Friday, December 5, 2014

What Has to Change

I recently heard a sincere discussion of the kind of community "training" needed to prevent deaths like Michael Brown's.

To my disgust, it focused ENTIRELY on teaching young black boys to INSTANTLY OBEY the police.  Because acting like a citizen and questioning police will get you killed.

Even liberals who should know better are talking this way.

Because Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face. A good young man, law-abiding young man who would never think to do anything wrong. And yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we've had to literally train him—as families have all over this city for decades—in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.

And that painful sense of contradiction that our young people see first, that our police are here to protect us, and we honor that, and at the same time, there's a history we have to overcome, because for so many of our young people, there's a fear. And for so many of our families, there's a fear. So I've had to worry over the years. Chirlane's had to worry. Is Dante safe each night? There are so many families in this city who feel that each and every night. Is my child safe? And not just from some of the painful realities—crime and violence in some of our neighborhoods—but is safe from the very people they want to have faith in as their protectors.
How black boys behave is not the problem. Self-protection against an army of occupation is not what we need to be teaching.  This is the problem.
The killing of Eric Garner wasn't the first time we've been able to hear someone begging for his life, unable to breathe, as police killed them on camera:

This is what he looked like at the hospital.  He lived for five more days.

It didn't help that it was filmed. It didn't even help that they were indicted:
A jury has acquitted two former Fullerton, California, police officers on trial in the beating death of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill and homeless man.

The verdict was read in a Santa Ana courtroom Monday afternoon. Eight women and four men began deliberating the case on Thursday.

"I'm just horrified. They got away with murdering my son," Cathy Thomas, the victim's mother, told reporters after the verdict was read.

The victim's father, Ron Thomas, said that everyone now needs to be afraid.

"This is carte blanche to police officers to do whatever they want," he told reporters.
Why would any cop think otherwise?  
This is what we need to be teaching:
Lawrence O'Donnell featured a very smart discussion tonight which he started off by noting that police officers encounter these sorts of situations all the time and the difference between those that end tragically like Michael Brown and Eric Garner and those that don't is "the better and cooler" judgment of the police. He was speaking with two police analysts Eugene O'Donnell and Jim Cavanaugh and Cavanaugh brought up the fact that the police used to engage in high speed chases no matter what the crime but realized over the years that the dangers outweighed the necessity to catch all but the most violent felons. He said:
We need to take that attitude to the street. If you would just imagine if Officer Wilson in Ferguson had just taken a step back after the confrontation with the vehicle and after Michael Brown ran away. Just after he called for back-up that was 90 seconds away. Where was Michael Brown going to go? He's going to the hospital, he's been shot.  He's not going the Katmandu, on an airplane. You're going to catch him. Just take a step back. In Mr Garner's case, as well. When he put's his hands like this it's like "ok ok", when they get on his back, take a step back. In the Cleveland case with the child, if you drive your car in like that if you have an escaped felon with a gun your dead, he's going to shoot you as soon as you drive up. What kind of tactic is that?

So take a step back and be smart and we can police better than we're doing.
O'Donnell went on to talk about police training that includes a responsibility to reasonably retreat in situations where there is nothing at stake in closing in someone. Clearly, unarmed citizens at the top of the list. The only thing at stake there is the officer's pride or desire to punish them in the moment for failing to instantly comply.

I watch cops all the time in LA dealing with various altercations. One thing I know for sure. They are in no hurry. They take hours to deal with virtually any call, standing around shooting the shit with each other, taking their time no matter what. Unless someone is "defying" their order, in which case they simply refuse to take even an extra five minutes to try to defuse the situation. It's not about time, it's about authority. And that's what we need to change.

I've been writing about this culture of instant compliance in my work about about tasers for nearly a decade. It's a problem. It's a particular problem with the kind of racial bias that pervades so much of white America and it's a problem for the mentally ill and the disabled who often simply cannot comply either through lack of understanding or emotional agitation or sometimes because they are in the midst of a seizure or are deaf and literally cannot hear what the policeman is demanding that he do. There are dozens of examples of all of those situations.

As the police analyst Eugene O'Donnell pointed out, there are many cops who are skilled enough to handle these situations peacefully and there are many other professions that have strategies to deal with potentially violent altercations without escalating them. The militarization of the police and the kill or be killed combat zone attitude adopted by so many departments makes little use of any skills other than sheer force when what largely makes for effective policing in a free society are things like psychology, patience, common sense, empathy, confidence and maturity. If these skills were more highly valued it would be easy to see that stepping back from pulling your gun and shooting at Michael Brown or continuing to talk with Eric Garner to get him to calm down, maybe even issue a warning instead of an arrest for such a minor crime, could have prevented the deaths of both of them.

The police need to learn how to de-escalate these situations instead of turning them into tests of will. These are citizens not enemies.
Next meeting of my local city council or fiscal court, I am going to ask for a detailed description of exactly what training law enforcement officers are given on how to de-escalate interactions with citizens.

Particularly non-white, non-christian, non-wealthy, non-healthy citizens.

And whether law enforcement classifies such citizens as human beings.

Because it sure doesn't look that way.

No comments: