Defunding the police goes too far.

As we ride shotgun down the avalanche, the police need our support more than ever

vol. 2 issue 47

Greetings,

During the “debate”, I fell asleep. My husband couldn’t believe it. “How can you possibly sleep through all that yelling?” he asked when I woke up from my cat nap and announced I was going to bed for real.

Because.

Aside from the fact that I find it boring to watch a stomping, blustering toddler hyperventilate to get his way (and way to go, Joe Biden, for showing me you could stand up to any world class bully like this guy or um, say, Putin), when I need to charge my battery, there is virtually nothing that will interfere with my sleep.

And what I did hear galvanized me; I needed my sleep to get ready for what I know is coming. Although I missed the part about “Forest City”, which out of context sounds quite nice, by the time I snoozed, I had already heard “Stand back, and stand by.”

Dunk. Out.

I was off to build my battery reserves for the slow burning outrage I am now feeling and wish to ignite in you and yours.

Now that we’re riding shotgun down the avalanche, the newly diagnosed covid-infected, “nothing-to-lose” broken brat in our White House committed to taking no quarter as he races downhill fast, we need to stop any notion of defunding the police. It was a truly ridiculous sentiment to begin with, but now it’s infuriating as well as dangerous.

Whether this apparent call to arms by P45, delivered to the ones who pose the actual imminent terrorist threat in our land, not the “radical left” as #45 claims, was an off-the-cuff remark or a calculation, what it implies is that the police in this nation had better be ready for action, and this at a time when they are themselves in chaos and unsure of their standing in their local communities.

In some cases, this is because murderous members of the force have disrupted operations and brought necessary attention to how toxic rage within police force ranks has become systematic predation, particularly of black men.

Perhaps it is because plenty of precincts already were strained or poorly run leaving them on their back foot when this summer suddenly exploded on them, Minneapolis being Ground Zero for the detonation.

Perhaps it’s a combination of these things.

But it might also be because these men and women are fully burnt out. Demoralized. Sick and tired of the stress of being not over-funded but under-funded for all that we assume they will do. And all the while continually being exposed to such traumatic events, one after another, with no time to assimilate and heal, that they are the walking wounded among us, the ones they are supposed to protect. How is that supposed to work out well?

Recent data show that American police officers are more likely to die by suicide than from injuries sustained in the line of duty, a growing trend since at least 2016, especially among those with 20+ years on the force. Whether the trend is due to an increase in actual suicides or an increase in the number reported as such is unclear. While policing is not the occupation at highest-risk for suicide, officers are on average, 5 times more likely to have suffered a form of trauma on the job that arguably is implicated in their overall job performance, which is to protect and serve us.

There was a dip in domestic law enforcement suicides while the pandemic initially shut the country down, but since the protests that followed the horrifying death of George Floyd at the hands of Officer Derek Chauvin, the number of police deaths from covid-19 have eclipsed ones from any other year of line-of-duty deaths, except 9/11. Knowing that any encounter with the public is now potentially lethal not just to themselves but their families can only heighten the stress officers already face.

But this summer, in addition to the rightful protests against police brutality, there were plenty of us marching around making blanket statements about the police, calling them names and calling for their dissolution or for restricting their resources, even while they maintained the peace so that the marchers could march and insult them.

Like that is helpful.

What the hell is going on here?

Beginning in the 1980s when President Ronald Reagan sold the rank and file on the so-called virtues of deregulating anything he could deregulate (later, helped along by the bank-deregulating President Bill Clinton), our social services were increasingly privatized and sold for parts to Wall Street and worse, foreign investors with zero interest in the fabric of our local communities. I have written about this frequently, and a search through the docu-mental archives about monopolies, or capitalism gone to extremes, will help fill you in on the finer points of how this has destabilized our nation.

