Sunday, May 31st, 2020
I opened the Sunday morning newsscreens with trepidation, because when I went to bed it seemed as if cities were again ablaze and people were being set upon by the cops in a mirror of the brutality that is the focus, the very reason for the protests.
And now well into the next day, I fear what’s been happening may or may not play out on repeat this evening after curfew in Minneapolis, New York, LA, and…Atlanta…and other cities nationwide. (Columbus Ohio? Yikes.)
The recipe varies in each city, but seems to include: protesters who want systemic change in how policing is done in America, as exemplified by the awful death of George Floyd, what was it, a week ago? Stir in overwhelmed local police forces that have been augmented by state police and in more places, the National Guard. Let the curfew hour pass. If there’s anyone on the streets left (including journalists and medics), start tossing tear gas grenades and herd people out of the protest locale. Then, the secret sauce: these other folks who come from…where, exactly? They’re not protesting. They’re lighting up cars and breaking windows. Finally, fire up the very brutality that protesters are trying to change, and, well, hurt people, more or less with impunity.
Then serve up tepid apologies from the Governor the next morning. “Inadvertent” incidents where people were hurt by cops with rubber bullets, pepper balls, or gas canisters. Except: they weren’t. We have a growing digital record of cops silently taking aim on people and pulling the trigger.
It reminds me of the behavior on the first person shooter games I see my nephews play. I’m not at all a gamer, but I see the poorly-rendered tough-guy grimaces on the characters, and the blank-faced kids holding the controllers remind me of the nerdy young cops behind the masks and body armor. They’ve somehow turned the people they should be serving and protecting into an abstract ‘enemy’, an enemy that they have reduced to somehow less than human.
And then to once again focus national energy on exactly not the problem, the President tweets that something called ‘ANTIFA” (his caps) will be placed on, well, I’m not sure, some sort of list of domestic terrorism. Antifa. Anti-fascist. Those who are opposed to fascism. In recent history, it’s not even an actual organization, more an (extremely) ad hoc collection of people who assemble to object and protest when nazis and fascists march in public, spewing hate.
I look at that as just another Trump attempt at misdirection. I am trying to visualize how we change the system of law enforcement moving forward. Sure seems like it involves dismantling the whole thing and tossing out bad actors, reducing bloated budgets, removing the surplus military component that has led to tiny Georgia cities driving huge armored personnel carriers. And then training. Something like empathy training, but on steroids.
And then getting people to trust Police 2.0 (or 20.0) will be an even bigger leadership challenge. Trust through the screwups and the flaws and the rough edges of a new system.
Seems like a task way bigger than launching humans into orbit.