Sunday, September 25, 2016
Charlotte, Police Training, Citizen Design, Mutual Responsibility
I have little time for photo-opportunity, headline-grabbing advocacy by mindless protest. I believe in advancing solutions that might make matters better.
I am truly sorry for Keith Scott and his family. As I am for all individuals who have to suffer the consequences of violent death.
Our systems of government and civil order are not perfect. But, until we change them through the channels and by the means that our communities have evolved since the founding of the United States of America, then they are the systems that apply to all of us. However unfair or unequal some of us may view them to be.
I spent some time recently advocating, as effectively as one man can, for a change in the way that policing policy in the US is devised and implemented – Citizen Design of Policing.
But, here’s the thing. How many people, whether in my immediate community of Carrboro, NC, where I specifically attended the inaugural Citizen’s Police Academy, back in 2015, so that I could address that concept, face-to-face with Carrboro police officers. How many of my fellow citizens in Carrboro, or anywhere else in the US, who may have read my posts, how many of them have taken any steps to change policing policy in their communities? As opposed to raising a fist at a football game?
What I regard as a truly realistic pathway to allow communities to design the manner in which they are policed exists right now. It requires no new legislation. No new governmental bodies. No new funding. Just the will of citizens to demand of the elected officials commanding the allocation of resources to police authorities that those elected officials immediately make the allocation dependent on those police authorities understanding that, henceforth, their rules of engagement will be defined by those allocating the resources, on behalf of the local citizenry, and with the involvement of concerned citizens. It really is as simple as that.
Yet. As much (or, as little) as I have advocated. What movement has there been among the citizenry of Carrboro, NC – my current hometown? What plans advanced by the Carrboro Board of Aldermen? Why is Carrboro important, in the greater scheme of things? Other than the fact that many within this highly liberal borough are today extremely vocal about events three hours down the road, in Charlotte, NC. Other than that fact, it isn’t. Unless you agree with my oft-stated position that, if we were to experiment with a concept like Citizen Design in a small community like Carrboro, we might then be able to export the successful notion to more at-risk communities around the US.
That would be an achievement far more effective than a raised fist, a tweet, a photo opportunity or a CNN-headlining flash mob.
Now. Citizen Design alone will not change everything. One thing I learned during my advocacy and while engaging in quite proactive conversation at the Carrboro Police Academy is that all US police training is based on suppression, not de-escalation.
Literally, the rules of engagement in any confrontation between citizen and police officer are designed on the basis of command suppression. The police officer is trained to create a command presence. Shouting commands to the citizen to comply with the commands. Lack of obedience is then used as the trigger for escalation. Leading to use of force to bring the confrontation to an early close.
In fact, we had one quite interesting exchange in one of the experiential scenarios in which we engaged after some eight hours of the Academy. My police officer team-mate ‘shot’ a fake perpetrator, as I was engaged in talking to the perpetrator. We had a quick review afterwards.
To be honest, I liked those of my hometown officers who participated. We were on first name times. The discussion was vigorous, but respectful. And that is the way it should be.
I made only a quick point. There was not time for more. But I stated that, if we had more time, I would argue that the shooting of the perpetrator was wrong.
My team-mate said that the shooting was standard policy. The perpetrator was threatening a police officer (me). I countered that, although the perpetrator had initially advanced towards me, the advance had halted when I took a deliberate step back. I was no longer in immediate danger. And the call should have been mine. I had my ‘gun’ drawn, and was fully capable of protecting myself.
I believe the latter to be a standard policing approach in, for example, the UK. Where it is the belief that most perpetrators generally are not attempting to threaten wider society, but merely to carve out a place of safety. Allow them a heavily-defined area of safety. And one can de-escalate the situation by containment.
I’m not sure I convinced my team-mate in that one brief exchange. But I did two things. I began a conversation. In which all who truly care about policing should be engaged. And I fully understood the consequences of what I believe to be the current misguided thinking behind US police training. Namely, that we are going to have many more instances of contested police shootings as long as training emphasizes suppression over containment and de-escalation.
Now. Looking to the wider picture. And to thoughts which may well unsettle some folks. We all have a responsibility for civil order in our communities. We may not like the manner in which law enforcement is legislated in our society at the moment. But it is a form of enforcement that has been evolved by communities using the existing channels of legislation and government. If we want matters to change, then we use those channels and advocate for change.
In the meantime, we should all commit ourselves to make the existing system of enforcement work. We should all get stuck in. We do not stand to one side. Yelling, screaming and rioting.
Now, let me make that point even more clear. And I may be contradicting what I have said in the past. I am not saying don’t yell and scream. In the immediate moment. I am saying, don’t stand to one side. Commit. Make that moment of law enforcement work. As best we can. Understanding that all humans are, well, only human.
Which means that. Sometimes. When the situation arises. When we personally are faced with an immediate challenge. In a law enforcement scenario that thrusts itself upon us. Very often the outcome will be one which depends upon our personal commitment, our personal morality and our personal investment.
And so. Whether it leads to outrage or not. I’m going to say it. If Keith Scott’s wife had truly wanted to protect her husband, she should have run over, put her own life at risk for her husband and inserted herself between the police officer and her husband. She should not have stood by taking a video.
Keith Scott’s wife had enough time to make a decision. And she chose to take a video rather than saving her husband’s life.
That in no way exonerates the police. That does not lessen my revulsion at rules of engagement which can only lead to confrontation and death. That does not remove responsibility from the police for their actions. But, as a statement, it does place upon Keith Scott’s widow the responsibility that is hers alone.
We as a society are responsible for what we do and what we don’t do. We are responsible when we support the existing status quo, which allows police to suppress not de-escalate. And we are supporting that status quo when all we do is raise a fist, rather than actively involving ourselves in the processes that give effect to change.
Police are responsible for their actions. They are responsible when they draw a gun. They are responsible when they fight back against citizenry attempting to take control by designing the policing policy in their community.
And Keith’s Scott widow is responsible for the decision she made. To take a video. Rather than running to the aid of her allegedly mentally unwell husband.
I’m not sure what it is. Too much social media? Too many technological advances? Too much life by instant celebrity? I truly do not know. But it seems to me that we have become a society of bystanders, passers-by.
We do not achieve. We ape. We do not commit to our own advance. We watch the virtual ambitions of others. We do not seek substantive gain. Merely fifteen minutes of personal celebrity.
There is much about our society at the moment which just leaves me puzzled. Much about our politics. Much about our elections. And much about this horrible episode in Charlotte, NC.
But of one thing I am reasonably certain. We are where we are not because one side is wrong and the other side is right. Not because one person or group of people did something terrible. And the rest of us are exonerated. But because we have all of us allowed our own personal moral compasses to become terribly corrupted. Before we look to excoriating others, we might better look to wondering about our own actions, inactions and thought processes.
And lest you think I’m totally missing what others may think is the genuine bigger picture, let me link to the Movement for Black Lives platform. With this caveat. We will only move forward together. If we start placing more emphasis on the realistic and consensual ‘yes,’ rather than an unrelenting focus on the uncompromising ‘no.’ If we roll up our sleeves and get involved, rather than merely standing by. If we say the hard things that are unpalatable, rather than always playing for Facebook ‘Likes.’