By Clint Confehr
Spending less on police could start at the 911 dispatcher’s desk. First responders might best be mental health workers not law enforcers, authorities say in a report on-line now.
“You can’t arrest your way out of every situation,” says U.S. Rep. Val Demings (D-FL). Elected in 2017, she’s been a
Jacksonville social worker protecting foster children, and rose through Orlando police ranks to be their first female police chief.
As a House Judiciary Committee member, Demings said June 17, families of police violence victims deserve better from government. She’s in a PBS News Hour Weekend Special, “America in Black and Blue” 2020 at pbs.org. WNPT aired it June 15.
In Newark, N.J., 25 percent of police calls didn’t need law enforcement and, under a federal Consent to Reform Decree, nearly $11 million was moved from policing to social work, “America in Black and Blue” reports.
Its executive producer, Dana Roberson, touts an upcoming “Independent Lens” documentary, “Women in Blue,” showing an officer making a traffic stop. She issues a verbal warning.
“She could have made that arrest because driving without a valid license is a an arrestable offense, but why would you do that?” asks Deming who identifies with the officer and understands officers’ discretion. “Her ability to … just calm him down … is so important … She treated him as if he were her own son.”
Women are good at de-escalation, Demings says, advocating human diversity training.
Some white male Orlando Police officers said they didn’t need it. Demings replied, if they’re with Caucasians using the N-word and don’t “call it out … you and the rest of us can benefit from … training.”
Minnesota police reform advocate Nekima Levy Armstrong, a lawyer, was in a 2016 special, updated now. Viewers may conclude that public safety and wellness checks are, at times, preferable over strict enforcement.
Bryan Stevenson, author of “Just Mercy,” examines racial injustice and recommendations, having been on a White House Task Force. Its advice was adopted; years later abandoned after Donald Trump’s inauguration.
“It’s frustrating,” Stevenson said on PBS. “We’ve seen this kind of violence for decades.” Police are trained like soldiers, not how to de-escalate or deal with a mental health crisis. “Police officers too often think of themselves as warriors.”
Demilitarizing police is U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson’s goal for pending police reform laws. June 17, the Judiciary Committee debated legislation prompted by George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis policeman. An Atlanta policeman killed Rayshard Brooks as he ran from arrest and a car where he’d slept.
“Brooks didn’t need a warrior,” said Johnson, D-GA. “He needed a time-out.”
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-LA, told the Judiciary Committee, police are the threat young black men face today, not the Ku Klux Klan. “People on the streets are demanding action now.”
Public sentiment and protest demonstrations since Floyd’s death seem different from previous killings, PBS anchor Alison Stewart reports asking about “performative anti-racism.” One reply: Businesses that haven’t cleaned their own house issue hollow PR statements when donating $100 million to fight racism, but have no African American in an important job.
As for public protest, Demings told Stewart, “We need to take the spark and turn it into a raging fire.”
WNET Group President/CEO Neal Shapiro says in 2016 WNET, PBS, Creative News Group LLC, News Hour Productions and WETA created “America in Black and Blue” about the alarming number of Black lives ended by police. The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless others since 2016 required an update on the “continued crisis in America, rooted in our nation’s founding.”