Sunday, June 7, 2020

Peace Officers, Community Counselors & Police Refocusing Needed Now, Right Now

I shared the essay that follows with my congressman before his recent town hall meeting with State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, both of whom I consider as friends, and especially as friends of the vulnerable and voiceless, and asked to better address these issues across all government agencies from TSA to ICE and especially police departments.  I encourage you to share this essay, or one of your own, with your congressman and state leaders. Let me preface the essay with the following so you dear reader know why these issues hit so close to home for me:

I understand that I will never understand what it is like to be black in America. The issues of force and brutality are personal to me, and painful, however. In 2019, an Asian American member of my family was assaulted by a uniformed officer while four other officers looked on. Passersby walked past, no one said or did anything. There were no cameras. Later, it was our word against the word of five officers who swore everything was done according to procedure. Our pleas through official channels went unanswered, including those to members of local state legislature until a local congressman took up our case.

Being heard, really and truly heard, helped with the healing, but it did not bring justice. Nor did another Asian American member of my family get justice the night he was pulled over for speeding on a motorcycle some years earlier. There were two patrol cars and three officers on that night. He told the officers that yes he had been speeding, then he said something they didn’t like. He doesn’t remember exactly what it was. They asked him to get off his motorcycle, which he complied with. Afterward one officer knocked him to the ground with a baton, then the officers took turns kicking, beating and stomping on him. The police reports said he resisted arrest. Arrest for what? Speeding? It was his word against the word of three officers. He lost. Again, there were no cameras, no passersby that stopped or cared. No charges against the officers. This also is not justice.

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The police forces in our country have tried to do too much, have grown too big and consume too much public funds. Police try to be mental health counselors, drug and alcohol counselors, marriage counselors, victim’s advocates. They try to police schools, enforce traffic laws, ensure public safety and on and on.

Our leaders in government have given the police military weapons and told them to use them or lose them. When using military weapons results in excessive force, our leaders in government ask them why they allowed this to happen—when we, the public, know why this happened. The police cannot and should not be the Swiss-army-knife answer in America. When the police in America are such a sprawling, enormous apparatus, is it any wonder that there isn’t sufficient oversight and accountability?

And yet oversight and accountability by themselves are not enough. Just ask the Minneapolis Police Department. In 2012, the new police chief vowed to overhaul the force and make it more representative of the community it served. In 2015, a report by the Justice Department on policing in Minneapolis stated that even as city officials changed practices law enforcement agencies either lacked the authority or the will to discipline and remove bad officers from patrol.

Minneapolis city officials failed to set clear criteria on the use of force and de-escalation. In 2016, the Minneapolis Police Department rewrote its use of force policy to focus on the sanctity of life and require officers to intervene when a fellow cop became abusive. None of this did anything because the Minneapolis Police Department failed to fully adopt changes, failed to be accountable, failed to serve its community while upholding the sanctity of life.

In 2016, Philando Castile was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop. In 2017, a yoga teacher from Australia was shot and killed by police after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault near her home. In 2020, George Floyd was murdered in the street by police simply because he might have given a counterfeit bill to a store clerk. This, but some the misdeeds of but one police force, is a reflection of police forces across America. And if Minneapolis Police Department hasn’t solved a known problem under five years of federal scrutiny, what makes anyone believe any other police department is going to do any better? They aren’t.

According to Journalist's Resource and in-depth research into Deaths in police custody in the United States (https://journalistsresource.org/studies/government/criminal-justice/deaths-police-custody-united-states/), 4,813 persons "died during or shortly after law enforcement personnel attempted to arrest or restrain them" for the most recent period where the statistics used in the report were available (2003 - 2009). With "homicides by state and local law enforcement officers being the leading cause of such deaths," accounting for 2,931 (60.9%) of such deaths and 704 (24.7%) of these deaths were for non-violent offenses. 7.9 percent of all homicides by police took place in the context of a public-order offense, 9.2 percent of all homicides by police had no specific context reported, and 2.7 percent involved a drug offense.

** NOTE: The original Journalist's Resource research article I quoted in May 2020 for several of my articles, including this one, was updated and revised shortly after I published my articles. The date of the revised article is June 7, 2020, and this is the article you now see when you click the link. The statistics for the period 2003-2009 remain the same, the revised article focuses on recent statistics. I don't doubt a congressional inquiry is the reason for these sudden changes, as I gave this article to my congressman in May 2020. **

People of color are disproportionately affected by these killings. Black men are 2 1/2 times more likely than white men to be killed by police. Point of fact, a black man has an estimated 1 in 1,000 chance of being killed by police during his lifetime.

This plague upon America is growing and the number of people killed by police is steadily increasing. 1,750 people were killed during interactions with police in 2017 alone. There are so many police killings that for all racial and ethnic groups, police use of force is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. for men age 25 to 29. (Read more here… https://journalistsresource.org/studies/government/criminal-justice/killed-police-black-men-likely-white-men/)

For the black community, this plague is an epidemic worse than any global pandemic. Dozens of police killings of black men have received national attention. You can read more about these controversial killings here... https://www.cnn.com/2015/04/05/us/controversial-police-encounters-fast-facts/index.html. The black community rightly refers to the public killing by police of George Floyd as a public lynching.  For those who think America’s legacy of lynching is history, it absolutely is not. Because it’s happening now: https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/03/us/lynching-america-george-floyd-ahmaud-arbery-breonna-taylor/index.html.

As America scaled up its police forces to meet ever-growing scope, our core, social programs suffered, such as those for mental health, alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence. All of which have either been scaled down or inappropriately funded to meet actual community needs. And in retort to city mayors and others who say their programs are funded? Then why are police on the street trying to meet these needs? Why are they trying and failing? It’s past time to fund social and community programs, so police can do police work and community counselors can do social work.

Black rights groups want ‘Peace Officers’ to patrol black communities to help ensure safety, accountability and oversight in their communities. And why not? And why isn’t this already publicly funded with black community leaders setting the rules and guidance for their own communities? And why aren’t there emergency meetings in the House of Representatives and in the Senate right now? And why aren’t our elected officials right now drafting emergency legislation to address the greatest crisis our nation has ever faced?

Our leaders in government have allocated trillions of dollars to fight the pandemic and provide economic relief. They will likely allocate trillions more before the pandemic is over. Where is the economic relief and financial aid to fight the epidemic that’s been afflicting black and minority communities for decades? How many more have to die at the hands of police over how many more decades before our leaders in government act? We're really asking. Give us a number. We want to hear it. You’ve been silent for far too long, turned a blind eye for far too long and helped to prolong suffering that has gone on for far too long.

It’s our obligation as a nation, as Americans, to solve this problem now.

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Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 250 topselling books. In closing, I hope it's clear to you dear reader that this essay is about police brutality and injustice in America. I know that I don’t know more than anyone else, but I do know that I can’t be silent. Silence is death, silence is complicity. And so, I do what I can, I write. As stated previously, I shared this essay with my congressman before his recent town hall meeting with State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and asked him to better address these issues across all government agencies and police departments. I encourage you to share this essay, or one of your own, with your congressman and state leaders.

A final note, the idea of defunding the police terrifies people, especially those who don't understand it. The idea of defunding exists on a spectrum which on one end means reallocating some, but not all, funds away from police departments to social services and on the other end means stripping all police funding and dissolving departments. Here's more information on defunding that's well thought out... https://edition.cnn.com/2020/06/06/us/what-is-defund-police-trnd/index.html.

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