November 17, 2020
I watched another installment of Acho’s Uncomfortable Conversations last week. It had been a while since his last post. In the meantime, he was working on writing a book by the same name. This installment addressed a conversation with the police. In particular, the Petaluma, CA Police Department. Petaluma is a small town in the central California wine country with a Black population of 1%. Acho began his conversation with the statement, “Proximity breeds care and distance breeds fear. The problem we have is not enough proximity which creates a lack of care or empathy.” Four officers joined him in front of the camera, while the rest of the 35 officers participated as his first audience. They were all white.
One of the questions Acho asked was about, “Defund the Police.” Several commented when they first heard the phrase they immediately heard “abolish” the police. As they thought more, they came to understand this was being used (by most) to imply moving money to other social programs so the officers would not be the only resource available. This would allow trained counselors or health care workers to defuse the situation rather than putting an officer into a volatile situation. Most of the officers believed that would be a good thing, but there were potential problems when the situation overlaps. Many domestic violence and mental health calls also involve weapons. Most of the officers felt few counselors would be willing to go into those situations until they were diffused. The problem, however, has come with how the situation has been “diffused.”
One question the officers had for Acho was how the officers might change the image of the police. It is clear many young Black males are afraid of officers. How could they change this perception? Acho mentioned news stories that have shown officers interacting with the community children through games or open conversation. These are always depicted as an anomaly. What was needed was more personal interaction to allow both sides to move beyond the group mentality of fear to seeing each other as individuals. The officers needed to practice proximity, and the children needed to experience it.
Thoughts: If we choose to keep others (read: anyone not like me) at a distance we will never find unity. A catch phrase of the founding leaders of America is often quoted, “united we stand, divided we fall.” A frail Patrick Henry used this phrase in the last oration he ever made, “Let us trust God, and our better judgment to set us right hereafter. United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs.” Henry collapsed at the end of his speech and died two months later. Our country in 2020 has gone through killings, protests, rioting, hate mongering, and refusal to listen to anything except what I already believe. It all revolves around a lack of proximity. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.