like this.

Part of the US flag forms the background for emblems representing three kinds of first responders: Police, Firefighters, and Paramedics.

Here’s a fun video 4th of July greeting, created by Pooja Luthra, that might get you into a holiday mood (warning, it cuts off rather abruptly).

And what happy 4th of July celebration would be complete without fireworks?

This photo is a beautiful photo of fireworks over the pier at Imperial Beach, California, just after sunset when the sky is still red and purple. but dark enough for the skyrockets to look cool.

IMAGE/VIDEO CREDITS: Many thanks to Blogging Bishop, for the call to take our freedom as an opportunity to do what’s right. Also to FleetFeetMurfreesboro for the call to remember who’s potentially paying the most for our freedom. 

I’m grateful to Jerry’s Ford of Leesburg, for the image of the first responders’ emblems with the flag background.

Thanks also to Pooja Luthra, for the video geeting. I’m also grateful to the Imperial Beach, CA Chamber of Commerce, for the stunning photo of fireworks over their local pier.

Thanks and best of everything to you all, for helping me share my wishes for a happy 4th of July.

Another way to thank a first responder

Hi! Here’s a quick update to a very popular post I wrote last November. I’m gratified that many readers have read my post Three Great Ways to Thank First Responders. Thank you!

My friend, fellow writer, and excellent resource for that post, Dora Furlong (have you read her book?), recently sent me another idea: 6-LED mini-flashlights with 9-volt batteries

Firefighters are dealing with 9-volt batteries all the time, so these little things are especially handy for them. Dora’s husband the Fire Captain gave them out to the guys on shift as Christmas presents last month.

Of course, you don’t have to wait till next Christmas to use this idea. No time is a bad time to say “thank you.”

IMAGE: Many thanks to Wal-Mart for this product image. I recently bought some of these via Amazon, too.

Three great ways to thank first responders (plus a suggestion)

It’s been a heck of a week to be a first responder.

We started off Monday with a horrible school bus wreck that Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher described as “Every first responder’s worst nightmare,” and the next day we were confounded by the shooting death of yet another police officer, Wayne State University Officer Collin Rose, on Tuesday. On Thursday, while most of America was (we hope) relaxing for Thanksgiving with their families, our local Johnson County (KS) Sheriff tweeted this reminder:

For my late-week posts this month I’ve been focusing on ways to say thank you to and for various things. With both the holidays and the coldest-weather months coming up in North America, it seems to me that the least I can do to focus this week on good, practical, creative ways to thank our first responders. 

First responders are law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel (don’t forget the dispatchers!) who work all hours, in all weathers, holiday or not, to provide the rest of us with emergency services whenever and wherever we need them.

How can we adequately thank them? We probably can’t. But there are ways that members of a grateful community can express their gratitude–ways that really do help.  


I asked around and checked various sources online–but probably the most interesting and helpful source I found was a friend and fellow writer, Dora Furlong (have you read her book?). She is discharged Air Force, a former EMT, former administrative head of a police department, and the wife of a fire captain/Paramedic. If anybody knows really meaningful ways that community members can thank their local first responders, it’s Dora! Here’s her advice:

1. Ditch the junk food! 

cheese-meat-and-crackers“Everybody brings cookies and tins of popcorn,” she said. “What they’d really like are veggie trays!” She also suggested food gifts of: fruit; crackers, cheese and/or salami; bread; or sandwich trays.

Consider coordinating with a local fire station, police station, etc. to provide a meal. If that’s more than you can do alone, perhaps you could recruit help from like-minded folk from your church, yoga class, or workplace.

If it’s not anonymous, a big pot of soup or other homemade food items would be welcome (call ahead).

Gift cards for places such as Subway, Jimmy John’s, or Panera (what’s local to you?) also can be a great help for a hungry first responder with little time for a meal.

2. Think small and practical 

zebrapensThere are lots of little things that make life easier for an emergency responder. Please note that I have linked many of these items to websites. This is not an endorsement, but to illustrate what I’m talking about.