The primary objective of any business, and especially ones with demanding shareholders, is that it turn a profit, the bigger the better. One surefire way to do that is to cut the margins on your operating costs. That has meant over the past 40 years that as our schools, hospitals, and prisons have become profit-ventures – even when they still receive nonprofit status as they often manage to achieve through cleverly designed loopholes – the resources made available to the teachers, doctors and nurses, and police officers charged with running these various institutions have been cut. Dramatically cut.

Without the resources they need, and without the accountability of shareholders in say Russia or Saudi Arabia to worry about what might happen if the institution fails once the infrastructure collapses due to the margins having been shaved, our teachers, doctors, nurses, and yes our police, are left feeling stuck with all the responsibility, none of the authority, and therefore no personal agency to do the job they wouldn’t have agreed to do if it hadn’t been a calling for most of them in the first place, all while watching the mission of their institution shift from service to profit, making them unwilling accomplices in the ultimate abandonment of our communities.

As poet and policy analyst Ethelbert Miller explained in the most recent docu-mental video, racism exists, but it is not the deeper symptom affecting our social systems, class is. Class wars are what incite racism because when we live in a hierarchical system where the bloodless financiers crushing our social institutions are at the top and people like the Proud Boys see their opportunities to “be somebody” through education and good jobs slipping away, then they look for the group they figure they can muscle themselves over and so have a higher rung on the hierarchy, even if it means using violence to act out a compulsion to feel powerful since feeling powerless is their actual set point.

When we see our access to necessary resources increasingly slipping from our grasp, we get mean and angry, some more quickly than others. In the case of police brutality, give some of those people a little authority and a weapon and folks get hurt, or they get killed.

That is not to say the police are inherently dangerous. That’s to say that a society that is based on deprivation of the masses for the sake of the few who don’t really give a shit is what is dangerous.

(Brings to mind, “I really don’t care, do u?” displayed purposefully on the back of the woman married to the world’s most powerful man as she left what essentially amounted to a concentration camp for kids created by her husband.)

As resources and opportunities have been swindled away from the middle class and public servants, what has happened? Well, opioid addiction for one, notably a public health crisis well-documented as having being driven solely for the sake of profit. And concomitant with the availability of the drugs has been the crashed economy of 2008, ever greater occurrences of natural disasters, preventable environmental crises such as what happened to the water supply in Flint, Michigan, and all-around increased hopelessness, all of which has contributed to our nation’s epidemic rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide, which by the way, the coronavirus has exacerbated.

And who has had to deal with this crisis? The teachers of the children whose parents are strung out; the medical professionals who have had to learn an entirely new specialty of addiction medicine, who have to treat homeless men, women and children knowing that because they have no regular access to care, any progress in their health soon will be undone; and the cops who have had to handle exponentially more calls to situations where what is needed is not law enforcement but mental health intervention. And all of these people are the front lines for covid-19, don’t forget.

They do these things without the adequate resources to do so. How can they go to the taxpayers who themselves are burnt out, tapped out, homeless and hopeless?

So, while we have forced our public servants to be on the front lines of our ever-burgeoning burdens of social ills, we’ve also turned on them, or will soon. Medical professionals are in the ascendant now because the coronavirus has been so acute and scary, but what you don’t hear a lot about even though it’s happening are the private equity firms quietly shedding the costs of paying these medical personnel overtime or paying them at all. I say it’s the tip of the spear unless we address it at the policy-level.

Teachers of course are now learning to navigate a whole new universe of schooling and being accountable for the outcomes of kids they may or may not be able to actually instruct in person, where teachers so often are compelled to offer the (appropriate) gestures of support and encouragement their anxious students so frequently need. Just wait: we’ll soon be arguing whether teachers deserve their usual pay when they aren’t working in the same situations as before.

One rather cynical perk domestic law enforcement has been given over the last few decades is military grade weaponry. “Hell, if we can’t actually treat them like the true keepers of the peace they are supposed to be, we can at least let a few of them live out their GI Joe fantasies!” is the prevailing thinking, I guess, even though data suggest such measures do nothing but anger the public and make the police seem less trustworthy.

