We as a people have learned through hard experience that blind faith in government, in any form, at any level, leads inexorably to policies counter to the public good at the very least and at worst to corruption and abuse.
But one area that we remain willfully blind to is the actions of our police force. It’s a dirty business, and too often we’re just unwilling to look into it closely.
Police officers routinely run toward danger. They engage the worst elements of society directly, and they take law-breakers off the street. They do it, day and night, in places and situations that you and I would not want to go. It’s a hard, dangerous job, and we’re grateful that there are men and women who do it gladly.
We are likewise blessed that the most controversial instances involving our police force in recent memory resulted from moments of poor judgment, not the death of unarmed citizens.
We trust our police force. We have to. They have to know that we have faith in them as they drive toward danger night after night.
Yet, we also have to listen to the voices in that part of the community that feels it has been unfairly singled out for police action. There are inequities visited upon people of color that the community at large doesn’t face and cannot fully understand.
So how do we, as a society, establish faith with both groups without diminishing the importance of either?
First, we must hear those voices. Ask and listen. What do people of color experience, casually and systemically, that I don’t? How are those attitudes baked into our law and policy?
Secondly, what policies and procedures can we put in place to allow police a route away from the unnecessary violence that has resulted from so many interactions with African Americans historically?
What actions can we take to reintroduce an attitude of respect and tolerance that the white community accepts as its due? To defuse, de-escalate, and protect everyone involved, citizen and police officer alike?
Last month, the National League of Cities, of which Galveston is a member, unanimously passed a resolution on the use of force by Municipal Law Enforcement Officers, and I believe Galveston should likewise adopt this resolution as a positive move toward ensuring that our law enforcement agencies’ use-of-force policies are useful and appropriate, including prohibiting the use of chokeholds, requiring officers to use de-escalation techniques and enforcing a duty to intervene when use of force is excessive.
This will go a long way toward protecting all of us, including people of color, bolstering the community’s trust in their police force, while allowing police officers to defend citizens and themselves as they engage in the necessary and dangerous task of keeping Galveston safe.
This isn’t the ultimate solution to the problems within the community, but it’s a good and necessary first step.
More information is available at www.nlc.org.