June 28, 2017

Police and Public Perception

I'm going to be honest (and I mean really honest) for a little bit. So if you're here for cute toddler pictures or lifestyle tips you should click away now.

Last week Jeronimo Yanez, formerly a Minnesota police officer, was acquitted of charges pertaining to the murder of Philando Castile. The video of the shooting was released and I watched it. I watched it a lot. I was sickened to the core. It was the same feeling I got after watching the video of Walter Scott's murder by former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager. It was the same sickening feeling I had after watching Eric Garner being strangled by Daniel Pantaleo whilst being restrained by four other officers. It was disgusting to watch law enforcement to behave in this manner but it was even more disheartening that neither YanezSlager nor Pantaleo was convicted of any criminal wrongdoing.

All three of these instances have video evidence. In all three videos we see a clear failure by the officers to use any moral or procedural restraint in said encounters. I am flabbergasted but more so I am angry. I am so very angry.
I should preface my continued diatribe with this: I respect police. My father was a police officer for over a quarter of a century and I idolized him. He was a drug-recognition expert, a firearms instructor, a self-defense instructor, a pressure point and control tactics instructor...he was my own personal superhero.

The thing about heroes is that they guard society and uphold our ideals of justice. They are supposed to manifest as the best of society...but that isn't the public perception of police anymore.

Any credible training officer would highlight clear tactical and/or procedural missteps taken by each individual I listed above. It is clear they are physically and/or mentally unfit for service but because of departmental oversight they were put in situations where they took a life. Subsequently, societal oversight alleviated them of any concrete punishment for their actions. I've said it before but I'll say it again...this is on us.

Police departments should be less occupied with protecting the credibility of guilty officers than they should with preserving the lives of the citizens they took an oath to serve. Police departments should be reworking their training programs so that police aren't training ~6 times more frequently with their firearms than they are on de-escalation tactics. Hold yourselves to higher standards. Period.

As a society, we should hold them to those higher standards. We can't insist that policing is a dangerous job when it appears that police are allowed to shoot citizens indiscriminately. In other words, when an acceptable response to engagement with the public is to fire your weapon regardless of the circumstance, then the nature of policing becomes significantly less dangerous.

My father always taught force parallels threat. This means that police shouldn't use fire their weapon unless it is apparent a weapon has or will be fired upon them. Does that sound dangerous? It should and that's the point. Police are allowed to protect themselves but they must also show restraint. Their job is to protect the community even at the cost of their own life. That is the job.  That job cannot be performed properly if officers are so afraid for their own lives that they risk the welfare of the citizenry to guarantee their own safety.

To summarize: Police Departments need to do better at training their officers and engaging with the community in an appropriate manner. It's not us vs. them. It never was. Remember that police are not a militia navigating hostile territory. Police should stop being warriors and start being guardians again. They need to demonstrate to us that they prioritize saving lives over killing enemies. And to the men and women who wear the badge: Please don't disrespect my father's legacy by letting a Yanez, Slager, Pantaleo, Wilson or Salamoni wear his uniform. Don't disgrace your own legacy by reneging on your oath to protect and serve.

June 13, 2017

The Hard Truth: I'm a Southerner

So here's the thing...I simultaneously love and loathe the denigration of the South. When we propose or pass some asinine law that expands gun "rights", taxes hybrid/electric vehicles and police transgender bathroom usage or when we commemorate Robert E. Lee with a holiday I think we are deserving of derision.

On the other hand, every time I hear Mike Huckabee talk about "flyover country" and "bubbaville" I cringe. This recoil is because Huckabee generalizes the South as a group of simple people who somehow represent the "true America". While I disagree and counter that we are merely a part of America and not the totality of America, I take umbrage most with his implication that the Southerners are by large simple people.

(Credit: Allison McCann and Walt Hickey/FiveThirtyEight)

Don't get me wrong, I do disdain the South more often than not. However, when someone like Huckabee appoints himself as the unofficial champion of a group that I am unintentionally apart of...I dig deep and rail against his commentary on behalf of my birthplace. As someone who has a Ph.D., a Mother Jones subscription, listens to NPR and leans liberal, it's safe to say I fit the "coastal elite" mold as per Huckabee's guidelines. Despite this, I'm a Southerner. I was born, raised, and educated in Arkansas. This gives gives me the unique privilege of confounding Huckabee and those like him with my criticisms.

I deplore a description of Southerners as simple because I'm a Southerner and I'm not simple. What I detest even more so is when the South leans in and owns this moniker of ignorance. The South is the origination point of J. William Fulbright* who aided in the creation of the United Nations. The South produced writers Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) and Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings). The South gave this country civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and LGBT icon Ellen DeGeneres. It also yielded Jimmy Carter who, regardless of your views of his presidency, established an organization that has nearly eradicated Guinea worm disease.

So there it is. I'm inundated with these confederate-loving Clampett caricatures so yeah, when a pundit or satirist rightly lambastes the South, a part of me loves it. But then the other shoe drops and I realize I'm a defacto Southerner. So the only choice I have is to shine a light on all the Southern scholars in hopes that I can help elevate society's view of this region. The only other option would be, since I am in Rome, to do as the Romans...but I refuse to lower myself to stereotypical southern standards.

*While Senator Fulbright stood up to McCarthyism, railed against the Vietnam War, supported international relations and advocated for education, he was also a staunch segregationist which makes my stomach turn. This is by no means a defense of his position but when your state is best known for Walmart, the Duggars and slick Willy it's hard to conjure a prominent native that is truly beyond reproach.