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chasing answers newsletter #38
It is OUR problem
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” - Martin Luther King Jr.
I’m going off-script this week, and I’m gonna say right up front, I will probably regret it.
There are some topics that, even if you have an opinion on it, it’s better to keep it to yourself. This feels like one of those.
However, much like when I decided to write about gun violence after the Uvalde, Texas shooting, I’m foregoing my better judgment and saying, “fuck it.”
This week, you couldn’t turn on a TV or radio or get on the internet without hearing or seeing something about Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old father who was beaten to death by five police officers in Memphis, TN.
A 29-year-old father.
If he felt in any way about his son, like I feel about my daughter, that is most likely how he identified himself.
Not as a FedEx worker, photographer, or skateboarder.
But as a dad.
I’ve watched the videos of the traffic stop and the beating multiple times. Each time it gets my heart rate up and my adrenaline flowing. In my younger (and dumber) days, I may or may not have been in a physical altercation now and then. And I’ve been on both the winning and losing end of those altercations.
But here’s the thing.
There comes the point in those situations where it is obvious to everyone involved that the fight is over and it’s time to stop. And I’m talking about fair, one-on-one fights. Not five-on-one, with that one’s hands tied behind their back. Even immature high school and college kids can realize when enough is enough and, as the victor, walk away when it’s time.
So, how can five grown-ass men, hired to protect the public, not have the common sense to know when enough is enough? I understand there may be some violence when apprehending a suspect, but come on.
Did he run from the cops? Yes. And based on the video from the traffic stop, I can’t say I blame him.
As a smartass kid who had a problem with authority, I’ve said and done a few things that have drawn the ire of law enforcement. And yes, I have run from the cops before. Never for fear of my life, but for fear of waking up my parents with a call from jail in the middle of the night (again.)
In none of those situations did I deserve to die. Nor did I deserve to be beaten the way Mr. Nichols was. And neither did he.
Like gun violence in the U.S., police brutality needs to be addressed.
I’m not calling for riots, retaliations, or defunding of the police.
But there is clearly a problem. You may not think it is your problem. Maybe you live in an affluent neighborhood. Maybe you’ve never so much as jaywalked or driven in the carpool lane by yourself. Maybe you think this only happens in other places to other people.
Maybe you think this is someone else's problem.
If this sounds like you, I respectfully disagree.
It is OUR problem.
The strength of our society is only as good as the underlying belief in the fragile systems upon which it is built. If you lose belief, the systems break down, and society follows.
The important thing to note here is that not everyone needs to lose belief for the system to fail. Studies done in 2018 by the University of Pennsylvania and the University of London show that 25% of the population is enough to enact significant change in what is deemed socially acceptable.
Others, like Harvard professor Erica Chenoweth, suggest the number is much lower. In 2013 she devised the 3.5% rule, which claims “no government has withstood a challenge of 3.5% of their population mobilized against it during a peak event.”
These studies evaluate slightly different things in somewhat different ways. Still, the overarching theme is that it takes a relatively small portion of the population to call existing policies into question and enact change.
Whether that number is 3.5% or 25%, I don’t know. The people behind these studies are at least 300% smarter than me, so I’m not going to argue with any of them. But if I had to guess, the actual number is probably somewhere in the middle.
Either way, if a relatively small number of people lose faith in the system, the system no longer works. If enough people truly begin to believe that the criminal justice system is no longer there to protect them and is more of a threat than security to them, it loses all value. And that’s a big deal. Whether you are in Memphis, Los Angeles, New York, or my little farm town in Ohio, the repercussions of that will be felt by all of us.
So what do we do?
We talk about it.
It is increasingly important that we ask questions and treat the issue of police brutality with the respect it deserves. In too many ways, its treatment resembles that of gun violence in the U.S. When there is a tragedy, it dominates headlines and social media feeds. It’s the topic of all conversations. But then, we stick those conversations in the drawer and file them away until the next time. And there is always a next time.
None of what I have said here is an indictment of all police officers. I personally know several. Many, many of them are amazing human beings. I am in no way saying they are all bad people, just that they work in a less-than-ideal system.
And we owe it to those who have undeservedly lost their lives not to pretend otherwise.
I hope you all have a great week!
As always, I would love to hear from you.
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