It has been said that this past week will go down in history as one of America's most difficult weeks. Many think it is similar to what happened in 1968. It is interesting that in 1968 people were also confronted with dual dilemmas. One dilemma was the Vietnam War and the other was fighting for equality for all people. In 2020, we are faced with the pandemic and we are still faced with finding equality for all regardless of skin color.
Wouldn’t you think that after 50 years we would have come to some understanding as to how we can all get along? What is it that has held us back? We don’t seem to be that much closer now to equal rights for all than we were in 1968.
Due to the circumstances surrounding this past week’s events, I asked culture teacher Charles Grolla, the subject of last week’s column, to share his thoughts. Being that Charles is Native American and served many years as a police officer, his take on this subject is especially meaningful.
“I think it’s true that race issues number fewer than they have in the past, but we still have a long way to go. My grandmother, Fanny, used to tell us kids that we enjoy freedoms that Anishinaabeg (Native Americans) from her time, and certainly before her, had no right to enjoy. She would tell us about how she and her family would go shopping in the towns of Thief River Falls, and later in Bemidji, and then how they had to be out of town by dark. It was illegal for Anishinaabeg to be in town after dark. In addition to that, only her dad or another male could accompany them, because more than two Native American males could not be seen together. If they were, it constituted a “war party,” and they would be jailed. So yes, times are different, but now the prejudices seem like they haven’t so much dissolved as they have spread, and molded themselves into different forms, like racial profiling, and established law enforcement stopping vehicles because they have reservation license plates.
“In my experience, Native Americans encounter aggressive law enforcement at an exponentially higher rate than whites. Natives are also more likely to be victimized by someone outside of their own race. The research I’ve seen shows that Natives fall under several jurisdictions. Their cases often get lost in the spaces between those jurisdictions, which seems like it would explain the higher victimization rate.
“The case of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis forced two things to come to mind as I watched the video footage of the arrests, riots and looting unfold. The number one was my observation that state officers seem more likely to draw their weapons and use unnecessary force.
“I was a law enforcement officer on a reservation, and it became sort of a piece of common knowledge that off-reservation law enforcement officers are quick to use force during encounters. Police training has changed. To put it bluntly, too many officers are now taught, or somehow get it stuffed in their heads, that violence rules the day. These officers, if they suspect even a hint of aggression toward them, react with often lethal force. This could be defended by claiming these officers are responding to instincts, and these instincts are keeping people alive and safe. I get that. What I get even more is that this reaction causes more harm and instability than it does peace and security.
“The second thought I had was this, just as there are people in professions who end up being no good for the job, the same should be realized when it comes to people in law enforcement. This job isn’t for just anyone who can handle a gun and swing a nightstick. Let’s say you’re an officer of the law, ask yourself this, 'if you encounter a lot of bad situations, and you probably do, how often do you leave those situations confident that it’s now better than it was before you arrived in the first place? Who have you protected, and who have you served?'
“There are two things that make a good officer: one is the ability to act, to be capable of doing your job and follow through with what you believe is the right decision. Two, is having true and sincere compassion for the people you’re serving. It goes a long way. Trust me. And it’s an enormous prerequisite for becoming a good and effective law enforcement officer. Sure, you can get a degree and pass all the trainings, as you most definitely should. But, if you do not possess these two simple, but important characteristics, you will be well on your way to serious errors in professional judgment. It would help with a lot of the current issues we are seeing.
“I have always thought that police departments should have more rigorous and in-depth hiring procedures, shining a spotlight on people who show warning signs that they may be nurturing the wrong mindset for the job. I am a firm believer in community policing, junior police and explorer programs, and D.A.R.E. People may not realize it at first, but programs like these go a long way in nurturing positive relationships among the people, the police and their community as a whole.”
Charles concluded by saying, “John, this is a very touchy and complex issue, and it deserves a lengthy conversation unto itself. With this being part of a problem that’s on such a massive and far-reaching level, it’s hard to even be able to shed enough light on the subject and address the many reasons why these issues of prejudice and unlawful police assault are happening. America is going through change, it was founded on change, and is changing as we speak.”
I would add, for the sake of everyone, especially our young people, we have to change. Thanks and miigwech, Charles, for your comments.
Riddle: How do you make a hot dog stand? (Answer: Steal its chair.) All of us can stand tall when we try to understand the people around us.
In a recent report by the Minnesota Department of Education, it was reported that Minnesota traditional schools have a graduation rate of 91%, charter schools 63% and online learning schools 53%. You can see we have a lot of work to do to reach 100%. But, we can do it when we have a mindset to do it.
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.