The Legislature is in session starting Jan. 11. Let the 2021 political games begin.
Progressives, moderates, conservatives and add a few let-Trump-be-king nut jobs to the mix and the efforts to make change will get lost or trapped in the political matrix.
The platitudes of electioneering requires elected officials to sound forceful and issue solutions in a few bullet points or a quick sound bite. When done well it, captures the reality of a current political emotional wave. Jesse Johnson, a representative for the 30th District, in his bullet points, wants to ban chokeholds, no-knock warrants, tear gas, hot pursuits, military equipment and unleashed police dogs.
There are real life consequences, emotional elements and reasons for banning or limiting any or all of those police practices. Especially if you have been on the receiving end of any of those practices. Even worse when you understand that many of those tools are part of this country’s racist history.
America’s opportunity for change is here. Recognizing broad cultural diversity begins with overcoming engrained discriminatory practices. We must reconcile the impacts of poverty, economic inequality, power politics, privilege, notions of justice, religion, education or lack thereof, mental illness, and resources for our society to thrive. America is in conflict and its history is intertwined with practices, policies and politics designed to create imbalance, knowing full-well that the job of law enforcement is to protect the institutions and laws of society first and the public second.
Almost every politician in this country runs for office on a platform of law, order and public safety. It is the responsibility of every mayor to assure the public that they are safe and the police are there to serve.
Based on the rhetoric and drumbeat of media content, one would think that America is a lawless nation and crime is rampant. Our television viewing hours are filled with crime news coverage as well as plenty of crime and court justice entertainment shows. We watch, want solutions, internalize, and double down on fear of being a victim but still see ourselves as living in a nation of laws, justice and personal freedom.
Representative Johnson’s call for a ban on specific practices may be appropriate. Chokeholds were banned by the New York City Police Department in 1993. Sadly, that did not prevent NYC police officers from using a chokehold on Eric Garner in 2014. It took five years for the officer who choked Garner to death to be fired.
It took several months for the perpetrators of George Floyd’s choking death to be fired and criminal charges are proceeding in the courts. The images are raw and the fuel for change. This country runs on optics, rumor, and never forget — fear.
We expect perfection from the police. The only time they get noticed in the negative or noticed at all is when there is a total screwup. Total screwups happen when intimidation tactics go unchecked, allowing a complacency to grow within a department and officers feel justified in going beyond their training and procedure. Things also go awry when they are asked to improvise. Protests are always a crowd trigger away from becoming a riot.
Holding police to the highest standards is essential. When things go wrong, a common attitude within the police fraternity is an “I have your back – right or wrong” philosophy. Criminal elements have the same code of self-preservation, but they do not have the same level of liability protections. And, as we have learned with the Trump administration, lying is acceptable to get your way.
Establishing and maintaining accountability begins with and is required at the highest echelons of our society, public and private. Accountability, integrity and transparency are essential for public trust.
Police reform begins with restoring trust in our governmental institutions and retooling our society to properly address why we have permanent institutionalized underclasses based on race, ethnicity, education and more. The police are here to serve and protect as well as pick up the pieces when things go wrong. Police officers, generally speaking, deal with about five-percent of the population close to 100-percent of the time.
Most of the time officers are looking for the negative and intangible elements that could cause them harm as well as harm others. It alters their thinking and generally their goal is to maintain status quo and keep the peace. Their day can be filled with boredom, heart wrenching human life situations or fear based on the way each encounter goes.
In this country there are about 20,000 no-knock warrants issued each year. They are used primarily against criminal elements that are involved in drug crimes. Most of the no-knock warrants get served with no issues. They always make great media fodder because of video. Visuals of heavily armed police arriving in military style vehicles confronting a potentially armed adversary is great TV content.
When things go wrong, and by a small percentage they rarely do, but when they do it is endless media and public punishment for the police officers and jurisdiction. The individuals who are at the receiving end of a poorly served “wrong-location” or “wrong-person” warrant may never recover. Standards to obtain and serve no-knock warrants need to be higher.
Banning or altering some tools misused by the police may be necessary. But, our real challenge is to examine our, “what’s in it for me” or “I am better than you” tendencies and ask why are our criminal, cheating, lying, hypocritical, and corruptive behaviors tolerated and to some degree rewarded at all levels of our society? No easy answers.
Smarter outcomes for all requires leadership, political will, a fresh mindset and values we can embrace. We can ban poor choices, but building a better path forward requires us to deal with society’s hypocrisy, imbalance and issues emanating from uncertainty in employment, access, unfair competition, monopolies, housing, medical care, mental illness, and education. Accountability starts with each of us.
Keith Livingston is a longtime Federal Way resident and community observer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.