Reformation Is Not Transformation; and, What Price Trust
Allan Adam is chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in northern Alberta, [Canada.] Video released recently shows Royal Canadian Mounted Police attacking him in a routine stop for an expired license plate. His face is ravaged in the pictures.
Mr. Adam said that the bias woven through the ranks of the R.C.M.P. “ends today.”
The coronavirus has mutated. “Researchers at Scripps Research, Florida, found that the mutation, known as D614G, stabilized the virus’s spike proteins. … The number of functional and intact spikes on each viral particle was about five times higher. … As a result, the viruses with D614G were far more likely to infect a cell than viruses without that mutation.”
“Dr. Choe, the senior author on the paper, said that the virus spikes with the mutation were ‘nearly 10 times more infectious in the cell culture system that we used’ than those without that same mutation.”
Those sentences could just as easily be used to describe the growth of the nationwide pretests which continue to grow over police brutality and systemic racism.
[The protests] “continued that way, with every sunrise and sunset bringing more anguish and cries for reform, until hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across more than 2,000 cities and towns, their chants echoing the rhythms of movements past. They protested in every single state and in Washington, D.C., with turnouts that ranged from dozens to the tens of thousands.”
One sign, bearing three digits, broke my heart. 8:46, it read.
On Monday, House Democrats proposed a bill of sweeping changes for police forces nationwide. “Republicans, who have been put on the defensive by public support for both protests and police reform, are still formulating a legislative response.” This quote is from Saturday’s New York Times. P-r-o-c-r-a-s-t-i-n-a-t-i-o-n, that’s what I say. Another way to say it might be, We’ll wait to respond; the protests will die down.
I don’t think so. In fact, I think they’re going to have a long, long wait. These protests are not going to die down. Because these protests are long overdue.
Senator Tim Scott is the only black Republican in the Senate. He has been charged with writing a proposed bill in response to the one proposed by the Democrats. Tokenism much? I wonder who’s helping him.
Mariame Kaba is an organizer against criminalization who has advocated the abolition of prisons and police departments for decades. The title of her Opinion piece in today’s Times is “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police.”
Her subtitle names the reason. “Because reform won’t happen.”
Ms. Kaba writes, “There is not a single era in United States history in which the police were not a force of violence against black people. Policing in the South emerged from the slave patrols in the 1700 and 1800s that caught and returned runaway slaves. In the North, the first municipal police departments in the mid-1800s helped quash labor strikes and riots against the rich. Everywhere, they have suppressed marginalized populations to protect the status quo.”
“History is instructive, not because it offers us a blueprint for how to act in the present but because it can help us ask better questions for the future.” The examination of history is, hopefully, what allows us to learn from our mistakes, and, ideally, not to make them again.
She says there have been documented investigations into police brutality regularly since 1894. Commissions, task forces, recommendations. Small steps that could have led to big changes, but did not. Did you know this? I didn’t. But if I’d ever allowed my prodigious brain to consider it, I would have known it almost instantly. I never thought of it. Did you?
Ms. Kaba is right though. In my lifetime, I have certainly heard myriad calls for police reform focused on a battery of different specificities. Small things have been changed. But the system hasn’t changed.
“[E]ven a member of the [Obama administration’s President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing], Tracey Meares, noted in 2017, “policing as we know it must be abolished before it can be transformed.”
Here we find the first stepping stone onto a path that hundreds of thousands of people — black, white, brown, purple, yellow, green — want and are vociferously demanding.
There is a massive difference, beloved, between reform and transform.
Despite their visual and etymological resemblance, there is a chasm, a crater, an abyss between the two.
Re- + form means to form again. Implicit is to begin with what is, and move its already-extant concomitant parts into a new configuration. Ergo, nothing new.
Ms. Kaba asks a totally logical question. “Why on earth would we think the same reforms would work now?”
You know those chilling numbers? 8:46. Here’s another one: 126. One hundred and twenty-six years have passed since reform was first attempted in police policy.
She’s right. Reform doesn’t stand a chance. Not really. Unless we take the likely cynical Republican approach. Wait, the news cycle will pick up something else. Eventually.
Not if we don’t let it happen that way.
Ms. Kaba again, “We need to change our demands. The surest way of reducing police violence is to reduce the power of the police, by cutting budgets and the number of officers.” Her simple recommendation for a start is “in half.” Cut police budgets and the numbers of officers in half. Can’t get much clearer than that.
Oh, but the police unions are powerful, the police unions contribute to political campaigns, the police unions will squawk.
Uh-huh, they will.
She goes on, “But don’t get me wrong. We are not abandoning our communities to violence. We don’t want to just close police departments. We want to make them obsolete.”
This is the same policy my mother used for parenting. She saw her job as a mother as making herself more and more obsolete until we could stand on our own, and take care of ourselves.
Can you even imagine a world where police were obsolete? I’m an excellent imagineer, to borrow from Walt Disney, and I can barely imagine it.
