Thoughtfullness, not impulse, needed with racial reform

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 6/25/20

Clearly, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis has become the ignitor of a clarion call for reform, equality, justice and a motivation to reexamine what needs to be changed. The peaceful protests …

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Thoughtfullness, not impulse, needed with racial reform

Posted

Clearly, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis has become the ignitor of a clarion call for reform, equality, justice and a motivation to reexamine what needs to be changed.

The peaceful protests across our nation have resonated loud and clear. The riots — which have sometimes have comingled with the true purpose of marching and speaking out — are distracting, harmful and unwanted in this period of civil unrest.

Legislators have acted on laws to reform law enforcement, clergy have preached on love for one another and coming together, reformers have spoken out on actions needed beyond legislation and citizens have shown their intent on righting the wrongs that go all the way back to the days of slavery and the Civil War.

All of this is social change.

Acting, not overreacting

But with social change comes emotion, anger, a desire to rectify the past, reconciliation, recognition, equality and a lot more. While I fully support the need for reform in law enforcement across America and for racial justice, I suggest that careful thought be interjected into anything that is done under the banner of reform or civil justice.

For example, the cry to defund police departments is dubious in my opinion. What exactly does that mean? Well, I think we are seeing it means different things to different people.

I wonder if the Minneapolis City Council even knew what they did so quickly in replacing their police department with a so-called community-led public safety system. According to one council member Alondro Cano, the current system is not reformable.

Tearing down historic statues and monuments which reflect back on the Civil War is another group of actions worthy of careful thought. Even though it was painful and divisive, we need to remember that the Civil War is a part of our American history.

Legislation involving police reform certainly is needed, as we have seen in Denver and other major cities across America. However, accountability, transparency and appropriate level of force should be spelled out in detail. Holding police personnel liable where they can be sued individually is a two-edged sword.

Society needs to act, but we don’t want to overreact and end up without law enforcement personnel at the end of the day.

The Stapleton question

For a community or organization that has been named to honor former elected officials or notable public leaders, the decision to change that name because of the leader’s historic connection to racism or bias warrants a full and thoughtful airing. The point is not to act in haste or to get on the bandwagon, as elected officials sometimes do.

A prime example is changing the community name of Stapleton, where Denver’s Stapleton International Airport was located. The airport, and then the community, was named in recognition of former Denver Mayor Benjamin Stapleton. The motivation for the change was Stapleton’s connection to the Ku Klux Klan. This warrants a full conversation and vote of the residents.

As former gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton, the great-grandson of the former Mayor, recently said in part, “IF…changing a name brings more equity, fairness and opportunity for Denverites and specifically Coloradans of Color, I’m all IN.”

I think Walker Stapleton hit the nail on the head. Are you taking a particular action to achieve “equity, fairness and opportunity” or are you doing it as part of a wave of actions, sentiments and emotions?

History can have a painful side

The fast-moving idea to rename military posts named after Confederate generals in the Civil War is a further example that has gained political steam. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have jumped on this idea, which parallels the thought process of removal of Confederate general statutes and memorials like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

Army bases Fort Bragg, Fort Benning and Fort Hood are examples of military installations located in the south which could be affected. Again, these Confederate generals are a part of American history. Is the idea to obliterate any recall of the Civil War? Our history is our history whether it was good or bad.

Denver School Board drops police resource officers

Another example we can point to is the quick action taken by the Denver School Board in its decision to distance the district from using Denver Police Officers as senior resource officers.

What will be the consequences in the school buildings of not having sworn police officers present? I have known police officers who became friends with the students which helped in the relationship between youth and law enforcement. Obviously, it takes a certain kind of approach and personality from the police officer to establish a rapport with the students.

Rather than simply sever the relationship between the district and law enforcement, wouldn’t it be more productive to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the existing relationship and make improvements? Or was this politically inspired?

State Legislature enacts major law enforcement reforms

The Colorado State Legislature should be commended on its comprehensive police reform legislation which it enacted earlier this month. Thanks to State Representative Leslie Herod — who had already done considerable research and bill drafting relating to a different shooting — legislators had a well thought out comprehensive piece of legislation available for consideration soon after the George Floyd shooting.

Highlights include prohibiting choke-holds, equipping all police officers with body cameras, much-improved reporting of police actions and establishing the responsibility of fellow officers to curtail excessive actions of their peers. Legislators were focusing on curtailing police brutality within police department ranks.

Changing the lens of our perspective

While law enforcement reform has been the catalyst throughout America, it alone will not heal the racial hatred, attitudes, bigotry, inequities and wounds which have permeated our history. Individual white Americans must take steps to change the lens which we look through when seeing African Americans, Hispanic people, Asian individuals and other minorities.

Our goal as a nation should be open-minded and receptive to changing our perceptions, attitudes, treatment and behavior toward minorities. In turn, minorities need to be open and receptive to these changes. We should seek true equality as our Preamble to the Declaration of Independence states— all men are created equal. It won’t come quickly nor will everyone embrace equality, but we need to sincerely start now.

God bless George Floyd for being our inspiration.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. You can contact him at bcjayhawk68@gmail.com.

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