A healthy sense of outrage for the wrongful death of David Pelaez-Chavez was shown by family and friends of the deceased, shot to death on July 29th after a chase near Geyserville found him in a ditch holding a hammer and a garden tiller.  

North Bay Organizing Project (NBOP) and the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO) and family called a press conference outside the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office Mon. Aug. 22nd.   Their call was for an independent review of the case since only partial video was released from police bodycams, and the video company employed by the Sheriff’s Office has been sited for misrepresenting victims in at least one previous case.  Still, the scene was somber but peaceful. “We are fighting, but we are fighting peacefully, ” Alfredo Pelaez said.

I use the phrase a healthy sense of outrage as the whole idea has challenged me since coming across this Henry Miller quote in college days. What could it mean to have a healthy sense of outrage, not hatred of people or a person. This could be outrage for unjust behavior, for the the evil people do. “Defeat the enemy, wrongdoing,” is an oft quoted phrase from the Dedication of Merit we read together at the end of our meditation group on Thursdays. THAT makes sense to me; I do not have to become a hater.

According to family, David was going through a tough time. He had stolen a truck, thrown a rock through a window  and dragged a person 20 feet, though the person was said to be uninjured.  Certainly, shooting a man who holds a hammer is unjust? David was shot three times after a tazer failed to stop him, killing him outright.  He needed help, not bullets.

What could be justice for this family of the deceased? They may likely get money with a wrongful death suit, but that cannot bring life back to David.  His death was not a one-off experience; police violence, wrongful death, was seen in Sonoma County in the death of Andy Lopez and others.  Perhaps coming to grips with the reasons for police violence would begin to ease the pain of this wrongful death.  

The American Psychological Association offers these possible solutions to police violence:

  • Promote community policing.
  • Ban chokeholds and strangleholds.
  • Invest in crisis intervention teams.
  • Increase the number of mental health professionals in law enforcement agencies.

Involve psychologists in multidisciplinary teams to implement police reforms.

Baning chokeholds and stangleholds is just common sense.  No one who actively strangles a suspects should be allowed on a policy force!  Sure, invest in crisis intervention teams, but what does one consist of and how does that work?  Of course, increase the number of mental health professionals (if there is availability) and do have psychologists involved in police reform. 

But all of that remains in the GOOD IDEA pocket, while the in your face is that none of this is working exactly. Or is it? And how can we tell?

While there is merit in the APA list, there’s a lot missing.  HOW do you promote community policing? I was part of Tom Hayden’s Community Control of the Police group in Berkeley at one point, holding meetings in the living room of our communal house, and we did get around to people following police and taking videos where incidents might warrant oversight.  So now police have body cams; progress we guess but a camera in itself doesn’t end violence, especially if the video can be edited.

The looming question for decades and especially since the deaths here of Andy Lopez and nationally, George Floyd and others and use of excessive force leading to death, and the whole Black Lives Matter movement, is HOW can we de-escalate violent situtions, avoid violence?  

What does real police reform entail?  I found a Brookings Institute study with some possible answers.  

The Brookings Institute found that police academies teach approximatel 50 hours of how to shoot your gun versus 10 hours of how to de-escalate a violent scene.  No wonder cops use guns too often! Since police trainees  have had 5x the practice of shooting vs. calming the situation, they would be inclined to shoot rather than de-escalate! If we had federal standards for teaching police officers, this problem could be greatly reduced.

Another possible solution is that police officers, like doctors, should be required to carry liability insurance, thus taking on a much greater responsibiity for their actions.

Eventually, officers whose behavior was unacceptable would become uninsurable, and therefore unemployable. “Instead of police chiefs having difficulties removing bad officers through pushback from the Fraternal Order of Police Union, bad officers would simply be unemployable by virtue of the fact that they cannot secure professional liability insurance,” states the Brookings report.

While I cannot condemn whole categories of humans as “murderers” (cops=murderers,)  I do see there is a huge gaping hole between the actions of a deputy who attempts to slow or stop the actions of someone acting out and a cop who shoots a suspect not actually threatening the life of an officer.  

“He needed help, not death!” read handpainted signs. I think the family of the deceased knows this in their heart of hearts; they are grieving but not hating; they are compassionate people with a healthy sense of outrage.

Last line of the Brookings report: “Bottom line, police almost never suffer any financial consequences for their own misconduct.”  That could change.

                  …to be continued.

 

 

 

 

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