When I left the Marine Corps in 1957, I received job offers from a few police departments to join their forces. I suspect their interest was based on my military background. However, I left the marines for the seminary so I could learn to love people, not kill them. But I have to admit, the marines did a great job of instilling militancy in my head, and it took many years to undo that brainwashing.
I share this because I feel today too many police departments are filled with ex-military who have been well-trained to kill. I also see police who belong to militias, are racist, join white nationalist groups, and enjoy abusing their power with a weapon. That is a scary combination!
I see police departments becoming miniarmies, supplied with military equipment, dressed for warfare, and deployed against their own people. Just their military presence threatens me. I know their presence often exacerbates situations rather than resolving them.
I have personally witnessed police lying in court under oath. I have read too many stories of their planting false evidence, locking up innocent people, and even sending innocents to death row.
I worked with gangs. Young Hispanic men told me stories about cops who would see them alone, stop and cuff them, drive to a secluded spot, and beat them with night sticks while threatening, “Next time it’s going to be worse!”
I confess I feel great disdain for today’s policing and want to push for defunding.
That said, I also believe well-trained police are a part of every smooth-functioning democracy.
In Wales last year, Annie and I were looking for an important location and asked a policewoman for directions, who then worked very hard to find us the answer. I noticed she was called an “officer of the peace.” Her title put a whole new perspective on the art of policing.
I have an idea: Rename all police departments to “officers of the peace departments.” Weed out bad police, and try them in courts of justice. Reestablish community policing. Bring in agencies that have specific skills to deal with issues such as homelessness, mental health, addiction, housing, and domestic violence to coordinate with the police to help people. A police uniform can be mighty intimidating. Relegate police to do actual policing. Let special trained social workers deal with the social issues.
Let’s not talk about defunding, refunding, or dismissing police departments. Instead, let’s redesign policing for the twenty-first century. This all needs to be in concert with redesigning our unjust judicial system, educational approach, low-income housing, job opportunities, and prison system. It all intertwines.
I keep hoping that the execution of George Floyd can be a focal point for big change.
The second part of the Great Commandment (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”) reminds us that this love includes our neighbors of color, who are often treated as second-class citizens in every way for too many times by those who took an oath “to protect and serve.”
Peace Love Hope Joy
Photo courtesy of Backbone Campaign (CC BY 2.0)