|Vol. 11 No. 13
JUNE 23, 2016
The Police and Community
The problem with putting on a 10th Anniversary Celebration is that some other things have to wait, such as getting this newspaper out from being
the figment of our writers’ minds to an actual paper available out in the streets. And so this issue of The Capital City Hues is coming out a week
or so late. We hope to catch up this month to our regular publishing cycle.
And in coming out late, it comes at the risk of those things that we were thinking about being old hat because of the time delay as in the beating
arrest of Genele Laird — who has subsequently been referred to the restorative justice program.
At the start of this discussion, I must say that I was shocked by the extent of the beating the Laird received. When I was watching the video, it
seemed that things were relatively calm until the second officer came over and then all heck broke loose including the kneeing and the punching
and the tasering. It does appear to be excessive force no matter what she might have been saying or doing. The officer appeared to be angry and
out of control, perhaps something that he shared with Laird.
And I don’t understand why they needed to get her to the pavement. As far as I know, she didn’t have any weapons. Why wasn’t she just
handcuffed, put into the police car and then sort everything out at the youth detention facility?
What was the objective here, to arrest her or make her totally compliant and passive?
I can’t say that I understand police procedures or know them. They aren’t something that is regularly shared with me and I assume other
members of the public. But wasn’t there something in between that could have been done here? Did it really have to come to this? I don’t think so
and hope not.
But this doesn’t mean that Genele Laird is completely off the hook here. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Whether we believe it or not,
we all have power through our own behavior to influence the course of events in our lives.
Too often, people think freedom means that they can do anything they want in any situation they want and say whatever they want no matter who
is present. But I think that kind of freedom only exists when one is a hermit in the desert and even then, some wild animals will have some
influence over the actions that you take.
I think freedom is the ability to make decisions about one’s life within a society or a community. We have to make decisions lest those decisions
are made for us. We all have to take responsibility over our lives and responsibility for our actions. That is what it means to be a citizen in a
community or a society.
And one of the decisions we have to make is to accept the norms of the society and the behavioral expectations that come with membership in
that society whether it is a high-society club or a biker gang. There is a social contract that exists between the society and the members of that
And if those norms or behavioral expectations are not acceptable, then it is up to people to work nonviolently to change those norms and
behavior expectations, to change the social contract. Society has to have some societal expectations.
When I am driving — which I do frequently — I am a defensive driver. I anticipate the movements of the other vehicles around me. And even if I
am in the right, I will try to avoid an accident. Getting killed in a car accident is not my idea of a noble way to exercise my rights.
And so I must admit that when I get stopped by the police, which happens every two years or so. I have my driver’s license ready to hand over to
the officer and I have my hands in a very visible place. I am compliant to their authority to this point, although I won’t allow them to search my car
without a warrant or a clear reason. I try to protect my rights, while also understanding the power relationship at hand. And I guess this also is
coupled with a belief that I will get justice at some point down the line.
But for a young African American, that belief is a little hard to swallow given the gross racial disparities in our criminal justice system. The
disparities begin with traffic stops and just get greater as one traverses the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system sometimes
works for everyone, but works all the time for those with power, money and influence. And guess who doesn’t have any of that.
So I can understand the impulse to be belligerent and to keep pushing because you don’t trust the system and those who represent it.
In that sense, the social contract is broken. And I guess it has been at least fractured for several hundred years.
Our society needs young African Americans to grow up and use their intelligence and their talent for the betterment of their lives and society. We
— even young African Americans — need the police to keep order for there are truly evil people out there and a lot of other people will cross the
legal line if given a chance.
Somehow we need to create a social contract between young African Americans and other youth of color especially and the police department.
Perhaps the best way of doing this is to have more community control over the police department so that people feel they can have true redress
if something happens.
And young people have to understand that the majority of the police are great people, community-minded people. When we get into opposing
camps, rationality and reason and reality become victims as well.
And ultimately a house divided is a house that falls.