I continue to be amazed but not surprised at how a dramatic crisis with strong emotional appeal quickly leads to simplistic and usually unworkable solutions. The latest global volcanic erruption of outrage was of course triggered by the police-involved death of George Floyd, an African-American in Minneapolis. The incident was outrageous and the final use-of-force by officer Derek Chauvin roundly condemned by lay public and police officers alike. Mr. Chauvin is now charged with murder.
The explosive reaction to the death of Mr. Floyd, both the large-scale peaceful protests as well as the violent and unstable lunacy of a smaller but still significant percentage of others was easily predictable by anyone carefully observing the expanding, festering, painful, giant balloon of Covid-19 on the face of the earth.
Months prior to the the death of Mr. Floyd we all cocooned ourselves in households and tiny rooms for many weeks on end due to Covid-19, self-isolating from friends, family, work, and travel. Some of us started to show dangerous physical and emotional signs. News media reports and health studies became an infodemic of stories and warnings of anxiety, depression, anger and violence. We heard of psychologically traumatized children and the heart-wrenching scandal of long-term homes for seniors run worse than prisoner-of-war camps.
In the 1976 movie Network, actor Peter Finch, playing a news anchor gone besserk, screams out to viewers “Things are bad! They’re worse than bad!” He urged viewer to run to their windows and scream out the famous line “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” And so they did. And so it was in real-life America on May 25, 2020.
Crisis and change management doctrine tell us that in times of crisis we seek someone or something to blame. We need a villian to villify. We need to fix things and punish someone. The strongest emotions we feel during a crisis and sudden change is fear, transformed into anger. When information is vague, when solutions are ethereal and even whimsical, our fear grows. Our anger grows. We are “mad as hell” and ready to be focussed by leaders into strong, demonstrative action.
In America in particular the juices of fear and anger were already long boiling before Covid-19 added all that into a toxic and expanding emotional balloon. There were issues of unafforadable healthcare, a lack of social justice, economic insecurity, an erratic and divisive president, and a long history of racial intolerance against especially black Americans but other ethnicities and life-style choices.
On May, 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota that global toxic balloon, filled with historic and new pandemic frustration, anger, fear, uncertainty and despair burst.
In fear and anger and crises with no clear end in sight we need victims and just a few easy and simplistic answers to bring a sense of community, hope and purpose. And so we have “Defund” or even better yet “Disband the police.” This notion, started in America as rioters ironically smashed windows, destroyed businesses, and engaged in urban warfare inevitably spead worldwide and now spreads through protests in Canada.
Policing in Canada is now an easy target of anger and fustration with not only black lives mattering but also the long and chequered history of Aboriginal treatment. Even the head of the RCMP, Commissioner Brenda Lucki, after trying to find the perfect politically-correct soundbite, eventually went with the band-wagon, gasoline-on-embers statement that “Systemic racism exists in the RCMP.”
So here is a small offering of anti-stupidity tips during a growing issue/crisis:
- Get the facts right from credible sources. Policing in Canada is generally underfunded. Within the RCMP there are hundreds of detachments with vacancy rates in double digits. This means overwork, more stress, poorer response times, and less time for community work. The underfunding is especially massive when it comes to dealing with organized crime, money laundering, and cyber-crime.
- Police officers in every community in Canada, large and small, have to frequently act as social workers, drug and alcohol counsellors, paramedics, and even wildlife officers. That’s because in many provinces those services are grossly underfunded with governments happy to pass on the work to cops who appear to have trouble saying “no” to helping when trouble appears.
- The majority of emergency 911 calls, depending on a community, are drug and alcohol-related with direct impacts on domestic violence, disorderly conduct, and public-threatening behaviour. Officers arrive facing those wildly off their meds, high on any manner of drugs, and violently expressing every psychological nightmare and abuse in their lives. As the poet Dylan Thomas wrote, these individuals “Do not go gentle into that good night” but “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
- Those who shout out “defund the police” from apparently hollow craniam vessels apparently don’t realize that like with most public agencies, the pay and benefits budget usually is about 70% to 80% of the policing budget. Program costs like community outreach and youth programs are a drop in the bucket. A bucket that has been badly leaking.
- As to “Disbanding” policing, well perhaps a reading of the history of policing can be a useful respite from painting protest slogans. There are indeed many models of policing that have been used over the decades are are still used including current crime reduction and community policing models. But there is no one size that fills all.