learn to do good.
help the oppressed;
defend the orphan;
plead for the widow. – Isaiah 1:17
This morning I intended to write a quiet, contemplative, devotional post in the spirit of Holy Week. But instead I find myself deeply disturbed by the overwhelming specter of violence – not only around the world, but in domestic news too.
Once particular incident is the recent United Airlines debacle, where a passenger – already seated and holding a valid boarding pass – was forcibly removed by security officers because the airline wanted the space for some of their own employees.
Here’s what’s bothering me (other than everything about it), and it comes up every time any policing agency acts this way, intimidating, bullying, using violence against the powerless at the behest of the powerful. Are the citizens of this country being served and protected… or those in uniform deployed as a kind of brute-squad in order to protect the interests of those who already hold power?
Are the citizens of this country being served and protected… or those in uniform deployed as a kind of brute-squad in order to protect the interests of those who already hold power?
Historically this turns out to be a huge question. What is the role of the peace officer? What does the militarization of policing say about the relationship of government to citizen? That’s the inequity what worries me when students in public schools are roughed up by uniformed officers when there is no threat of harm; that’s why I’m troubled at the ease and frequency with which the state deploys violence against minorities; that’s why this latest outrage against the common person rankles me so deeply.
When I taught exceptional education (students with emotional challenges) I participated in a school study designed to get to the bottom of a huge uptick in physical altercations between staff and students. We observed a consistent point of no return, after which order broke down and violence escalated. That point of no return came when staff chose to substitute bullying and intimidation for best teaching practices.
The off-kilter and politically-charged rational that seems to govern today’s conversations might say, “Double-down on those troublemakers, and teach them to respect authority. We need to make an example of anyone who won’t knuckle under.” But that’s exactly what was happening in some classrooms at my school, and the number of restraints, take downs, forceable removals from the classroom, and detailed “incident reports” skyrocketed in response.
So our administration tried something different. We took note of what was happening in classrooms where teachers were experiencing success. Then we retrained all the staff, taught a course in NVCPI (Nonviolent Crisis Intervention), instituted accountability protocols, and then documented a spectacular reduction in violence across the board.
Our job as teachers was to facilitate learning, social responsibility, and ongoing healing in our students. Instead, staff were using their authority to protect the institution and they started using their power to keep the powerless “in their place.” That wasn’t education, that was oppression.
Today, in like manner, we need to constantly examine and reexamine the practices of community policing, security forces, and any uniformed entity that stands in the space between the powerful and the powerless, to make sure we have not forgotten the purpose of such agencies.
We must constantly examine and reexamine the practices of community policing, security forces, and any uniformed entity that stands in the space between the powerful and the powerless, to make sure we have not forgotten the purpose of such agencies.
So I’d like to call out United Airlines, and pray that this unacceptable incident sparks a national conversation that results in a stop in this seismic shift in our society – a growing divide that seems intent on favoring those who have power, and doubling down on those who do not.