What are you going to do?
When are you going to do it?
Two important questions for them to answer as we go beyond our nation’s Fergusons.
Having been a member of the police for many years, and now a writer and commentator, I am intrigued by these questions. How will our police answer? Will Ferguson be their new norm? This would not be an unusual as “hunkering down,” protecting the status quo, and castigating detractors is what many police have done for decades when faced with change. And when the fire wains and the smoke settles, nothing has changed.
Could there be a different outcome from the Fergusons? A better norm? Could police leaders stand up and acknowledge mistakes of the past, and admit they have been part of a system that has tended to work against poor people and people of color? Could police commit to working in new ways with their communities with a goal of continuous improvement; to be fairer, more courteous, less likely to use deadly force? Will police be able to look at their system of using force and improve its outcomes? Can they reduce the fatalities? Will they be able to rebuild trust?
If you want to see an example of the current system of force gone awry, view this video of a Dallas police shooting a mentally ill black man with a screwdriver. In 10 seconds the man is dead. No attempt to calm the situation, slow things down, even back away. Do police still carry batons? Do they know how to use them?
Now police can defend that shooting and others by issuing the standard rhetoric/excuses: “You don’t know what it’s like having people hate and want to kill you!” “If anyone gets within 21 feet they can stab us, take away our gun and kill us!” “Don’t we have a right to protect ourselves?” “It is so dangerous out there that we have no choice” — “And, by the way, what about all those crimes committed by blacks?”
Police must come to understand that the shooting of unarmed persons will no longer be tolerated. Period. Police must commit to do something besides using their firearms in these situations. And because they are the police, they must be the ones to make the changes — not legislators or judges! My experience has been that changing the police from the outside is impossible. Police change can only come from the inside, and come from their leaders.
So, for the first time I can remember in 50 years, a significant number of people across the nation are questioning this kind of police behavior and demanding that it stop. At this stage of the game, with all these events immediately posted on the Internet, and each quickly becoming known and judged, police can no longer be permitted to “bunker-in;” they must respond and do it openly.
Let me strongly say this, the problem is not the officers. It is not a matter of bad cops shooting people. It’s how police have been trained and led. It should no longer be acceptable to solve the problem of police violence by disciplining or terminating the officers — it is the system that must be terminated and replaced by a more acceptable response. (I am not talking about encounters with firearms. If a person points a firearm at a police officer they can expect to lose their life.)
The community will no longer accept excuses by police as to why this system cannot be changed.
Who is to do this? Leaders. A leader’s job is to improve things. That’s what they are to do.