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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