Like many in this country, I was left speechless when Cleveland’s grand jury decision was announced — to not to pursue charges against the responding officers responsible for Tamir Rice’s death. The video of the incident is heartbreaking and wrenches me each time I see it. But criminal intent is much different than poor judgment and ineffective communications. How many of us have worked with others like Tamir and their siblings throughout our careers? It is a different, duplicitous and dangerous world inhabited by African-American youths and other children of color in this country, now more than ever.
I offer no pre-judgment of the officers or the system here. I have walked alongside law enforcement throughout my entire 30+ year career and have lasting respect for all 1st responders. But clearly we are in dangerous territory in this country. There is a palpable, disquieting and nervous feeling across our nation relative to communities, race, policing, politics and economics.
In my own community, gun and youth violence remain at intolerably high rates, especially among children and families of color. So many complex issues: generational poverty, racism, political structure and a capitalistic system that could be viewed as more and more engineered rather than truly free market in its dynamics. But make no mistake — law enforcement isn’t where we should focus our outrage.
We need to have honest conversations — about families and community systems in support or not of families; open and permissive sexuality/sexual behaviors; parenting skills/strategies; the role of privilege and money in creating and enforcing policies in our country (at every level); the lack of effective and science-based child and family policy; and the noted disaffection adults and youth have for engaging in the voting process (indeed, all civic processes). Elections have become much more about money, power and influence, and less about issues relevant to “every man” or “every woman” (and certainly never about “every child”).
Bubbling up across college campuses, urban centers, public schools and even local convenience stores is a dyspeptic recognition that we cannot continue our current course. With a shrinking middle class, our country may become even more polarized between the haves and have-nots (economically). Dynamics from such a system generate a rising consciousness as to social, political, economic and other inequities that foment as the media covers various violence-related interactions between those empowered to ensure public safety and the citizens they interact with.
There is much to do with law enforcement agencies to help “on the ground” responses to these much larger social and economic issues. Absolutely more training, coaching, administrative accountability and conversations about legitimacy and transparency must happen. We shouldn’t waste another moment to get started. But law enforcement officers live and work within communities and aren’t unaware of these problems. We owe it to them to help provide the accountability and transparency that citizens demand; yet we also owe it to them to recognize the extremely complex, unpredictable, and often violent situations to which they are called and must respond — and provide the tools, training and support needed for everyone to be kept safe in an unbiased, responsible way. This begins at the ballot box, in homes and around dinner tables, and requires that folks become engaged in public policies that strengthen families, ensure positive child/youth development, balance social (and racial) equity and healthful living while fostering true free market dynamics in the process.