Confederate Statues, Flags, and Defunding Police
In a blog post earlier this week, while supporting the peaceful protests for George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, I criticized the random rioting and looting. My reasoning was that these don’t really attack the real problems or perpetrators, that they hurt innocent people such as minority business owners and neighborhoods, and that they lack any kind of strategy other than hoping the threat of violence would cause change. With that said, I do (a little reluctantly because I still believe in doing things legally where possible) support the toppling of Confederate statues. I’ve watched protestors toppling these on the news this week, and contrary to random rioting, this sends a directed and powerful message. These symbols of the past no longer serve our country and it’s time to get rid of them. The inclusion of these statues at city halls and seats of government in the South has been challenged before, and frankly most of these city and state governments have dragged their feet to actually remove them. Two days ago, a statue was toppled in a city adjacent to my own, and this morning the Confederate statue in my own city was removed with cranes by our own city government. Another nearby city announced official removal in early July.
For those cities removing these statues peaceably, I personally believe they should go to graveyards where Confederate soldiers have been laid to rest. This allows for respecting the Confederate dead (even if we don’t agree with their cause), allows for these statues to remain historical reminders of the past (those who don’t learn the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them), and also symbolically marks their significance to our daily lives as dead and buried. For those cities who refuse to remove these statues from government places, and where they aren’t toppled in protests, I heard someone suggest that counter monuments – perhaps memorializing Northern deaths or those victimized by slavery – would allow for counterpointing the Confederate statues with powerful teaching moments.
I was happy to hear that NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from their races this week. That was a good step. I personally view the Confederate flag as a flag of treason against our country and a lost Civil War for the South. It has also been a rallying flag for racists and white nationalists. While many liberals share this view with me, it is actually more complicated than that. I grew up in a rural Southern town and still have family and friends in that area. The thing is that not everyone rallies around the Confederate flag out of hate or prejudice (even if that is the legacy of that flag). A number of people in the South view the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern heritage and not as a symbol of hate. It is entrenched as a symbol of Southern pride for many rural Southerners. Trying to convince many of them that it is a symbol of racism and hate, will just cause many to double down in their own positions. What I really believe they need is a new flag to symbolize their heritage – something they can fly from the back of their pickup trucks and wave at NASCAR races – because gods know they like to do that kind of thing.
Lastly, I wanted to address things I’ve been hearing these past few weeks about defunding or even abolishing the police. I’ve not read much on what this would entail, so these are only my initial thoughts. My ideas might change if I see a really good plan. I personally believe there is much reform that should be done with police departments and even some of the laws they enforce. I don’t believe every cop is a bad cop. Just an aside – my own father was a policeman, though he retired due to Vietnam related disabilities when I was young. He and my mother taught me not to judge people by the color of their skin. And while I can’t say for sure what he’d be doing in the current situation, I do believe that he would be standing the lines for law and order but would also criticize the cop who killed George Floyd. I personally believe there is much room for reform in the police department – a return to the ethic of being peace officers to protect and serve their communities; a reversal of militarization of police forces; ongoing sensitivity training for a number of disenfranchised communities – African-Americans, LGBTQ folks, and many others; sensitivity training for domestic violence situations; accountability and intervention when it comes to bad cops; and perhaps increased participation in the communities they serve (so neither the community members nor the police are faceless others). I believe it would be a good thing to put some money from police budgets (starting with the expensive military gear) toward the communities themselves. I also believe that some laws and policies should be rethought or abolished – such as racial profiling; chokeholds; entry to arrest without knocking or announcing; and victimless crimes such as recreational drug use and sex work.
I do not believe police departments should be totally abolished — at least not unless there’s something comparable or better to replace them. There are many situations in daily life that require a consensus on law and order and someone to intervene – whether this be police or someone else. There are issues of theft, robberies, break-ins, domestic violence, escalated disagreements between people, gang violence, organized crime, and other concerns requiring immediate or ongoing intervention from someone. There are also little things that protect lives or an orderly way of life – someone to enforce speed limits and traffic laws. The street on the way to work is not a NASCAR raceway and there are some places you shouldn’t U-turn. People ignore these things now with the threat of getting a ticket. What will they do without someone to enforce necessary rules and laws? While I like to look for the best in people, I don’t trust all people to follow rules and laws, especially in the absence of enforcement. Many laws are in place to protect our daily lives from chaos and to protect us from those who would do harm. Yes, there are also many laws that should be reformed or abolished, but not all of them. If we abolish the police totally, I see us descending into anarchy or some kind of wild west lawlessness. In such a society, without someone to intervene, might would make right and I suspect gun nuts will be stocking up on guns and shooting anyone they see as a threat. This is already happening among the current rioting and looting.
Anyway, those are my thoughts.