Policing – A Balanced Approach

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On this day before Christmas 2014, much is being written, locally and nationally, about policing. As always, I write not to raise the tension, but in a continuing attempt to find resolution.

Locally, a popular progressive political forum has posted a piece by a respected local progressive activist about what she describes as the potential racial inequality in policing approach in my hometown of ten years, Carrboro, NC.

I’m not stupid. I’m not unaware. I’ve heard stories, too. Witnessed some things. But her account stands out, at least for me, for several reasons.

If what I would describe, respectfully and lovingly, as a rather sleepy little artsy backwater can generate these sorts of feelings, then it is past time to take action.

Resolution is going to require self-control, responsibility, balance and genuine engagement – by everyone.

I read reports of a song being composed for a police officer’s retirement party in Los Angeles, a song that is disgustingly racist and offensive in nature. That does not help. If the police want respect, they must act respectfully.

I read reports of a new shooting near Ferguson. As always, no-one yet knows the details. All is second-hand. But, there are reports of a handgun. And further reports of rock-throwing following the alleged incident.

I am not happy with the state of policing in our country. I am not happy for the communities which feel under siege from police. I am not happy for police, who feel under siege from their communities.

But, I am one who believes we need some form of law enforcement. And until such time as we have allowed communities to design or re-design their own policing approach, the police as we have them are what we have.

It is not respectful to draw a handgun on the police. Nor to throw rocks at them. Nor to scream at them – in the case of the incident reported in one of my local newspapers, and referred to in the local progressive political forum. It does nothing to help resolution. If we want the police to respect us, then we have to respect the police, too.

And, once again, I come back to resolution. I believe in localism. Communities know best what is right for them. Not remote bureaucracies in Washington or state capitals. Nor self-appointed moderators, who inevitably feel they always know best for us. So, I can only talk immediately about my own hometown, Carrboro, and the advocacy I am pursuing to explore the notion of citizen design of policing approach.

Which brings me to the piece posted in the local progressive political blog. It appears to offer progress. But actually, it is merely a regurgitation of points offered previously. Which I regarded as inadequate at the time, since they were a classic example of someone in authority assuming they know what is best for other people.

The people who know best are those people. It is why I am advocating citizen design of policing. Not police design. Not council staff design. Not elected official design.

It is why I think a crucial first step (and this can be reproduced across the nation) is the formation, by the local police funding agency’s elected officials, of an open citizen’s task force, comprising citizens, elected officials and police, with a remit thoroughly to canvass concerns, explore potential resolution, and make recommendations.

I am achieving some success with this notion. As previously reported, three of the seven members of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen (the funding agency for the Carrboro Police Force) have indicated that they wish to meet and compare notes with me in the New Year. It’s a start.

The goal should be a structure and process where citizens can design, consensually with elected officials and police, a policing approach which is acceptable to the community. So that all parties may feel able to co-exist in a more harmonious situation, where there is respect between all of the parties for each other’s rights, and support for the task we, as a society, ask some to perform in order to maintain law and order.

Communities, elected officials, citizens and police all deserve respect. All need respect, if society is to work.

That respect does not come from pulling hand guns on police. From throwing rocks at them. From screaming at them. It does not come from shooting twelve year olds dead. From breaking down peoples’ front doors to serve a warrant. From composing racist songs.

The answer is dialogue. The answer is to sit down, without preconception, but with respect. And talk until solutions are found. The answer, frankly, is to provide the space to allow citizens to find the solutions for themselves.

That is the best role that elected officials from funding agencies can perform. Not to come up with imposed solutions themselves. To be honest, the time for elected officials, on their own, to step in and offer programs and policies is long past. They remained quiet for way too long.

No. The best service those elected officials can provide now is all of the support possible and necessary to promote dialogue that allows citizens directly to design their community’s policing approach.

Some of you have asked me to let you know when you can do something, what and how. The when is now. The how is to offer your thoughts, right away, on what you think needs to be done to improve policing in your community (about all of your concerns, not just racial inequality), what you think about the notion of citizens designing their own policing approach, and what you think about a preliminary step of elected officials from police funding agencies setting up citizen’s task forces.

You can do that best (if you live in Orange County) by way of commentary on OrangePolitics, which is read by most of our local elected officials. Or on my Facebook Page, where I have tagged a messload of local elected officials. Or on this blog. Do it. Today. There is no more time to lose.

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