Still, that is why we had tanks rolling down the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, even when we had Democratic President Barak Obama in office. The sentiment that our public servants can just suck it up – that we can just give them something to distract them from how they aren’t really empowered – is so pervasive, it transcends political party. It is part of the sickness that is the hierarchical way we have come to live, where whoever can climb to the top and grab all the goods, wins.

This is why I have never been willing to say Trump is the problem. He is the culminating symptom of our national sickness. If we treat the actual illness and not the symptoms, we can heal and grow our democracy, which is what this publication is dedicated to doing.

And this is why defunding the police is dumb.

It’s short-sighted, and only treats a symptom, not the cause, and especially now that this spiteful viper in office wants to throw gasoline in the streets and light a match, leaving law enforcement to clean up the very American carnage we didn’t have before but he has been telling us he intends to cause.

We need our police and we need to support them, even if we are ambivalent about them.

It is this ambivalence toward the police that this fool in the Oval Office is betting will make the threat of violence, the threat that you will not exercise your right to vote him off to the penitentiary where he belongs, real enough that he can leverage it against We, the People.

Which outrages me. And I want it to outrage you, too.

That idiot can break all the systems he wants, and yeah, some of our ossified bureaucracies have needed a good shocking shake, even if their full-on destruction wasn’t called for. But turning our streets violent? That has nothing to do with progress, nothing to do with deconstructing in order to reconstruct.

It is destruction for two reasons, both of which serve the aims of one man and one man only, not the nation.

The first is it satisfies Trump’s horniness to see violence for violence’s sake.

The second is that it intimidates the citizenry into letting him hide out in the White House instead of facing charges for the enormous list of crimes he and his family routinely have engaged in and are engaging in at this very moment.

To which I say: How. Dare. You.

How dare you endanger my streets. It’s bad enough you are so whimsical with our military, but in my streets here 8 miles from where you nightly rage and tweet and have the option of bunkering down while you do?

Nope.

I will not stand for it. My battery is fully charged and I am ready for peace, and that includes a peaceful exchange of power where you are shown the door and hopefully, the prison cell where you actually belong.

Hands off the cops. Leave them out of your creep show. Let us deal with them. We won’t hurt them the way you so casually want to put them in harm’s way. In turn, I believe they will operate in our trust in trustworthy ways.

I don’t know the first thing about the politics of police protection, nor do I know much about trends in necessary law enforcement reforms, but I do know just the right people to advise us on how we can support our police with what they have had little to none of: empathy.


When men’s mental health mattered to the president

In 2016, Sally Spencer-Thomas, a clinical psychologist who specializes in men’s mental health issues, particularly that of first-responders, was asked by the Obama administration to help organize a Men’s Mental Health Day at the White House. At the time, I was carving out my beat as a mental health policy reporter on Capitol Hill, and Sally – a childhood friend of mine – graciously invited me to attend the summit. I did so, and heard many first-hand accounts from men who’d experienced crippling depressions and even suicide attempts. Among the stories were those of policemen who’d lost follow officers to suicide after long bouts of depression caused by the pressures of seeing so much heartbreak and tragedy on the beat.

Here is a brief video produced by Sally and her colleagues at the International Association of Police Chiefs and the Kenosha and the Wisconsin Police Department, among others. In it, officers and a police chaplain share their tales of trauma and stress on the job, and the sad statistics that result, such as that more officers died by self-inflicted gunshot wounds than did in the line of duty.

As I heard that day, and as the officers discuss in this video, the notion that men don’t cry, that men shouldn’t be soft, that men can’t be sad, served to make matters worse. There are women officers who also experience this, but by and large, the police population in this country is male, and they operate under that hierarchical American code that puts men at the top, where they are only allowed to stay when they are steely cold and never afraid or vulnerable.

Had the election results been different in 2016, it’s possible that a Hillary administration would have carried the momentum of that day forward and we’d have more reform and better emotional support systems for our police today. To ponder that is pointless now.

