EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

What do you Mean?

Misleading slogans can damage a cause

Posted

I have watched and know many law enforcements officers who have behaved in extraordinarily kind and compassionate ways. They have responded with care to dangerous situations and shown compassion to those who seem to be undeserving and in the wrong. When I hear terrible things about individuals and departments, I feel distanced from that. I feel safe in my southern New Mexico haven but I know the same things are happening right here, right now.

When I saw the use the acronym ACAB in a Facebook post and learned it stands for “All Cops are Bastards,” I was horrified and indignant. I see police officers helping injured animals; taking the lead in Special Olympics fundraising; holding yearly solemn events honoring the 9/11 first responders, so many of whom of course were law enforcement officers; and so much more good in the community. How can they all be bastards?

Looking into it more I see ACAB, despite the specific implication, actually refers to the police as an institution and does not necessarily reflect upon the individual law enforcement officer. Its use is a response to police actions that have historically been perceived as abusive, obnoxious, corrupt and vindictive. Context is everything in this case. ACAB has been used by groups on all sides, from disruptive racist alt-right factions to current anti-racist protesters. Either way, as a way to indicate displeasure with an institution and system, it is a misleading phrase and there are better choices for signage.

A better choice for those protest signs might be #8cantwait, which boils down to a call for police policy reforms. The #8cantwait campaign calls for communities to adopt eight specific policies aimed modifies use of force procedures by law enforcement.

Those suggested policies are:

  • Ban chokeholds and strangleholds;
  • Require de-escalation training;
  • Require warning before shooting;
  • Requires all alternatives before shooting, including using non-force and less-lethal force options;
  • Duty to intervene proposes officers be required to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers and report incidents immediately;
  • Ban shooting at moving vehicles;
  • Establish a force continuum that restricts the most severe types of force to the most extreme situations and creates clear policy restrictions on the use of each police weapon and tactic;
  • Require comprehensive reporting for officers to report each time they use force or threaten to use force against civilians.

When I hear calls to “defund the police,” my brain sees a filmstrip of “The Purge” type of images with people running rampant in the streets. The truth again is different. Defunding the police could mean building a new model of public safety. Moving money from police departments into community-based safety strategies including mental health services, emergency medical services and fire departments.

The idea does not necessarily mean getting rid of the police altogether. Rather, it would mean reducing police budgets and reallocating those funds to crucial and sometimes neglected areas including education, public health, housing and youth services.

According to an article in “The Cut,” success is predicated on the belief that investing in communities would act as a better deterrent to crime by directly addressing societal problems like poverty, mental illness, and homelessness — issues that advocates say police are poorly equipped to handle, and yet are often tasked with. According to some estimates, law enforcement spends 21 percent of its time responding to and transporting people with mental illnesses. Police are also frequently dispatched to deal with people experiencing homelessness, causing them to be incarcerated at a disproportionate rate.

In 2015, the Washington Post found that one in four people killed by a police officer suffered from a serious mental illness at the time of their death. In certain situations, this kind of scenario could be decreased by replacing some police officers with trained social workers or specialized response teams.

“Municipalities can begin by changing policies or statutes, so police officers never respond to certain kinds of emergencies, including ones that involve substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness or mental health,” Philip V. McHarris and Thenjiwe McHarris suggest in an op-ed for the “New York Times.” “So, if someone calls 911 to report a drug overdose, health care teams rush to the scene; the police wouldn’t get involved. If a person calls 911 to complain about people who are homeless, rapid response social workers would provide them with housing support and other resources. Conflict interrupters and restorative justice teams could mediate situations where no one’s safety is being threatened.”

The pressure on our law enforcement officers is huge today. I imagine they feel personally attacked and discouraged when they hear and see things like “ACAB” and “defund the police!” I think if you ask a police officer why they chose law enforcement, they will say it was to serve the community and to keep people safe.

The problems currently inherent in our society might call for change, for rethinking what our roles are and what the role of the police is, but certainly not for individual attack. It is society that creates law enforcement and the need for it. We ARE the police and we need to heal what is wrong with the system without cutting off our noses to spite our faces.

Elva K. Österreich is editor of Desert Exposure and would love to meet Desert Exposure readers during her office hours in Silver City on Thursday, July 30. Please contact her at editor@desertexposure.com or by cell phone at 575-443-4408 to set a place and time to meet.