Ms. Kaba is entirely logical, not emotional, on this point. Consider: “We should redirect the billions that now go to police departments toward providing health care, housing, education and good jobs. If we did this, there would be less need for the police in the first place.”
The logic of those statements cannot be denied. Ms. Kaba and her like call for nothing less than total transformation of the mechanisms which keep our social order.
“When the streets calm and people suggest once again that we hire more black police officers or create more civilian review boards, I hope that we remember all the times those efforts have failed.”
Why has reform failed?
Here’s the discomforting answer, the emotional answer, the afflict-the-comfortable answer behind the real question.
States and municipalities across the nation are signing new bills into law. “‘This is not just about Mr. Floyd’s murder,’ [Andrew] Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, said shortly before signing the bills in Manhattan. ‘It’s about being here before, many, many times before. It is about a long list that has been all across this country that always makes the same point: injustice against minorities in America by the criminal justice system.’”
He further clarified, “Because we know what is certain and true is … there is no trust … between the community and the police. That’s what the protests have said. There’s no trust. And if there is no trust, the relationship doesn’t work.”
There is no trust.
In fact, there is little, if any, relationship.
So, of course, the relationship doesn’t work. It can’t.
Think of the situations in your life wherein something has happened that broke your trust, Beloved. Even if the person is the most important one in the world to you, doesn’t it take time and experience to rebuild your trust?
Reform will not allow our trust in policing to grow. Transformation is the only path forward.
Trans- is a Latin prefix. It means to go across or against. Across or against the current form of something. Implicit in transformation is friction. Friction can be painful; it can also start a fire.
Here’s one kind of friction: “Mr. Trump has sought to stir up white grievance as well, calling immigrants criminals, berating professional African-American football players for kneeling during the national anthem, and calling protesters of police brutality against black Americans ‘thugs.’ But polls now show that huge majorities of the country, including whites, believe that policing must change.”
“[I]t’s hard to overlook the insensitivity over race when the president’s campaign is selling “Baby Lives Matter” onesies on its website.
Frank Luntz is a Republican pollster and messaging consultant. “In every survey, you see intensity, determination and unity among African-Americans that the time for statements is done and the time for meaningful, measurable action is now. The turning point is among white respondents, who not only acknowledge that injustice has happened, but now also agree that action, not words, are necessary.”
Here’s another kind of friction, the good kind. Ms. Kaba wrote, “People like me who want to abolish prisons and police, however, have a vision of a different society, built on cooperation instead of individualism, on mutual aid instead of self-preservation. What would the country look like if it had billions of extra dollars to spend on housing, food and education for all? This change in society wouldn’t happen immediately, but the protests show that many people are ready to embrace a different vision of safety and justice.”
In a letter to the editor this week, David Berman of New York wrote, “I look back over nearly 70 years and find not one instance in which I was aware of the advantage my white skin was giving me. White privilege is pervasive and invisible. This means that in order to finally realize the ambitions outlined in our founding documents, white people are going to have to summon the imagination and the empathy to embrace changes with which we will be deeply uncomfortable, because no matter how much we know, we will not have lived it.”
Black author after author, black artist after artist, black theatremaker after theatremaker are all saying the same thing. Essentially, Great. Now that we’ve got your attention — finally. Listen. Then, do the work.
Beth Ann Fennelly is the poet laureate of the State of Mississippi. She writes in an article about removing the confederate symbol from the state flag, “White people must fix white people. That’s a lesson the Black Lives Matter protests made clear to those who didn’t already know it.”
Laurin Stennis is a white artist who has designed a new flag for the state. “She consulted with Ted Kaye, the author of ‘Good Flag, Bad Flag,’ whose five principles of vexillology are: 1. Keep it simple. 2. Use meaningful symbolism. 3. Use two or three basic colors. 4. No lettering or seals. 5. Be distinctive or be related.”
I learned a new word today: vexillology.
The Latin root of the word is vexillum and connotes a flag or banner carried by Roman troops. It also refers to a “body of men united under one banner.” The word flag also means to draw attention to.
Trust, all across this beautiful country of ours, is broken, Beloved. And trust, by its very nature, isn’t sweeping, and it isn’t macro, and it isn’t legislatable. No, trust is created through genuine relationship. We privileged whites must listen. The unprivileged masses must speak.
Thomas L. Friedman this week recommended that the United States — which it bears pointing out means states that are united — change our motto from Out of Many, One to Out of Many, We. “‘Out of many, we’ acknowledges that ‘we the people’ are now more diverse than ever — that diversity, when it can be made to work, is a tremendous source of resilience, innovation, creativity and renewal.”
I’m in. Are you? Good. Open your ears. Open your heart. This is the price of the precious work of learning to trust again.
Dr. Susan Corso is a metaphysician and medical intuitive with a private counseling practice for more than 35 years. She has written too many books to list here. Her website is www.susancorso.com
© Dr. Susan Corso 2020 All rights reserved.