In the wake of the failure to indict police officers in the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, the news media and social media have been flooded with outpourings of anger. Understandable anger. Don’t get me wrong going into this, there’s plenty of reason to be angry, and while I don’t plan on spending time commenting on either case in this post, it seems to me an indictment was reasonable in both cases.
My issue here is that that anger has taken only a few forms, and the forms that it has taken haven’t accomplished much, and don’t seem likely to change anything anytime soon.
I’m talking about protest marches, I’m talking about stopping traffic, I’m talking about rioting and looting, I’m especially talking about the use of hashtags on social media, and I’m talking about a protest that apparently included the tearing of an American flag on my college campus (that I was not present for, so my take on that event is hearsay, but I’ll touch on it lightly anyway).
My problem isn’t with the anger. The anger is understandable, perhaps even righteous. The problem isn’t the desecration of a sacred symbol of our country that men and women have given their lives for. Honestly I won’t shed any tears for a piece of cloth, larger symbolic meaning or not.
The problem is that none of this really does anything.
Sure, the news media and social media are overflowing. But what will they look like in two weeks? A month? Two? Will anyone remember who Eric Garner was? Mike Brown?
Media, and our society, have a very short attention span. We fixate on current events and are inundated with messages about them, but when we become oversaturated, we move on. Suddenly it’s not about Trayvon Martin anymore. Where did that take place again? Somewhere in Florida? Do you remember? Maybe if you’ve paid close attention to these things you do, but do you think the majority of Americans remember? Do you think they care anymore?
Riots are temporary. Store fronts get rebuilt. Torn flags get replaced. And everyone forgets. Like it never even happened.
If you’re angry about the results of the Mike Brown and Eric Garner deaths, I hope you want something to change. And I hope you can see, like I do, that no matter how many flags you burn, no matter how much traffic you stop, and no matter how many store fronts you destroy, no one will care in a few months.
That’s why if you want change, you need to start thinking about alternative methods of achieving that change. Because throwing around hashtags isn’t going to do it. It’s lazy and unproductive.
So I think what we need to do is identify our goals, and then find avenues with which we can work towards achieving them.
So what is our goal?
Is it convincing people that racism is alive and well and that black Americans face police prejudice daily?
Is it ensuring more accountability for police officers?
Is it changing how the legal system works in some capacity to ensure that the kinds of cases we’ve seen at least go to trial?
Is it working to make sure police officers have sufficient training that they can disarm/disable/control a situation without using a large degree of force?
Is it all of these, or some combination? I’m not sure, I don’t have all the answers of course. But we need to collectively, as a country, do some thinking and decide what it is we want to change and how we want to go about doing it.
Burning/tearing a flag doesn’t suggest directions or methods for solutions. It just expresses anger, and makes other people angry, and thus more unlikely to listen. Take my word on that last bit, I have some personal experience with making people too angry to be willing to talk about something.
So, all that being said, here’s my two cents on a method.
I think we ought to start with police. It may not be the root of the problem, but we can at least address symptoms while we spend the however many years it takes to root out the systematic and institutionalized racism embedded in the country.
There are two ways we can start with police, (1) we can strive to increase their accountability and try to work towards ensuring they’re appropriately punished for excessive force and other issues, and (2) we can look towards ensuring they aren’t motivated to taking the actions in the first place.
How we go about doing those two things is what I think we all need to spend some time thinking about. Here are my ideas, take them or leave them, spaghetti against the wall.
(1) Body Cameras. Rather than half ass it, or be disheartened by the camera footage in the Eric Garner case, we should raise money and public outcry for body cameras as a mandatory piece of equipment for all police. Yes, we can argue all day about how there’s the possibility the video may be tampered with, or might not help in leading to an indictment or conviction, but at the very least it takes us out of the murky realm of “he said” “she said” when trying to search for truth in the aftermath of an incident. We could also champion for strict laws surrounding tampering with video or the cameras themselves, and make doing so a fireable offense etc.
(2) More extensive police training. It’s not always easy to subdue someone without hurting them, especially if they’re trying to hurt you. It takes a lot of practice, and a lot of training. I’m not exactly an “expert” on this, but I’ve been studying a martial art that focuses specifically on this topic for a number of years now, so I know a bit more about subduing an attacker with minimal force than the average bear. It’s not always a simple thing, and it can’t be learned in a handful of one hour classes, but it can be learned.
If police officers have limited training on how to do this, we can’t be surprised that when they’re threatened and scared the first thing they do is reach for their gun, excessive force mandates or not. But if police officers feel confident in their ability to subdue without force and harm, without reaching for their gun, they’re more likely to do so, and less likely to panic. We can call for a stringent minimum number of hours in hand to hand training for police officers to ensure they have a decent grip on how to handle themselves without panicking and without using excessive force.
As always, the goal here is to incite conversation and thinking. Don’t like my ideas? Great. Rather than “pfft”-ing and moving on, pitch some of your own. Talk to your friends about them. Find a way to organize a movement and do something productive. Just do me a favor, and stop using hashtags and thinking you’re helping and patting yourself on the back.