In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson sent the United States Army into Detroit to try to calm the streets after rioting and police conduct had resulted in the deaths of forty-three. Fifty three years later, the governmental approach to civil unrest continues to be to send in armed police officers and national guardsmen.
It did not work well in Ferguson, MO in 2014; it certainly is not working well now in Minneapolis and a host of other cities. Are there other ways to deal with citizen concerns besides massive displays of armed power?
Here are a few suggestions as to how authorities in Minneapolis could have, and hopefully still can, try to communicate an understanding of the frustration of the citizens. Beyond that, the police forces still have time to try to make amends.
- Immediately acknowledge that the cops messed up. Police officers on the street could acknowledge this. If they really wanted to get the point across clearly, some police officers could carry signs saying, “We messed up,” or perhaps even better, “We screwed up,” or “We fucked up.” It’s not what the community would expect to see, but these are not ordinary times. As Mark Twain said, “When everything else fails, try telling the truth.”
- Instead of having police on the front lines opposing citizens, the municipal leaders could call out other public employees who are more skilled in conflict resolution. Imagine if the city sent hundreds or thousands of public school teachers, social workers, public defenders and others to talk openly with the protesters. They could hear out what the protesters had to say, document it, and commit themselves to passing along the concerns of the citizens to “higher-ups.” In the category of “truth in advertising,” we have to acknowledge that not all teachers, social workers and public defenders are terribly skilled in conflict resolution, but they would be a good group with whom to start.
- Find ways to organize community truth and reconciliation gatherings. These would be on-going. Minneapolis seems to have an outstanding mayor in Jacob Frey and an excellent Chief of Police in Medaria Arradondo. Begin scheduling meetings now, and be sure to include on the beat police officers. Everyone would have to follow rules of civility.
- Being somewhat facetious, but what the hell, the Minnesota Vikings could sign Colin Kaepernick to compete with Kirk Cousins to be quarterback. At the very least, Kaepernick could teach police officers the proper way to take a knee. As silly as this may sound, it could be an act of good faith within the community and would probably give the Vikings what they need to become a Super Bowl contender.
We have previously written about police officers also being trained to be social workers. Police are often the first level of government with whom citizens come in contact when there is discord. They should be the best possible representatives of the state. Their jobs put them in positions to be the first line of justice when troubles occur within our society.
Yes, this includes investigating crimes and apprehending those who have broken laws, but it also involves delicate situations such as domestic disputes or daily occurrences such as truancy. When police interact with citizens who have broken laws, or people who are in distress, they need to be able to address the immediate emotional needs of the people. Additionally, they must be equipped with a wide range of resources that can direct citizens to agencies that can help them with their areas of frustration. In the case of domestic disputes, police should be able to direct parties to effective counseling, the type that can be immediately available. If a person has an alcohol or other drug addiction, police should be able to direct them to rehab programs. If a person just lost his or her job, police know how to help citizens effectively look for new job opportunities.
But, as we all know, most of today’s police are not trained that way. This is why they are perhaps among the least equipped people in our society to deal with the current justified anger on the streets of Minneapolis and other American cities. So, while putting alternate personnel besides police officers on the streets during this current outrage over what four police officers willingly did to George Floyd, the police in Minneapolis and every other community in our country must have their jobs radically redefined. Those who are currently police officer who have to quickly learn to adapt, or they will justifiably be replaced by many others who have the requisite skills to know far more about justice than Officer Derek Chauvin and his three colleagues.