Escalation

09-10-2017Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

You might recall the words of the Marvin Gaye song, “What’s Goin’ On?”  “Father, Father, we don't need to escalate; war is not the answer. Only love can conquer hate.” There is a great deal of escalation going on these days, and worse still, it seems too few are trying to de-escalate the tension and conflict. De-escalation is a key goal in any conflict situation, so that calm heads can prevail and solutions are found. One area in which there has been increased escalation is between many communities and local law enforcement. We are all familiar with the clashes and cases of excessive use of force, as well as claims of racism. Hostility between law enforcement and the community never works out well - especially for the community. After all, that thin blue line is often all that separates us from the law of the jungle. Additionally, when things really go south, it will be the local police, who live in our communities and are our family members and friends that we must rely on and who will be loyal to us.

Still, there are trends that tend to escalate the tension between local communities and local police. One of them is the increased militarization of the local police forces. In the 1990’s, President Clinton allowed local police districts to obtain surplus military equipment until, after lots of pressure, in 2015 President Obama rescinded the permission, and now President Trump has just reinstated it. Along with military grade equipment comes military style training. And so, what can happen is that local police may react more like soldiers on a battle field than community based policing. Additionally, along with using military grade equipment comes displays of intimating force. That is a sure way to escalate the hostility. Though it may feel like it at times, we are not living in a war zone and when police show up to execute a search warrant with an entire outfitted swat team, it is an excessive use of force. It seems to me that the military are outfitted to intimidate, but local police should be more skilled in de-escalating local tensions and restoring the peace.

Policing is dangerous, no doubt about that. Most of us would be appalled to see what they see on a daily basis.  I realize police need the proper equipment and resources to do their jobs, but I am not sure why they need bayonets or an 8-ton armored Bear Cat. I am sure there may be non-lethal uses for this equipment, but it sends the message to the community that rather than being protected, we might be seen as the enemy. That is not an exaggeration. This is what has set many communities on edge with confrontations with local police. When you cultivate a military mindset, and you have military grade equipment, sooner or later you probably want to use it all. De-escalating the tensions does not seem to be helped by having the local police morph into a paramilitary force. We have the National Guard for those situations. Our communities don't need warrior cops but peace officers whom the community can trust.

So how do we restore trust and confidence between local communities and local law enforcement? The most obvious way is to get to know each other better and to push local mayors and leaders to push for more community based policing. How many of us know any of the law enforcement officers who are responsible for our community safety? How well do they know us? We can be the agents of “de-escalation” and find ways to have better relations with our local police departments. This means we shouldn't wait around for things to change but take the initiative to show our support, express our concerns, and build trusting relationships with our local law enforcement.

This also must include our prayers for law enforcement, firefighters, correctional officers and first responders. Confronted with the uglier side of human nature, it is easy to become jaded and cynical. They need our prayers as well as our support.

St. Michael, Heavenly Commissioner of Police, watch over your earthly force who protects us!

Love,

Fr. John B.

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