by William Skink
Yesterday I was picking up dinner for the family at the local gyro shop. After paying, I waited around for my grub, along with two police officers. The cops were in a quiet, unguarded moment. After some internal debate, I decided to thank the cops for the difficulty of the situation they are currently managing.
Wait, why the hell would I THANK law enforcement as video evidence of their brutality pours in? Aren’t cops just the fascist thugs of the police state?
I was listening to NPR yesterday and the discussion was about police reform in LA. Amidst calls to defund law enforcement, I found the perspective of Marqueece Harris-Dawson worth highlighting:
CHANG: And this brings us to the third man in our story, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, another native of South LA who’s now a city councilman.
HARRIS-DAWSON: I think there’s obviously a use for LAPD and other police departments.
CHANG: While Bruce Patton wants all guns gone from the LAPD and Gilbert Johnson wants to see the LAPD completely gone, Harris-Dawson just wants to see the police here focus on fewer things.
HARRIS-DAWSON: We ask police departments to solve homelessness. We ask them to solve truancy. We ask them to solve blight, traffic problems, pedestrian safety. We ask them to solve a whole bunch of problems that they oftentimes are not the appropriate set of individuals to do.
Harris-Dawson’s perspective is why I thanked two cops yesterday at a gyro shop. I thanked them because I know, viscerally, what it means to “ask police departments to solve homelessness”. I know how their daily interactions with impossible people burns them out. This is how good cops either leave, or transform into aggressors. They don’t process the trauma of their experiences, which fuels anger, which leads to all kinds of bad things, both for cops and for the rest of us.
I’m sometimes accused of complaining about problems without offering any solutions. Well, this time I have a solution.
In the numerous meetings I have attended, where service providers and law enforcement discussed difficult issues, like homelessness, there was one question that left us service providers speechless. This question would usually come after we had described all the services and programs that exist, and how to access them.
Then the question: ok, so who do I call at 2am to get this person help?
At 2am the only two options are jail and the hospital. I know this because I once took a one-legged alcoholic to the hospital specifically to get him arrested and taken to jail.
Let me explain.
I arrived by bike at the Sleepy Inn shortly after 5pm to drop off some food for a client. When I got there, the police had already been called. He was drunk and throwing objects at the wall, scaring the family next door. I identified myself to the officer, who clearly didn’t want to be dealing with this guy. When they realized I knew him in a professional capacity, they happily transferred responsibility to me, and left.
After the cops left, the motel manager informed me that my client had to go. It was winter, so being outside would kill him. It was after 5pm, so his payee (who controls his disability money) wasn’t available to get money for another motel room. I told my client I was going to help push him to St. Pats. My client told me that he was told if he showed up to the ER again, he would be arrested for trespassing.
I said fine, then we’ll get you arrested for trespassing.
And that’s what happened.
I pushed my one-legged alcoholic client to the ER of St. Pats, where I talked to the security guy. I explained that my client was not allowed at the shelter, had just been kicked out of his motel room, and would be coming to the hospital one way or the other, so please call 911. When the police officer arrived I repeated my rationale for arresting him. The police officer agreed with me, and took him to jail for the night. I told the officer I would follow up the next day and connect him to his payee, and that I would beg the motel manager to take him back, because he was also banned from every other motel in Missoula.
What we need, and have needed for a long time, is a facility that is not the jail or the ER, and we need a team of well-paid, well-trained social service responders who can respond at 2am after police and first responders have cleared the call for anything they need to do relating to crime and/or medical.
My work at the shelter slowly shifted my perspective from social service provider to first responder, and that perspective makes me laugh out loud when I read about DEFUND THE POLICE!
I think we need to better understand the impossible jobs (plural) we, as a society, have placed on law enforcement before condemning this wide swath of our fellow citizens to termination.
“What we need, and have needed for a long time, is a facility that is not the jail or the ER, and we need a team of well-paid, well-trained social service responders who can respond at 2am after police and first responders have cleared the call for anything they need to do relating to crime and/or medical.
My work at the shelter slowly shifted my perspective from social service provider to first responder, and that perspective makes me laugh out loud when I read about DEFUND THE POLICE!”
This first paragraph is exactly why people want to defund the police: to take money from militarizing a police force that can’t even address all the needs our communities have and allocate it to other services, not just after 2am but all of the time.
a police force isn’t supposed to address ALL the needs of our communities, that is my point. if you’re going to demand defunding, then you should have some concrete ideas of where to reallocate the funds.
Good luck getting the police to agree to cut their budget to find that instead lol
People do. There are literally so many news articles and blogs with concrete plans for reallocating funds in different cities. It’s not about “condemning this wide swath of our fellow citizens to termination.” You just clearly haven’t done any research.
you are correct, I haven’t done a lot of research on ending the police. do you think the city council in Minneapolis have done their research, because they are ending the police.
what I HAVE done is provide the kind of alternative response service everyone is now talking about, and while I was burning myself out for 10 dollars an hour, what were the elected “progressives” in my community doing? they were busy using public money to gentrify this town and make it more unaffordable.
will ending the police give everyone housing? I don’t think so.
all that said, I had no idea until today how obscene some big city police budgets are. 6 billion for the NYPD?
I know there is more for me to learn, but please don’t just dismiss my experiences and skepticism that it’s feasible to pull off.
I think Minneapolis just poisoned whatever chance DEFUND THE POLICE had of taking hold and receiving popular support.
no dismissing happening here. I can relate ur situation. and i agree. our focus should be on providing affordable housing and properly compensating and training workers in alternative response services. in my opinion, reallocating money from the police department, as well as those development projects making missoula unlivable for middle class and poor people, is the answer. even if it takes some hard work and conversations. i’m glad more of us, including you and me, are looking more closely at the budgets going to policing in our cities.
all i’m saying is perhaps look into what “defund the police” actually means beyond a social media slogan before laughing out loud at it.
I am, and wrote that before I realized how obscene some of these budgets were.
but please realize the path from slogan to change is often impeded by the supposed political allies who rush in to say all the right things while the flame is hot, then go back to broken windows tough on crime rhetoric to win elections after the flame dies down.
@C. Citizen: Militarization of the police hasn’t unilaterally been at the behest of the local taxpayer. It often happens when the military wants to give equipment (vehicles, personal gear, weaponry, communications, etc.) to local police forces. And then of course, the police have to be trained to use the equipment, and so they then provide the training. Which leads to the desire for more military equipment
To reduce militarization, we need to enact policies that disallow our local police from acquiring military “gifts”, which in essence are Trojan horses to inject nationalist military policies and methods into our community. Pretty much, much of the ugly we are seeing on the news about police brutality can be traced to this national policy: it indirectly creates a national police force.
FWIW, the police riots in Missoula in the summer of 2,000 can be directly attributed to the desire of federal agencies to practice their techniques and military equipment across jurisdictions, using Missoula’s citizenry as fodder. The Mayor left Missoula to go to an uninhabited island with no phone service in northern Canada while turning the city over to the feds for training.
Thanks for this response. I’m going to look into this national policy further.