April 13, 2021 06:22

Fellow Americans: I’m Puzzled

“It’s not that our system is the best example of democratic policing, it’s just that it has the most potential to be the best.”

Wondering What’s Happening in America? Me, too!

Over the years, I was happy to note that those who followed this blog were not just Americans. Each week, I had visitors from Europe, Asia and Oceana who were also interested looking for new ideas in how to improve their police.

It’s not that our system is the best example of democratic policing, it’s just that it has the most potential to be the best.

While our nation excels in capitalism and production in a consumer-oriented society (and the infrastructure which supports it), we seem to be less inclined to be the best when it comes to universal healthcare, accessibility and cost of higher education, assuring a living wage for all its citizens, overcoming the vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow, and fielding a police system that works best in a free society.

The reason I went to Europe in the late 60s to study police in Stockholm, Amsterdam, Hamburg and London was to learn what police were doing in other democracies. I came away thinking that we had a lot to learn and it influenced my career when it came to the handling of protest, career-long training, uses of force, and the role of women. I saw and interviewed police who were educated, had longer training periods, and strong opportunities to develop their leadership skills.

Jon Henry, in his photo-essay, “Stranger Fruit,” which re-imagines the Pieta, captures Black mothers with dying sons. August, 2020.

But, as I noted in my book, “Arrested Development,” one of the four major obstacles to improving police in America was “anti-intellectualism.” That is why police in America continue to find great difficulty in learning from others; especially academics — even other cops!

It’s now been almost a month since the American presidential election. The defeated former president still has not conceded that he lost the election. Instead, he makes a flood of false claims about election fraud and, therefore, the election was “stolen” from him. Many of us wonder if he will leave office – if not, then what?

I have struggled with feelings over the past four years which have ranged from confusion to anger. After the 2016 election, I tried to understand why Donald Trump received so many votes and seemed to have such a devoted following. I still am puzzled.

I thought, well, good leaders appoint competent men and women to their staff who have a history of public service and, as a team, they will make good decisions. I thought it won’t be so bad. But that didn’t happen. The good men and women who did step up to serve in the White House seemed not to have been heard or their consul disregarded, even castigated.

Seventeen-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse fires on protesters in Kenosha, WI, killing two. August, 2020.

I watched four years of a presidency that did not in any way meet my expectations about who we were as a nation. Donald Trump was not like any of the 44 other presidents who served our nation in the past.

I, personally, have experienced a number of presidents from Truman on. None of them acted in any way like Donald Trump. What I witnessed during the past four years was a grand failing in presidential competency, decency, and character.

I was shocked by what was occurring on a daily basis — a flood of lies, disparaging journalists, nasty Tweets, and some very poor, uninformed decisions when it came to police and our system of justice.

The area in which I am most concerned is the eroding trust and support among those whom who have the most contact with police – those who are poor and of color. I found our president attacked, disparaged, and tore down just about everything I stood for; everything I had learned, practiced, and taught about policing. He encouraged police to act illegally, saw good in white supremacists, and pandered police rather than urging them to rise to a higher level.

On top of this, I heard once again Trump and his allies blow that old dog-whistle, “take the handcuffs off the police, let them do their job!” It is absolutely the wrong thing to say at the wrong time when public protesters across the nation, from city to city, call for a better and less violent relationship with their police. This is a time in which we need a leader who can help and encourage police to work with their communities and rebuild their lost trust and support among people of color. For without this, without trust and support of the people, it is virtually impossible to effectively police free, diverse, and democratic community.

Without trust and support police can easily be pressured to revert back to more totalitarian methods of maintaining order; thinking the means justify the end. That is the danger lurking in America today.

George Floyd is choked, then dies, at the hands of police in Minneapolis, MN. May, 2020.

During the past four years, we have had two Attorney’s General who no longer saw the federal government as having a role in overseeing police departments which have a pattern of civil rights abuses. This is a fundamental responsibility of our federal government and not to do so is a blemish on our Constitution.

The struggle I have is the realization that almost half of my fellow Americans don’t agree with me. Instead. They voted to keep Trump in office for another four years! In fact, millions of voters were willing to support a president whose atrocious and unconstitutional behavior was historically unparalleled in its negativity. I simply cannot understand this fact.

I thought that the electorate would have overwhelmingly drummed Trump and his allies out of office, the divisiveness would abate, and we would, all together, move into a more legal, compassionate, and less-fractions government. I am afraid that will not happen.

I hoped and prayed that we would get back on track, agree to protect civil liberties, expand healthcare, help the “dreamers” become citizens, find a way out of student debt, and dismantle the racism that continues to infect our social and political systems, especially our police practices.

I fear this may never happen in my lifetime. Too many folks seem all-to-willing to continue the divisiveness sowed by Trump. I question whether or not the Biden presidency can, in four short years, heal and overcome this terrible scourge of moral divisiveness.

If not, the months to come will make it very difficult to do the work necessary to repair the damage; too late to model how a diverse, free, and constitutional democracy practices its values through its police.

Daniel Prude, an emotionally disturbed Black man in Rochester, NY dies after a confrontation with police. September, 2020.

I do not recognize the America I see today; the America I thought we were. I thought we strived to care for one another, treated each other fairly, helped other emerging nations in the world, and welcomed those who came to our shores seeking a better life.

The America I see today is no longer my America. [There, I said it!] It hurts to say it.

My Statue of Liberty has fallen off its pedestal. My “sweet land of liberty” now seems to be a fractured, angry, armed and dangerous place. It is, to me, no longer exemplified by our nation’s motto, “e pluribus unum” — Among many people, we are one nation.

No, I’m not moving to Canada. But I am sad. I am grieving. I am a deep loss.

So, I remain on break and more fully explaining why I am not actively blogging.

I am thinking about my next steps forward. Where to from here?

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