Op-Ed

‘Our Police Force Must Evolve to Meet the Demand for Social Justice,’ Says Mendocino County Resident

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Birkas voluntarily riding with police officers to identify a suspect [Picture provided by her]

To address the police violence problem in Mendocino County we need a change in leadership and police culture. This doesn’t mean that we stop supporting our police officers – they will need our support now more than ever – it means it is time to do things differently and we need to lead.

Last week a kid hid in my back yard. Another teen jumped my six-foot fence and began beating him. I called the police. The beaten kid waited and I brought him water. The police thanked me for my cooperation and requested I ride in their vehicle to identify the suspect.

This week our community watched the video of a mentally ill man being beaten by police. What gives these officers the moral high ground to arrest one person for violence when they themselves commit the same crime?

While the violent attack in my yard may have required police assistance, the helping of a naked man find a safe and stable place to recover clearly was out of the skill set of these officers. 

While the majority of police may be well-intentioned we’re dealing with a bigger issue than just a few bad apples. Police procedures are built around aggressive tactics, rather than de-escalation techniques. Even good police make poor choices because the culture that surrounds them embodies patriarchal concepts of aggression. Police, who have authority over other peoples’ bodies, repeatedly make poor choices and cause harm. They do this more often with people of color, mentally ill people, and homeless people. It is our responsibility to find a solution because there is no justice today. We must change the social environment around policing. 

Investigation of individual police incidents is not enough because it does not lead to change; few are even investigated and police are usually forgiven. Police, when administering “distraction strikes” are doing what they were trained to do. Even if macro-aggressions, like what we saw this week in Ukiah, were justly addressed, the micro-aggressions that are taught within the hyperaggressive police culture continue. Aggression prevents restorative health and recovery for both criminals and mentally ill and continues to promote greater crime due to more trauma and a lack of social services.

We cannot look to the police for leadership in this campaign for social welfare because it is not what our culture trained them to be — we must look to ourselves. And in it make space for them because the force they bring is valuable. 

By hiring police chiefs trained in social welfare, and social workers to do many of the duties performed by officers, we will incorporate sweeping cultural changes. Mental health workers integrated into the police and sheriff’s departments at all levels would collaboratively run the jails, propose new programs, replace officers in running the probation program, and integrate the Mental Health department to rehabilitate repeat offenders. 

This year our community has been participating in a dialog for meaningful change as we educate ourselves through CAHOOTS, Minneapolis Police Reform, and Black Lives Matter. The next steps could include County and City funding towards think tanks and paid advisory councils by people with incarcerated family members, people of color, mentally ill family members, and others affected by the systemic injustice —  It is time to build our new justice system from the ground up. 

Our police force must evolve to meet the demand for social justice as well as to reduce crime systematically. To do this we need to rebuild our system. In holding the boundary of “law and order”  from a humanitarian directive, pain, suffering, and crime will decline and justice  will rise. 

-Anna Birkas, Mendocino County resident

Categories: Op-Ed

3 replies »

  1. I totally agree, there is such a dichotomy in a Police officer’s life. l am sure most of them never want to be shot at or shoot at someone. Yet when you are trained and read about officers being killed and hurt fear can become a dominant emotion. Add to that the constant dealing with people who are mentally ill who are mostly ignored by our society and you have a recipe for disaster. Once in a while I stop to help a homeless person and have always felt in a catch-22. If I give them help I am concerned I am enabling their problem and creating a situation where we have more people on the streets. Yet it is clear that our government can not deal with the issue in an adequate way. The number of people living on the street who had no choice to do so and who are mentally ill is increasing. If there was a way for an officer to have a person available to them to call it would not help much in most situations. They are going to deal with whatever they find at the moment, if there is a person trained to deal with the mentally challenged and de-escalate the situation on the scene then they will be used. If no one is there the police will just deal with it. As a society, we have some very big issues to deal with and at the core of many of them are our public servants the Police, Firefighters, and elected Government officials. The issue is so big and so intimidating that I expect that most of those in power just throw up their hands and ask for another “Fact-Finding Investigation” into the problem to attempt to look like they are doing something.

  2. Great comment, sometimes you may not feel that way, after some homeless pos breaks into your car an takes everything you own cause you are damn near homeless yourself .these are the people that really need help, not to far gone, to be tossed into the ranks of the hard core homeless, if that is what you want to call it, ive met people with charm an talent, plus skills. that fell thru the cracks.plus having children!

  3. Anna we would all like less police violence, however we really need our police force to intercept and apprehend criminals. It seems your assessment of our “needed” changes lacks a fundemental understanding of policeing, criminality and possibly social worker capabilities. Yes there is room for improvement in a number of areas, but replacing police officers with social workers will not get the job done.

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