Self reflection is hard!
Whether we are staring at ourselves, individually, or examining our particular group, we struggle to see clearly!
Our default response is to blame someone else. We are skilled at conjuring up a smorgasbord of reason “proving” that we – or our group – are not to blame.
If that fails we simply deny the problem. “Nope, it doesn’t exist!”
Recently, some folks have resorted to emphatically denying that our nation is still under the stranglehold of racism.
The more emphatic the denial, the more convinced I am that the denier – in his/her heart – knows better.
Among those recent, emphatic deniers is Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Sen. Graham’s words are disappointing.
I always liked Sen. Graham, right from his first appearance in 1993 in the U.S. House of Representative. Everything from his inherently cordial, Southern charm, to his choice of words when making a case for a cause made him easy to listen to. His stint as a defense and then prosecuting attorney in the U.S. Air Force no doubt sharpened and polished his speech presentations. Thus, I listened to him, even when I disagreed with his perspective. Occasionally, his logic would change my mind.
The Senator was not in a congenial mood when Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday, asked Graham whether he “...believes U.S. institutions are impacted by systemic racism.”
“No, not in my opinion!” Graham countered, asserting that racist incidents are “... the consequence of ‘bad actors.’”
“Graham pointed to the election of former President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris as evidence of the fact that ‘America is not racist,’ saying: ‘We just elected a two-term African American president … the vice president is of African American, Indian descent.’” – Forbes, April 25.
Sadly, the esteemed Senator over estimates our nation’s steps toward racial equality. Indeed, our nation has made progress in terms of finally having broader representation on the political scene. Still, we – especially those of us who are white – suffer from unwarranted optimism, if we really believe we have eliminated racism.
Regarding revising law enforcement, the Senator went on to say he “...would support a provision where departments—not officers—can be sued!”
There the Senator is right!
Indeed, there will be an occasional police officer who is not fit to serve on the force, but resorting to the “old, one-rotten-apple” approach does not address the root problem – which as much as we struggle not to face it – is systemic.
Reflecting on the recent murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, a Savannah, Georgia police officer, Patrick Skinner, admits that he was worried that “...once again, a jury would, despite clear video evidence of guilt…” acquit Chauvin.
Skinner added that it was important for police to avoid becoming defensive. “Even though it is true’’ – “not all cops are bad – it is also irrelevant. Systemic reform is inseparable from individual change. We need both, and they have to feed off of each other.” – Skinner, Patriot News, April 25.
Skinner, in his opinion piece, makes another confession.
“There will be a natural desire by police, myself included, to say the system worked, that Chauvin was found guilty by a jury of his peers and that a bad apple was sent to jail. No longer around to rot the bunch.”
While Skinner admits that is true, he proclaims, “...it is also irrelevant.”
Skinner perfectly sums up our nation’s position. “A nation so tense about a single trial is in desperate need of much more.”
Officer Skinner sees that it is his responsibility to take the guilty verdict personally. He understands that accepting the trial as a personal challenge will help him change professionally.
Do we need to change?
According to a Northeastern-Harvard study, Blacks – usually Black males – are killed by our peace officers at a rate that is two-times the percentage of whites killed. The data makes the need for reform blindingly obvious. Yes, we need to change!
An integral part of reform should incorporate making police departments liable for their officers. Thus, Sen. Graham is correct – at least on this point. Sue police departments, not individual officers.
Actually, I suspect that police departments and their officers – on the average – try hard to perform their jobs, to serve the public and to uphold the Constitution. Even so, reformative changes are needed.
A positive step forward would be for each police department to review its policies and procedures and evaluate what ones work effectively and what ones need revised. Departments should also assess their military outfits and equipment and evaluate whether the militant atmosphere helps or hinders in their dealings with us – the public.
After reassessing and revamping their departments they should consider implementing and emphasizing their long asserted philosophy that their primary job is to “serve and protect.”
Granted, they may still find the occasional individual who probably should not work in this field of public service. Hopefully, the revised guidelines will produce a different atmosphere that more readily reveals officers who struggle to make protecting and serving their top priority.
It is up to us, the public, to insist on such changes.
It is, also, up to us, the people, to support our law enforcements’ efforts to enact positive and substantive changes.
Indeed, we all must take the need for reform personally. After all, our police departments actually reflect our attitudes, not the other way around.
Do we feel at ease with the attitudes that we reveal?
Do we even have an awareness of our own attitudes?
Should we self reflect?
Officer Patrick Skinner sets a good example. We should follow him!