Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Law and Order - And a Life Without It

As a producer and filmmaker, I've dedicated a portion of my career over the past two years delving into the law enforcement profession, notably in the support of the police force's mental, emotional and spiritual well-being, in what is known in the field as "officer wellness." Over the years, after being trusted and allowed into the fold as it were, I've shifted from someone who thought very little of policing and police officers to someone who realizes how challenging, how stressful, how unappreciated, and how needed their job is.

So in light of the most recent affairs - the attacks on police officers, the murdering of some officers without a mere mention, the canceling of pro-police television shows, the movement aimed at defunding or abolishing the police - I must speak up.

I can not go quietly.

And neither should you go quietly, if you have any clue about the importance of their presence, the battles these officers face day in and day out, and the vision and higher purpose the vast majority of these people hold.

Rather than focusing on the actions of one or two officers over the previous month, I'd like to start somewhere else. Let's start off with what citizens can do at this point.

Here - a brand new idea! How about we focus on what the citizens can be held accountable to in our society? How about they be held to something known as "law and order?" It's a concept that has been out there for ages; they even made a TV show about it.

Honestly, let us now call for our citizens to simply obey the law with honor, and when approached by an officer, indeed know our rights but also extend respect first and foremost. And without even being approached, let us extend appreciation for the hard job being done when we see an officer out in the neighborhood.

What would the results be then? What kind of society would we have at this point?

This relationship, grounded in respect, is a two-way street, and we can't expect one side to be accountable, while the other simply does whatever it wishes.

What has been asked of the law enforcement field is "police reform." Our president is even holding a press conference about it today, June 16. Not reported in the media or highlighted much at all is the reform work that has already been in process.

In my city of San Diego, there were strides already in place, and change was happening.
  • Body worn cameras
  • Transparency by the San Diego Police Department on officer involved shootings
  • The implementation of de-escalation courses
  • Officer wellness and mindfulness training
  • Expanding community engagement and connection with public events such as "Coffee With The Cops"
  • Working alongside California state politicians on legislature and bills regarding the use of force
It has been in the works!

I just so happen to be working hard at this time on a project that carries the concept of joining the public and police together on common ground, in what I call "One Force." MORE HERE.

Yet, you won't hear about the positive points from the media when it has flashier and more tragic news to broadcast ... when one lone psychopath human pulls such a tragic act in Minneapolis. Though the main focus lands on the outrageous and horrific, I hope to make it clear that much was already being done for the good of the profession and the community.

I have my my own reform ideas, which aren't to make policing wrong or non-existent, but rather to make it even more powerful and more appreciated. And sure, I've had my share of negative run-ins with the police:
  1. After calling the police for help with a certifiable and manipulative landlady, an officer planted the seed with the landlady of getting a temporary restraining order on me. Thanks.
  2. When I had a flat tire on the street next to my house, I was glad to park far enough away from the curb so that I could still change the tire. Even though the car was clearly on a car jack, I returned after a few minutes only to find a parking ticket.
  3. After having car trouble on the freeway, I was stranded on an off-ramp. Walking back from a gas station, I could see a policeman at my car and was relieved to believe he was there to help this stranded driver ... until I returned to see he had left me a yellow notice threatening to tow my car.
The rest of my run-ins were basic fines: one rolling stop at a stop sign, and a handful of speeding tickets. Nothing tragic, nothing to complain about, and for me nothing that would create any lasting positive impression of law enforcement.

So what changed? How would I arrive at a place where I so supported these amazing people? Two major reasons: 
  1. I imagined what a society would look like where citizens were left to their own devices, unaccountable.
  2. I worked with the officers, talked with them, and went on ride-alongs - and in the process gained a window into their own level of humanity and care. 
Regarding the former reason, it's not our interactions with officers that always matter; it's the fact a protective presence helps deter potential problems on our streets. My own neighborhood park has gone into disarray - off-leash dogs, smoking, illegal parking - because the city removed a simple park ranger.

Do we all want to find out what life would be like without some form of accountability in our nation an in our neighborhood? Are we that honorable, enlightened, awake? It's a nice thought, but I know we are not there. Look at what happens in areas where the people have taken over without policing. Without someone holding the line, our immature and unconscious populace, so far, appears to simply want to get away with whatever it can.

I recall I once went on a trip out into the desert where all these "free spirits" in this "free collective" were supposed to be all loving and sharing. Such a utopia! Instead, a dude got stabbed, some random folks stole our cooler outside our tent, and we rushed out of there as fast as we could. What a joke people can make of themselves.

Regarding the latter reason - the humanity level found within the majority of law enforcement officers - I have said it many times...

You go one thin layer below the surface of officers' game-face and professional stance, and you find the most caring and big-hearted people you will ever find in the world. Who else would run into harm's way to protect others? Who would risk their own lives, even with a target on their backs, so that others can walk the streets and enjoy some peace of mind?

Of course, this is quite a different image than we are getting fed nowadays from so many sources. 

The key to seeing the truth - besides not taking a few news stories as the broader reality - is to get below that surface layer protecting the officer. That layer exists for a good reason. And there is a reason you can’t get passed it. It is because:
  • You are judging them
  • You are screaming at them
  • You are spitting at them
  • You are calling them names
  • You are trying to hurt or kill them
  • You are lying to them 
Many people have not earned the entrance into their trust.

These are professionals who have a job to do, but they are also humans with basic human needs. These folks want to be able to go home to their families at the end of the day. They have to put up with the worst of human kind and of our society, and still hold themselves together.

What can you do to support this person?

For me, we can do well to: recognize that these are indeed human beings, know they are doing a hard job, live within the law and order that protects everyone, hold all of our brothers and sisters accountable to their best, and then offer appreciation for the job the officers do.

Oh, and one more thing: we can speak up and not go quiet at this defining moment.

James Anthony Ellis is a writer and producer whose film "Keeping The Peace: Mental and Emotional Wellness for all Law Enforcement," can be found HERE.

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