But we are not powerless. I have asked Sally to help me examine what we can do to help our police force stay strong and confident, how to help them see their way to upholding their oath to protect and serve, and naturally, she has come through.

The next docu-mental video and podcast will feature:

Sally Spencer-Thomas, PsyD, lead editor of the mental health for men series of books, Guts, Grit, & the Grind: A Mental Mechanics Manual, and the creator along with the Colorado Department of Health and others, of Mantherapy, a very funny series of videos challenging what it means to be manly and to hide emotions behind a moustache. Sally began her career studying the effect of trauma on first responders, and has been actively engaged in suicide prevention since her brother took his own life in 2004.

Chief (Ret) John Morrissey of the Kenosha, Wisconsin Police Department. After 33 years as an officer, 28 of them in Kenosha, Chief Morrissey retired from the force in 2016, but is still intimately involved in what happens on the streets of Kenosha as director of city inspections, a job he took late in 2019. While leading the police force, Chief Morrissey lost two officers to suicide in less than 6 months. Mr. Morrissey has been actively involved in suicide prevention since 2010. In 2017, he became leader of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention Public Safety Taskforce. He also serves as a member of the Workplace Suicide Prevention and Postvention Committee, and is a member of the IACP National Consortium on Preventing Law Enforcement Suicide. 

John Marx, CPP, was a law officer for 23 years, 19 of them as a hostage negotiator with the Westminster, Colorado Police Department. Marx is now the executive director of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute and founder of CopsAlive.com. He is the author of several books and training manuals that take a wholistic approach to law enforcement training and wellness. When a fellow police officer and good friend of his committed suicide at 38, Marx decided to dedicate his life to helping law enforcement officers serve and protect by learning to first protect their emotional needs and those of their colleagues.

There is the potential for a fourth guest, but so far that is still to be determined.

We’ll be discussing what I have said here, with an eye toward how to achieve reform that is less about defunding, more about having compassion and appropriate resources for the police. We’ll discuss race v. class, and of course, police brutality.

Of course, I am aware of the well-documented claims of corruption and often-times lethal abuse in police departments nationally, including Kenosha’s. I think it is important to hear from my guests about how reform is complicated by the phenomenon whereby police officers – or any group of people regularly shot at as an entity – function as families, however dysfunctional, and how this can stand in the way of changing behaviors.

Regarding this panel, the political points of view I have expressed in this issue of docu-mental are mine alone. I have invited my guests solely to address how we can support our police both now at this inflammatory moment in our history, and in the future, including when it comes to reform.

My guests and I are still working out whether it will be a taped session or if I can pull off having it live with audience participation, but either way, this will be important information for us all to have on hand and to consider now that we have had an unmistakable call for violence to erupt at the polls. It also will be important going forward as we put this country back together once this election is over.

Now that it’s been announced that the POTUS has tested positive for coronavirus, events will be erratic, I imagine, and will change rapidly, but those who thirst for violence have been incentivized and our election will proceed no matter what. Plus, don’t forget that Trump is surrounded by sinister people like white nationalist Stephen Miller, P45’s top policy advisor, credited with radicalizing the man himself, so this scourge is not just one-man deep.

This is why, perhaps more than ever, we need our police. We need true law and order, little “l”, little “o”, not weirdo, screamy LAW AND ORDER that ultimately amounts to nothing but a tantrum laced with a call for back-up bullies.

We need the police because we need our peace and I refuse to let that be stolen from us without a nonviolent fight.

I hope you will join me and my guests next week. More details to come, so please keep an eye on your email and let others whom you think will be interested know about the upcoming video. Feel free to add your comments and questions in the comment section below.

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I’ll leave you with a little man therapy:

Peace,

Whitney

Photo credits: Of officers, Pixabay; of Sally Spencer-Thomas, PsyD and Whitney Fishburn at White House Men’s Mental Health Summit, January 2016, courtesy of author.

This post was updated on October 3. The headline was changed from “Defunding the Police is Dumb” to the current one.