My Side of the Fence

The danger isn't going too far. It's that we don't go far enough.

The Manassas Election

So, we're getting on down to the wire.  This is going to be a unique election in Manassas: really the first November election that is highly contested with complete slates on both sides.  It's such a big deal because five (?) times more people in Manassas vote in November than ever did in a May election….so the methods employed have to be a lot different than when I ran.

See, when I ran – just short of ten years ago now – you had to reach about 3,500 voters – tops.  Door knocking was the primary way to reach out to those voters and individual candidates did pretty much all of their own door knocking – I wore out at least two pairs of shoes.  Sarah and Erin helped out some and that's about it.  We had door hangers that we made by hand.  Every one of those things was printed on our own laser printer – 2 to a sheet, cut in half and then had a hole punched in it.  We wrote all of our own content.  There wasn't a Facebook but there was, perhaps more importantly, a news paper.  Candidates didn't advertise much but I remember Mayor Waldron having a billboard at one point.  The candidates did have differing views of what the world needed to look like but I do not recall it ever being ugly.

Fast forward and we have had one November election for Council but only four people ran – everyone was still figuring it all out.  This year, however, is a whole different ball of wax.  There is a presidential election this year and the Council guys are all running at the same time.  I see both parties rounding up a couple dozen folks to door knock and lit drop.  I certainly never had to do that.

In addition, the vagaries of the presidential contest are suddenly very important to down ballot (council) races because people do not "split their tickets" (vote for one party for president and different parties for other offices) much anymore.  In the last election about 90% of voters selected the same party to receive all their votes – if you voted for a republican for governor, you voted republican down the whole ticket……so, suddenly, if the race for President runs off the rails it matters to someone running for City Council !!!  If Hillary is going to get killed in your district and you're a democrat then your hill just got a lot taller to climb.  This very thing could become very important even here in Manassas.

Social media is the other variable.  There are actually a couple of different facets around this item.  The first is this: is activity on social media a useful surrogate for polling?  In other words, if you received a bunch of new "likes" or a broader audience reach on a Facebook page / picture / post will that mean anything in terms of votes?

The second aspect of social media is this: It is insanely effective at spreading information and awareness.  You can't argue that.  However, very little of what I see on there as "news" or "facts" has little to do with reality.  I'd say this: social media is excellent at spreading information and opinion however the source material for a lot of that information is rarely anything that looks much like journalism (Witness the nauseating rise of click-bait).  It remains to be seen how relevant social media can be in a local election.  Can it be a replacement for our dearly departed newspaper?  I think not but time will tell.



The Police

There are, these days, a lot of heat and light surrounding several police departments in particular and, thanks to intellectual giants like Colin Kaepernick, police (and society) in general.  Now, there is no denying that some police departments have systemic problems.  It happens and it is the job of the municipal leaders or, in rare cases the Department of Justice, to figure out why it is happening and how to deal with it.  Are there bad cops?  Damn right there are bad cops.  There are also bad politicians, football players, baseball players, IT people, Doctors, etc, etc, etc.  Just bad people.  Mainly because, well, people are people.  

However, the difference is that 99.9% of police departments actively work to weed out the lousy cops because society expects it and good cops don't want to have to deal with it anymore than you or I would in our workplace.  When you add in that the lousy cop also has a gun, things can get complicated.  Mostly the weeding out process works.  If you decide today that you want to be an Officer on the street, it will be a year – think about that – a year before you are anywhere near ready to do that.  If at any point during that process the Department thinks you aren't for them, you're gone.

Complicated is an apt word to use to describe police work.  Everything about the job is complicated and the sum total of the tools that an individual officer has to deal with a complicated sea of humanity are their wits, and whatever they have with them.  They don't have a psychologist, a doctor, a dentist, social worker and a counselor all riding along in their car.  They've got whatever is in their skull and some comrades on the force to help deal with it and you can pretty much guarantee that when the police have an interaction with someone, it's among the worst days in that persons' life.  Something has gone horribly wrong.  It's complicated.

Let me tell you a story about complicated: not long after I was first elected there was a lawsuit fimanassas-city-police-departmentled against the City for what the media calls "Police brutality" but the courts call "excessive force".  In this scenario there was a domestic assault call – the woman was being beaten by her boyfriend.  Somehow, after the police arrived, the woman who called for help emerged with a broken limb.  I was seriously pissed off.  An excessive force complaint against the police in "My City" in which our police offerers broke a womans arm?  Not on my watch baby.  We need to clean this mess up and fast.  I asked for an immediate Council briefing from the Chief of Police and he was happy to oblige.

Now, you don't get to be Chief by not being able to deal with the ding-dongs in elected office.  The Chief started that meeting by indicating that everyone needed to listen very carefully first and ask questions second.  The facts painted a different picture: the guy doing the beating was a wanted violent felon and the female – who had called for help – had attacked the responding officers resulting in a big wrestling match which is how her arm was damaged.

I remember thinking that those facts painted a different picture than what I came into the meeting with and therein lies the truth behind policing.  It's complicated and it does not fit into 90 second news segments very cleanly.  Why on earth would she attack those officers?  I certainly wouldn't have expected it but it evidently happens with some regularity.  In addition, Officers are people too.  Engaging people who are enraged, under the influence or armed can be frightening.  Even if you're experienced.  Police are people too – they want to go home at the end of their workday too.  It's a damn difficult job that includes the making of split-second, life or death decisions that can go horribly, horribly wrong…..but way more often than not, they go right and the situation gets resolved.  You don't hear about those episodes.  Yes, it is human to focus on those situations where things have really just fallen apart but that ain't most times and folks need to recognize that.

I guess the moral of the story is that society needs to be prepared to stand behind their first-responders knowing, in advance, that they're human too and occasionally things will go wrong.  We need them, warts an all.  To not do this, to not back our police, creates a wider gulf between the Officers and the people they protect.  Our Chief of Police, Doug Keen, aptly summed the situation: "The Police are the guardians of our community and understand that our communities support us….It would be easy for us to take the "warrior" mindset and begin treating people as such.  But, the Police remember that as guardians we are protecting, preserving and respecting all lives."  That's powerful and it speaks to the crux of the matter: the men and women of the Police Force need your individual support and, indeed, our collective support and it is the only way to make the institution succesful.  Does it mean that we don't hold them accountable? No.  But it does mean that we recognize and give them the benfit of the doubt and our solid support along the way.  Remember, only "We" can do this.  We don't "buy" security from our Officers.  They are members of society who offer to guard the rest of us and "we" always need to keep that in mind.

Thank goodness for the great folks on our police force.

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