Last year with my late wife’s 13-year struggle and death from an incurable blood cancer (Multiple Myeloma), the pandemic, and the 2020 election, I called it quits.
After Sabine’s death on Christmas Eve, policing was furthest from my mind.
Then Christine came into my life and I began to understand more vividly than ever how death is able to lead to resurrection. Theologically, I believed this, now it became a lived experience.
Christine and I were married last month and I now am like the small statue of Don Quixote which graced my desk for years. Ready to begin again to “joust the windmills” of policing. Like Stella, I think I’ve got my groove back as I begin to write on the nature of police and their improvement. (I also plan to add a ninth chapter to “Arrested Development” — I plan on calling it “George Floyd: Where To From Here?”
I would like to begin by calling your attention to a well-written article in “The New Yorker” last week by Jelani Cobb. It’s about a city I once policed — Minneapolis.
“The median-income gap between Black and white Minneapolis families—forty-seven thousand dollars, as of 2018—is among the largest in the nation. Floyd’s death was one of some eighty homicides in Minneapolis last year; the majority of the victims were Black and male. Duchess Harris, a professor of American studies at Macalester College, in St. Paul, told me that Minnesota is ‘everything anybody would ever want, unless you’re Black.’ She echoed a sentiment voiced by Leslie Redmond, another former president of the Minneapolis N.A.A.C.P., that the state is ‘Wakanda for white people.’”
The same could be said of many of our nation’s cities, including my dear Madison. It’s a Wakanda for white people! When it comes to income, high school graduation, and jobs…. Well, we white people are doing just fine.
What Cobb presents is the problem facing city governance today. How does a city recover from an incident like the murder of George Floyd? What are the challenges facing the Mayor, Chief of Police, and City Council Members? In short, how does a city rebuild trust and support of its police after many citizens called for the the police to be punished by eliminating the police department all together?
While writing this blog, I have addressed this issue and it begins by police respectfully listening to what the community is saying. Somehow I don’t think the question Black America is asking is being answered — “What are you going to do to prevent these questionable shootings of our children?” In short, stop killing our children!
The answer is both simple and complex: the standard for police use of deadly force must be raised, methods of de-escalation taught, and police must re-imagine their work as life-guardians and community-workers. This means effective training and strong leaders who model this behavioral change..
This will not be easy. It will take time. There will be forces against these changes in a system that has a strong, racial bias. And, yes, Critical Race Theory needs to be taught and understood among our police. When I taught a Police-Community Relations course at the University of Wisconsin in Platteville a couple of years ago, my premise was that police officers cannot effectively perform their work without understanding the history of race in America. Not every student agreed with me. Most were quite resistive. Some quite nasty.
Leading this change is the role of the police leader. First line supervisors play a key role. And all this needs to start now. In a democracy, police must embody and model its values. When that doesn’t happen, we, as a nation, will continue to experience troubled times.
Stay tuned for more…