With cold weather coming on, consider handand foot-warmers. There are also warming or cooling wraps of various types that can help in weather extremes. Dora knew of someone who made knitted caps for a fire crew, but of course you can buy those, too!

Yes, it’s the digital age, but all first responders still need pens and pads of paper. Dora tells me that Zebra pens are small, easy to carry and you can get refills easily. They’re always in demand. As for pads, get the pocket-size with the top spiral (much easier to use than a side-spiral), especially for cops or members of an ambulance crew. 

police-flashlightsAnd yes, pretty much all cops carry a large flashlight, but Dora tells me you’d be amazed how often those small, intense flashlights come in handy, to use in addition to their bigger brothers. Having several on hand can be a real boon–and not only for cops.

Oh, yes! Don’t forget the batteries! All kinds of things (not only flashlights) use AA batteries.

Update! Dora gave me a new idea, which I share in my post Another way to thank a first responderon 1/10/2017.

Finally, if your police department has a bike patrol and you live in a warm-weather area (or have hot summers and need an idea for the future), consider water bottles that snap to the frame of the bike.

3. Put it in writing 

There’s nothing quite as great as getting a written “Thank you” for something you did. Sometimes people say “thanks” to first responders–but much more often these folks see a worse side of humanity. Sometimes the people they help can’t physically speak their thanks.

We can, though.

We can buy or make a card, or write a letter. Remember the old saying, “if it isn’t documented, it never happened.” As a teacher, I know I’m not the only one who still has cherished thank-you notes from years ago–and first responders are no different. Don’t know what to write? here’s a suggestion.

Tell them why you are thanking them. Be specific. Maybe it’s a personal experience. Maybe it’s something you saw in the news. Maybe it’s a particular time of the year you know is probably difficult for them. Maybe you just “took a notion.” Whatever the reason, it’s a good way to introduce the subject.

Tell them how you appreciate what they did or do, what a difference they make in the community. Thank their families, too, for the stress they endure. And close with best wishes for their safety, because what they do is all too often frightening, stressful, and sometimes downright deadly. They see people on what might be the worst day of their lives, and sometimes other people’s nightmares turn into their own, too.

4. If you’re so inclined, pray for them 

This is my “(plus a suggestion),” because I know not everyone believes in prayer. I do, however, and whenever I see an ambulance, fire vehicle or or police car, I pray a variation on this prayer:

Dear God, thank you for (that officer’s/those firefighters’/those Paramedics’) life (lives) and service. Please bless and keep (him/her/them), grant (them) strength, wisdom, discernment, and favor. Bless the work of their hands, Lord, and place a hedge of protection around (them), to keep (them) safe on (their) watch. Bring (them) home safely to (their) family (families), and shower blessings into (their) life (lives). 

It’s probably the way I thank my local first responders the most (I’ve prayed that prayer as many as a half-dozen times on a busy day), though they never know it. I can’t keep the bad guys’ bullets (a moment of silence, please, for Det. Brad Lancaster and Capt. Robert David Melton), the collapsing walls (a moment of silence for John Mesh and Larry Leggio), or the job stress away, but I can pray for their strength and beseech their protection. And I can thank God for them.

So can we all.


IMAGES: Many thanks to the Johnson County Sheriff via Twitter (@JOCOSHERIFF) for the Thanksgiving-in-a-cop-car photo (sorry, I was unable to find @EnoughLODD). The “For your service and protection” image is courtesy of Vacation Myrtle Beach (on a page where they offer first responders a $10 off coupon). The amazing cheese, meat and crackers tray is from Pinterest, via their Cheese and Cracker Tray pinboard. The multi-pak of Zebra pens (one of many varieties the company sells) is from Jet. The photo of little “police flashlights” is from Deal Extreme. And many thanks also to Geralt and Pixabay for the “Thank You” pen image.

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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