Hey everyone. I’ve been slowly trying to put my thoughts together as, every day, new information keeps coming faster and more confusingly to the point where I’m not even sure where to start because I feel like this story isn’t linear.
I got the news today that one of my high school classmates just died a couple of days ago.
For simplicity (and privacy), I’m going to call him DD. DD was one of the nicest kids in my class, easily. He was genuinely sweet and would talk to anyone. The one time I remember him getting in trouble at school was in middle school where he wore a “cereal killer” t-shirt with a spoon printed underneath it. (This kid had a legitimate obsession with cereal and everyone knew it. Like, would eat it by the box. In a sitting or two.)
With the sudden flood of tributes on Facebook, I learned that a year and a half ago, he participated in an outdoor sleeping event to raise awareness for homelessness. Like, this doesn’t surprise me at all. This is exactly the kind of person DD was. He was heavily involved in his faith in a town where many proclaimed their faith but few actually did anything to make the world better. He did.
This year (OMG, I think it’s TODAY?!) marks the 10th anniversary of my graduation from high school. In that time, I don’t honestly remember losing any of my other classmates. Three died while we were in school (accident, suicide, cancer), so those are the ones I usually remember. This is hitting me kind of funny. I hadn’t seen DD since we graduated, so I hate to jump on a bandwagon and proclaim my sorrow when…that doesn’t feel like the right word. I’m definitely sorry that bright light has been taken from the world, but…I don’t know what I’m feeling. Confused and surprised mostly, with a twinge of sadness.
Mostly, I’m just starting to feel old.
All of this came on top of going more than 24 hours without electricity in my house as the remnants of Tropical Storm Cristobal passed through my town. You truly don’t know how much you take electricity for granted until you suddenly lack the ability to go to the bathroom without a flashlight.
Humor aside, I’ve basically spent the last two days (or the last three months, honestly), thinking about life and how much we take for granted. I took for granted that my classmates were all young and healthy and we’d all theoretically be around to go to the reunion after the COVID fears pass. I took for granted that DD would be around to change the world.
I took it for granted that a police officer would find his humanity before he killed someone by cutting off his air and blood flow for nearly nine minutes.
Look, I hate talking politics outside of a very small group of people consisting of my immediate family, my boyfriend, and my best friend. That’s it. It’s part of my introverted-people-pleasing-conflict-avoidance tendencies.
But this is just ridiculous.
This isn’t the first time I’ve found fault with the police. I’ve heard all the other stories over the years on the news. I’ve heard a Latina friend of mine complain about how she or her family have been treated by cops. So this isn’t the first time I’ve seen the problem or thought something should be done. I’ve watched the Patriot Act with Hasan Minaj segment about police unions. I’ve seen the John Oliver Last Week Tonight segment about police brutality. (Why yes, I do get most of my informed news from comedians. I find they tell it to you more truthfully and fully than actual news channels.)
My city protested along with all the others that last week of May. And I was happy for them. I even thought briefly about joining them. (COVID and social anxiety kept me at home though.) A few hours later, the protest turned violent. Tear gas, rubber bullets, looting. It all looked exactly the same as what I saw happening everywhere else–except I had never seen it in my city before, with people I knew. I watched as reporters suffered from the effects of the gas. I watched the police antagonize the crowd. I also watched a lot of protesters hurl bottles and debris at police, and protesters surround cars with people simply on their way home from work. Simply put, I tried to see both sides.
I’ve watched the videos from around the country. It’s been hard not to. It’s been very hard to ignore how some police are making things worse by beating, pushing, or trapping peaceful protesters.
It’s harder still to watch a single group constantly singled out for abuse. I can’t stand seeing how Black Americans–because they are Americans–are targeted so often and for so little reason.
(It’s also worth pointing out that many of the tactics police are using are against the Geneva Convention, which is mortifying and horrifying.)
When “Defund the Police” became a common refrain, I looked into it. In my moderate sized urban city (roughly 200,000 residents), what did we spend on police? I wanted to do my own research.
The results astounded me.
On publicly released documents that I easily found online with about 3 clicks, I spent about 45 minutes looking over documents. The city’s annual budget is in the ballpark of $110 million. $64 million went to police. That’s 58% of the annual city budget. It didn’t go to city improvements, it didn’t go to health or public works. No, the majority went to one branch of the city.
As I dug deeper, they actually do a more itemized list of their expenses. A huge amount went to wages, which I expected, but I also discovered that the city buys a new armored vehicle (worth over $200,000) every other year. You can’t tell me that the vehicles get ruined that quickly, so why do we need multiples of these in what is generally considered to be a safe city?
After finding this information, I’m fully on board reallocating some of these funds elsewhere. Let’s set up some kind of city department that responds to issues of mental health and social service needs–let’s shrink the size of the police department and focus instead on helping people. I don’t want to go so far as to say we should completely dismantle the police department in my city, but we need to seriously reconsider what “policing” looks like.
That was a lot of darkness, I know. I’ve been swirling in a pool of confusion and fear and anxiety for months. Just as one national emergency starts to end, another begins. 2020 is really shaping up to be a wild ride, I will give it that.
But I’m also hopeful. I think this time–finally–change is coming. I see attitudes shifting within my own community. I see it changing the national conversation, an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. I see the power of the people, the way the Founding Fathers intended it. (Seriously–not only do we have the right to protest, but the Declaration of Independence essentially says if the government’s not working, it’s the responsibility of the people to overthrow it–and this is a form of that.)
I’m not going to lie, I’m more than a little gleeful to see the statues being toppled. It’s about time Columbus and others were brought down.