At the Republican National Convention (RNC), Tim Scott — the sole African American GOP Senator — gave a speech that resonated. In it, the Senator made a profound statement that was intended to cast aspersions on House Democrats for refusing to vote on his Police Reform Bill. I believe that, inadvertently, Senator Scott encapsulated our entire political climate today.
“… they wanted the issue more than the solution.”
As it pertains to police brutality, this statement rings true and it is deafening. As Black American lives are ransacked by over-policing and excessive force, politicians on both sides use it as political capital to be cashed in with their constituents. This was abundantly clear as Republicans introduced the Justice Act, Democrats introduced their Justice in Policing Act, and President Trump, under pressure, issued an executive order on policing. Nevertheless, nothing substantial materialized.
It now falls upon the people to resolve the issues in the community. To start there are three things that are necessary.
1. A Fundamental Shift in Our Approach
I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I work at a construction company where I am the only Black person. On a daily basis, I work with a small sample size of what both parties have identified as the key to victory.
One of my co-workers brought up “liberal cancel culture” and asked why do they want to tear down Confederate monuments? He reasoned that taking them down doesn’t change anything currently. I considered what he said and had to admit it was a fair statement. Still, I began trying to garner sympathy — “You have to think about what it means to other people … It’s a symbol of oppression.” But the truth is, even with the most eloquent, poignant speech in the world, an emotional plea won’t work. So I had to adopt a fact-based, dispassionate approach. “We erect monuments to honor heroes, winners — the confederacy lost, so what are we honoring? Losers?”
This fundamental shift in approach is important because this is the base that Republicans will cater to. This could include some of the reported 8.4 million people that voted for President Trump years after voting for President Obama. I think of the vaunted stories of this Black man with a funny name in some of these small towns I find myself working in. President Obama won partially due to his approach. I think garnering support for true police reform from this base is feasible.
2. Engaging Locally Beats Federal Policymaking
Besides the seven states which appoint them, judges are elected. If we voted for judges who interpreted qualified immunity accurately and didn’t extend it as a shield for rogue cops who carry out their duties with reckless abandon, we might not have a lack of accountability from officers. However, for example, the last judicial election in Wisconsin had under 20% of voter turnout.
In regards to police in my city, I wrote about repealing legislation that allows Milwaukee Law Enforcement to live within a 15-mile jurisdictional boundary and reinstituting the residency requirement. I believe it’s jarring for officers to live in suburbs that are typically overwhelmingly white then put on a gun and badge and patrol Black and Latino communities. I’ve also attempted to engage with the Police Department’s leadership.
3. Maintain perspective
We are in a highly polarized time. We have a President who has cultivated an unprecedented level of divisiveness in recent memory. It took an uproar for him to finally denounce white supremacy.
Making our mission tougher, he has latched on to police officers and has painted nearly anyone that supports any measure of reform as anti-police. This deepens the divide between the police departments and the communities they serve.
But we must not replicate these tactics. Despite having valid reasons, we can’t fall into cynicism. We also must acknowledge the nuances of police officers, Republicans, and Trump supporters for two reasons: (1) We can’t communicate effectively when we generalize, and (2) our mission will seem insurmountable if we categorize everybody that’s not liberal as racist.
It’s going to be a slow journey, but we must not be dismayed. Our messaging, as well as our every move, must be calculated and concise. We must strive to be effective in our quest to improve our communities, with or without help from Washington, D.C.