I feel sick to my stomach. I could hide behind the senselessness of all this violence- how sad and overwhelming it feels. But part of my nausea is awareness that my silence and inaction is complicity to structural racism and the resulting violence that is more and more visible with each horrific video. The shooting of Philandro Castille happened in Minnesota, the place I still think of as home. But it hit me because I decided to participate. I started looking for information and watched the video and was shocked and sickened and afraid. And disgusted with myself. Because I have been wringing my hands instead of rolling up my sleeves. I have to act. But what? What to even say?
I did what we all do when we have a question. I turned to Google.
Armed with some of the policy suggestions offered at Campaign Zero and this article on creative alternatives to traditional police models, I wrote a letter to my representatives. There are a confluence of issues floating around our national consciousness at the moment, and there were many angles to consider. Before these two murders, we were mourning a massacre of 50 people at Pulse nightclub and now add 5 more police officers from Dallas to the count. That is a lot of bloodshed. Gun control has to be part of the conversation.
My thoughts were also with police members- can you imagine the tension and anxiety they must be feeling collectively in such a charged atmosphere? I kept thinking back to the peace making work Cheri Maples did as a police officer. How transformative could that kind of presence be in police work? The work being done by Cure Violence also left a huge impression- the documentary about their work in Chicago looks extraordinary.
Bringing more compassion and humanity to people with mental health crises could make a huge impact in reducing violence and keep everyone safer and healthier. This story from Invisibilia offered some unique perspectives on how to care for mentally ill people.
Tackling institutional racism still feels daunting. My book club just read Between the World and Me, and that did a great deal to open my eyes to the vast difference between my everyday experience and that of a person of color. I have so much to learn and listen to.
Here’s the letter I sent to my representatives:
Dear Congressman Creagan and Senator Green,
Thank you for your service to the state of Hawaii. We are fortunate to have your work on our behalf in the political process.
I am writing in response to the police violence demonstrated by the killings of Philandro Castile and Alton Sterling. These men are but two examples of violence and even murder that happen every day in the name of the law. This is not justice.
As my representatives, I urge you to continue to support legislation that will:
-Hold police officers accountable to the community for use of deadly force- not to members of their own department or former police, but to ordinary citizens. Community oversight of conduct reviews would be a great place to begin.
-Create better education for officers to understand unconscious biases, de-escalation and stress management so they can promote peaceful, non-violent outcomes and also remain whole, healthy human beings themselves.
-Encourage peace making methods in areas afflicted by violence. Community Mediation teams of mental health experts, well trained police and former criminals can help prevent crime and violence before it happens.
-Reduce the amount of men and women doing jail time for petty crime. Change the focus towards healing and citizenship instead of punishment, dehumanization and warehousing.
-In the state of Hawaii and on the Big Island, where I live, homelessness is the largest point of contact between police and civilians. I urge you to consider any legislation that helps restore humanity to these stigmatized people. I’ve read about alternative housing solutions like the Jil Ker Conway residence in Washington D.C. and others like it across the country that offer formerly homeless people respite, hope and relief from daily struggle for existence. I want a better solution, not one that simply hides these people away from view. Let’s find ways to care for them and prevent tragedies.
Thank you for taking time to review my suggestions and do all you can to make change in the system.