I'm glad that I was in my car, listening to CNN, when the judge read the jury verdict in the Derek Chauvin case.
As I heard the judge say "guilty of second degree murder," "guilty of third degree murder," "guilty of manslaughter," my right arm made the same happy motion upward as the arms of the women below.
But right next to this Washington Post headline story was a disturbing story of a police killing of a 16 year old girl in Columbus, Ohio, "Ohio police fatally shoot teen girl just before Chauvin verdict: 'This stuff just never ends.'"
This happened about the same time as the Chauvin verdict was being read.
Paula Bryant told 10TV that her daughter was 16 years old, “a very loving, peaceful little girl.” Hazel Bryant, who identified herself as the victim’s aunt, told the Columbus Dispatch that her niece got into a fight with another person at her foster home on Legion Lane. Bryant said the victim had a knife but had dropped it before an officer shot her multiple times.
There's something horribly, terribly, shockingly, inexcusably wrong with policing in the United States. Too many police officers are incompetent cowards who shouldn't have a badge, nor a gun.
A 16 year old girl who has dropped a knife shouldn't be killed after being shot four times. More: a 16 year old girl who hasn't dropped a knife shouldn't be shot by police.
If a police officer can't handle a 16 year old girl with a knife, especially if she has dropped it, that officer should never have been allowed to join the force And he or she deserves to be charged with manslaughter, and maybe even murder, as Derek Chauvin was.
The whole approach of policing has to change in this country. So let's do this in Salem.
Police Chief Womack needs to institute an iron-clad policy that use of force is the last resort when dealing with citizens, not the first resort. Deescalation has to be Job #1 for every Salem police officer. If force is used, it had damn well better be completely justified, or the officer who applies that force should be severely disciplined.
We have to do away with the idea that police officers are special people.
Actually, they are ordinary people who carry a gun and can arrest others. We also have to stop viewing police work as especially dangerous. It isn't, being the 22nd most dangerous profession.
How dangerous is it to be a police officer? Working as a police officer is about 4.1 times as dangerous compared with the average job nationwide, based upon the workplace fatality rate. Police officers have a workplace fatality rate similar to maintenance workers, construction workers, and heavy vehicle mechanics.
Being a crossing guard is much more dangerous, ranking #12.
So the next time you encounter a crossing guard, say "Thank you for your service." Say that much more loudly than you'd tell a police officer the same thing, because a crossing guard is putting their life on the line to a considerably greater extent.
We need police. But we don't need the kind of policing that we have now.
As noted in a recent blog post, the Salem police department budget should be cut by several million dollars to pay for a crisis response team that would handle a fifth or so of current calls that a police officer is sent out on. And that team would do a better job.
There also is little or no need for Salem police to be making routine traffic stops. A Washington Post opinion piece makes the case for this in "Traffic enforcement is broken in the U.S. Here's how we can fix it." This is one idea.
First, we can take much of traffic enforcement out of the hands of police. Some places are shifting traffic enforcement to unarmed traffic safety experts. Relatedly, we can make better use of transportation design and technology. There are legitimate concerns about where red-light and speed cameras are placed, but I’ve never seen one pepper-spray a motorist or show a strange proclivity for targeting Black drivers when it was light enough to see skin color. This shift would reserve police stops for immediate threats — such as drunken driving — that arguably require a police response.
What Salem and our nation as a whole needs is a smaller, better trained, and more professional police force. The focus should be on public safety, not on policing. Policing is only one way to ensure public safety, and arguably not the most important way.
The Salem City Council can help bring about this shift by closely scrutinizing the police department budget instead of assuming that, of course, it needs to be raised every year.
Actually, there are good reasons to markedly reduce the police budget, with that money being reallocated to better ways of fostering public safety.