Thursday, July 7, 2016

Standing Up

Stop. Stop everything you’re doing and take a moment to relax. Center yourself and imagine for a moment that the person you love the most was just ripped away from you. The person you’ve always depended on, the one who had your back, that person who, in your life, was everything.  Feel the grief. Feel that pain and the unfiltered hurt that rushes in to occupy the void that was so suddenly created in your life.  If you’re a parent, imagine your child taken from you in an instant, without warning. The life you so lovingly nurtured is gone and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Now imagine that this was no accident, no unfortunate incident or sudden sickness. Imagine that this loss was the outcome of murder. A murderer took the one you loved in the most cowardly way possible…with a gun.

Let’s take this one step further and put a badge on that murderer. Let’s imagine that after killing the light of your life this murderer is able to threaten you, put you in handcuffs and deny you your freedom.

One last step into this darkness if you’ll follow me. Imagine that this person was never punished. That this murderer was free to walk the planet and breath the free air while still wearing a badge and carrying a gun.

Now imagine this. There was another man so similar to the one who was taken from you they could be brothers save for their complexion. They like the same music, drive the same kind of car and wear the same kind of clothes.  This man, when approached by a man who also carries a gun and wears a badge, becomes belligerent, unruly and wrestles with the badge, striking him and his partner multiple times, running, screaming and threatening everyone in earshot, but he lives. He lives to face justice for his crimes while your shining star is cold, dead, killed for nothing.

Let’s add another encounter with a belligerent man pointing a weapon at passing motorists and firing a shot at officers. He wasn’t killed either. He’s alive still. Why?

The two in this story are white. The dead man is black. The officers are white.

If this was an isolated tragedy, we could all be persuaded to believe that the murderer was a bad guy who slipped through the cracks in a largely good system, but that’s not the case, now is it. So large is the disparity between black men killed by police and white men killed by police that we are forced to suspect that it is the system that is broken.

I will acknowledge right here and now that there are great officers out there of all colors and I’m damn glad to have them, but it would be a rare person indeed who could deny that there is a serious systemic problem that must be addressed at its core.

Instead of rallying against an ethereal system, let us stand together, educate ourselves on the problem and not just demand change but create it.  I found something out a couple of years ago while working with the democratic party. It’s not hard to become the system. It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to inject one’s self into politics in a real way.  We ALL need to do just that. Whichever party you’re affiliated with, find the precinct leader if there is one and get involved in every meeting.  Through minimal involvement I was able to bend the ear of elected officials, meet congressional representatives, judges, the governor and many, many dedicated and passionate people.

We have to have a plan. We can’t depend on the people who have created the current system to fix it. It’s not realistic. I would propose a few things with the hopes that a functional and workable plan could be born of a simple list.

·       No camera, no weapons, no excuses.

o   In reality this would protect the citizens from the police and the police from false accusations. Any officer unwilling to wear a camera can find another way to make a living.

·       Stop using fear as an excuse for murder.

o   If an officer is scared of a certain segment of the population that officer should find a different way to make a living.

·       Recertification for every officer everywhere, no excuses or exclusions.

o   Anyone wearing a badge would go through a new evaluation program. Any deemed unfit for armed service as an officer would be immediately removed from service. This program would be administered by an independent agency.

o   The evaluation program needs to include an independently created psychological evaluation. I’m not a psychologist so I’m not qualified to elaborate on details here.

·       Explore the reality of racial profiling rather than denying it exists.

·       Stop using law enforcement as a revenue stream!!!

o   All fines. ALL FINES should go to programs set up to help reduce recidivism, drug addiction, gang violence, improve educational opportunities and end hunger in our communities. No money from fines should go into local or state budgets PERIOD.

o   We must stop using police to create revenue for our communities and our states.

These are a few ideas. They’re mine and I don’t pretend that they are new, profound or in any way better than any idea anyone else may have, but that’s the point.

I am angry. I am hurt. I am outraged. If this systemic racism and violence was contained in a single living thing I would throw myself at it, unleashing all the rage I could bring to bear until it ceased to be, taking whatever consequences happily knowing that I had rid the world of such a scourge.  Sadly, that’s not possible for the very nature of a systemic problem, especially one as ingrained and violent as this, cannot be dealt with on one front.

I’ve used the excuse of working too much to be involved for the last few years and I do put in more hours than I care to mention in a week, but I’m willing to stand up, get involved and let my voice be heard as far and as wide as I can spread it. I’m willing to lend my skills, my heart and if necessary, my freedom to bring about a real and lasting change. We are all part of a network. By reading this, you’ve just become part of mine and I part of yours if you’ll have me.
Ronnie Swafford

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