Photo by Sara Lou
By Tim Hjersted
Jul 11, 2016
After tonight's #BlackLivesMatter vigil, I don't have the words to speak to how powerful and moving this event was. It appeared there was about 400 people that got to hear these words. I can only hope that the folks who were unable to attend will take some time to listen and share some of the media being uploaded online so these voices can be elevated to an even broader audience.
Sadly I missed the first 20 minutes or so but you can listen to what I was able to record of the vigil below:
A heartfelt speaking and a heartfelt listening is exactly what this country desperately needs. What I saw and heard and felt tonight was a sacred microcosm of what I wish I could see happen for the rest of the country.
Many voices at the vigil expressed the urgency for action. As important and necessary as tonight was, we must all do what we can to ensure tonight was a beginning for our efforts and not an end. For those who have been involved in this struggle for a long time, let it renew your resolve and inner fire that keeps your feet in motion and your voice speaking truth to power.
It is time to direct our feelings and desires for change towards action. If all of us could put 10% of the time that we put into entertainment activities into constructive social action, we could solve these problems in a few years.
Here are a few ideas that have taken root in my own head, from reading many articles on the subject:
1. Investigate the democratic channels which are available for citizens to enact policy level changes - whether via speaking with our elected city officials or the police department directly. Through these channels, we should present a list of policy changes we wish to see enacted. By all possible means, we should strive to initially create a cooperative atmosphere that attempts to work with our elected leaders and police to enact these changes. If our city reps and police leaders are supportive and cooperative, we can continue working in this fashion until the changes are enacted. This is our ideal first case scenario.
It is my hope that the tragedies of the last week has touched everyone, police and citizen alike, sufficiently to create a desire within the police and our government bodies to take swift action to reform. Ending the 'us vs them' antagonisms and appealing to our common desire for safe communities is essential. All those who recognize the need for urgent change are standing on the right side of history, and for both tactical and unitarian universalist reasons I see the value in appealing to the best natures and intentions of our police and elected decision makers. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and initially assume they are all good people who want to do the right thing and work with us.
However, if our city reps and police leaders don't wish to cooperate, resist our list of changes, stonewall, or otherwise become antagonistic towards reform and improvement, that is when we will regrettably be forced to employ an escalation in traditional activist tactics: protests, sit-ins, marches, critical media exposure, and other forms of public pressure.
In many other cities, they are already in 'stage 2', but here in Lawrence there is still a chance we can avoid that.
Anyway, enough about tactics. Here are some of the specific policies I would like to see our city commission and police department adopt:
2. Establish a strict "use of force" standard that clearly limits the acceptable use of lethal force to the narrowest possible definitions. We can look to other countries and some police departments in the US for examples.
With a clear "use of force" standard, it will be easier to prosecute and jail officers who unjustly murder citizens. Currently, the vague definitions of 'reasonable force' allow cops to cite personal danger way too easily and the laws support that. To make killer cops accountable and to prevent cops from having the authority to use lethal force, we need every police department to have the strictest "use of force" standard possible.
3. Pass specific policy that bans racist policing.
4. Police should treat people with addictions or mental illness as well as the homeless with compassion and strive to help them, not treat them like criminals, harassing them, fining them and putting them in jail. As I learned from a friend tonight, this is starting to happen to some degree, though I'm sure more comprehensive public pressure will help take this farther.
5. During the police training process, officers should be vetted for empathy and sensitivity, rather than aggressiveness and insensitivity, as they are now. Cops say they do this because sensitive cops will quit and the department will lose 6 months of costly training funds, but as Captain Ray Lewis has pointed out, a cop that kills someone unjustly and gets their department sued for $20 million dollars doesn't offer cost savings.
6. All cops should be trained in non-violent conflict resolution and communication skills.
7. All cops should be required to listen to at least 20 hours of audio and video recordings of grieving mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers of those who were unjustly slain or abused by police.
8. Cops should be encouraged by their superiors and in policy to connect more directly with the communities they serve. This means, among other things, attending local police injustice vigils in plainclothes (off duty) to listen to those grieving and affected. (This was an idea suggested by a speaker at the vigil.)
9. Our community should have a direct influence over big decisions. We need more direct democracy and avenues for the public to influence city policy.
10. Independent prosecutors should be responsible for handling cases against police officers, not the district attorneys, whose conflict of interest is too great to be impartial.
11. The police should refuse all military equipment.
12. Create an external oversight committee for police conduct.
13. Overhaul the laws which govern traffic and other municipal citations and fines. These fines are frequently used as a revenue source for the city, and it's estimated that 90% of an officer's work is to issue fines to generate revenue. This unjustly burdens the poor especially, who frequently cannot pay the fines, then get fined for not paying the fines, and get caught in an endless cycle of exploitation.
14. Reduce the number of unnecessary criminal statutes which unfairly burden the poor.
15. Decriminalize all drugs. Drug use should be considered a mental health issue and not a crime.
*See this link for details. Other than 1, 5, 6, 7, and 15, these proposals are taken directly from the article.
If you have other ideas, message me on Facebook.
While the above focuses on police brutality, addressing our prison, justice, political and economic systems all deserve their own lists.
An economic action that we can all take was mentioned more than once at the vigil: supporting black-owned businesses. A handy app called "WhereU" can be downloaded on your phone and used to discover what businesses can be found locally. This seqways rather beautifully with the concept of the 'solidarity economy.'
PS, As far as tactics and strategies for implementing these ideas goes, I can only speak for myself and the strategies that will get my own two feet moving. I come from the anarchist activist school of thought. For me this means, DIY. If a good solution is proposed and I think "somebody ought to work on that," my second thought is, "oh, I'm somebody, better just do it myself." For now, I'm most interested in researching "use of force" standards and finding the most progressive document that I can bring to city hall for adoption. Because the Sustainability Action Network and I had some success in getting the city to adopt a Peak Oil resolution back in 2008 following the strategy above, that's where I'm most interested in putting my own energies.
The other part is 'diversity of tactics.' While I'm a fan of the tactics above for myself, I support a wide range of tactics as pursued by others, especially considering the wide range of circumstances different communities face.
The last part is 'diversity of efforts' - everyone who was inspired to take action tonight will likely plug in in the way that feels right to them, based on their time, ability, personal passion and circumstance.
While some may find talking to commissioners a good way to plug in, others will find making art, or writing articles, or organizing events, or staging protests, or showing up and promoting events to be the best way they can help. At the very least, hopefully everyone will be willing to regularly share good information via social media, providing a signal boost to the important voices not being covered by the corporate media.
While some have the patience to work with the system, others may understandably find that approach a bit maddening. I could never be a lawyer, possibly never a city commissioner, but I'm damn grateful there are people who are willing to go into that field of work.
Having found my niche working with independent media over the last 10 years, I've found that's the best way I can help out. But long story short, we need it all.
We need many different initiatives and efforts and many different types of efforts and approaches by dozens of groups and thousands of citizens. We need the non-antagonistic approaches and the more militant approaches. We need people willing to take on leadership roles and we need lots more people who are willing to be excellent 'followers' - supporting the initiatives of others while being a leader in their own personal way.
Here are a few more Take Action resources:
15 Things Your City Can Do Right Now to End Police Brutality
Police Brutality Action Kit
Campaign Zero Solutions Overview
A Path to End Racism
Abolish the Police. Instead, Let's Have Full Social, Economic, and Political Equality.
Policing Is a Dirty Job, but Nobody's Gotta Do It: 6 Ideas for a Cop-Free World
13 Point Human Rights-Based Revolutionary Agenda