“They were using tools they were provided to perform a job they were asked to do,” said Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale at a community meeting on Aug. 6 at the Old Central Community Center.
Many years ago, Henry David Thoreau penned these words, “I wish my countrymen to consider, that whatever the human law may be, neither an individual nor a nation can ever commit the least act of injustice against the obscurest individual, without having to pay the penalty for it. A government which deliberately enacts injustice, and persists in it, will at length ever become the laughingstock of the world.”
With that said, I now write to you my fellow citizens of Galveston County. It has been said by many that the optics of the image of Donald Neely being arrested by two mounted officers and walked through the streets of Galveston looked bad. We have looked at the viral image and focused on the subjects in it, but the reality is that what we’re looking at is ourselves.
If we’re honest, we as a society created the conditions that allowed that image to become a reality. It’s not the police department’s responsibility alone. As Chief Hale stated on that night — we provided the tools and we asked them to do a job.
It’s much easier to blame Donald Neely, the officers, the police chief or elected officials than it is to examine the issue at a much deeper level that convicts each of us for allowing an environment that creates a need to employ these techniques to deal with a symptom of a disease rather than the root cause of the disease.
To blame racism as the disease is too easy. Racism is only a symptom that manifests or reveals itself because of ignorance and fear. We will not be able to eliminate the deeper problems if we only look at one symptom.
This cure will take many years of treatment. In order to cure ourselves we must acknowledge we’re sick. Yes, Donald Neely is an ill individual, but we’re a sick society that’s willing to dispose of certain individuals. We allow the dirty work to be done by others, so that we cannot be implicated in the crime.
While our individual hands may not have been involved in this arrest, our collective hands aren’t clean. We as a society gave authority to the police to use the badge, horse, cuffs and leash. We also asked them to do the dirty work of removing undesirable people from our view. Now we need to legislate new guidelines and see value in all people including criminals.
It’s time for us to have the conversations that make us uncomfortable. The conversations that lead to better solutions for our problems. It’s time to examine who we are as a community.
We thought we were looking at a picture, but what we were looking at is a mirror. A young child was used to reveal to us that while we may not want to recognize it, this is who we are.
We have an opportunity to be a better community. The world is watching, and I’m hopeful this time we will do the real work needed for meaningful change.