Only treating the symptoms of anything like a physical ailment provides at best, temporary relief. The same is true with only treating the symptoms of hopelessness and despair that can result in people acting out in murder. Be it Black on Black, Black on Brown, Black on White, White on Black, police on Black or Black on police. To save our current society and our future, we must determine the answer to the question that defines the underlying ailments resulting in senseless deaths. The question we must answer is: “What is causing people to reach the point in their life that they choose to take the life of another?”
I do not know the exact answer to the problem, however, from my foxhole, there are many different matters that lead to such frustration, but the answer to lessening the likelihood of people killing people has to do with hearts and minds. While the mind part is obvious, I am not talking anatomically about the heart muscle that pumps blood, but rather the symbolic heart that contains the soul and helps formulate attitude and love.
While attending the national conference of the National Association of Blacks in Law Enforcement (NABCJ) entitled “Restoring Humanity: All Lives Matter,” much was said by professionals and interest groups involved in criminal justice. As A.J. McQueen from the St. Louis based We are Writers Block, himself a young man who has seen both sides of the incarceration system said, “I choose to say All Souls matter.” He further insisted that attention must be paid to the music lyrics young people listen to today. He warned that while music lyrics have always pushed boundaries or to say they are only enjoying a stage of life or to not want to seem old fashioned, can have serious consequences. Given that most youth listen to music more than they listen to anything else every day, he said, “You better not be afraid to monitor the music.”
Potential prescriptions to make life more sacred were offered along with ways to make them in real life. While the take-aways were many, the conference and recent events in our country caused me to focus on the possible cause and effect relationships that can result in murder. I am quick to say murder, even in some instances involving of police, because the laws in the United States do not allow for any person to be one serving the public safety and the executioner all wrapped into one. I also realize that all, and especially the police, have the right to protect their lives when threatened. But when non-lethal weapon use is bypassed, one must question why.
Equally important is, no individual is justified in killing police officers who provide us with public safety, potentially at the risk of their lives. When trouble comes to your front door most people are quick to call the police. Further good cops by in large despise bad cops. As African-Americans we should not follow the fallacy of guilt by association.
If hopelessness and desperation are causing community folks, even veterans, to act-out in violence then we must work together to treat behavioral and mental health issues, provide equal opportunity to prosper and create loving and nurturing environments to restore hope and the opportunity to at least strive to enjoy a level of life with some degree of comfort and wellbeing. Given that much police violence stems from fear, we must get at the recruitment and training such that the communities the police are deployed in do not fear them.
Schools, churches and civic groups must teach the goodness in every human being and at the same time, how to act when confronted by law enforcement. Police must be trained in community sensitivity and interpersonal relations and the doctrine that says they are public servants not merely enforcers. Police must be taught how to ascertain the difference between a person upset and a person who is dangerous. If that is too difficult, EMTs and police patrols should be provided ride-along behavioral or mental health assistants for domestic calls and the like. While all these things cost money, the resulting inefficiencies cost more.
Methods of improving one’s economic plight without resorting to illegal activities must be taught and made available and accessible to all. Behavioral and mental health diagnosis and treatments must be viewed as essential as physical medical diagnosis and treatment.
From my foxhole, there are two things for sure: we will never cure this violence ailment by trying to arrest every potential perpetrator and we cannot say it is somebody else’s problem to solve. It affects all of us now and can ill-affect those who come after us. We must attack this ailment from the perspective of recruiting to the principles of love and respect for each-other, by getting at the hearts and minds.
Transparency of adjudication of complaints against improper policing must exist – no more closed systems.
Maj Gen US Army (ret) John R. Hawkins III, JD, MPA is President and CEO of Hawkins Solutions Intl., a government relations and lobby company. His last military assignment as a “two star” was Dir., Human Resources Directorate for the Army world-wide and prior to that Deputy Chief Public Affairs for the Army, world-wide.