Alternative News and Views
19 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Turned 20 so I Didn’t Waste a Decade
A list poem for working-class girls trying to grow up and into themselves
1. It is okay to leave anyone and anything and anyplace that makes you feel like shit. It’s hard, but it’s okay. And bump explaining anything to anyone, unless you want to. Let them wonder.
2. Know who you are. Not just on some touchy-feely fuzzy pretty-on-the-inside tip, but knowing who you are racially, culturally, in relationship to your sexuality, gender and your class- is a source of your power. You define that for you. Don’t ever let anyone else tell you who you are. This may change in time, as you grow and learn more. That’s okay. Manage any shame or guilt you may feel through acts of accountability.
3. Be accountable for what you do. This means owning up to how you mess up, just as much as it means owning and defending the contested space you fill. You will mess up, and only you can seek atonement for this. You will need to defend yourself, and rarely will anyone do that work for you. Acknowledging both your mistakes and your rights as equally important.
4. They will call you crazy. You are a woman. There is no way of going through the world in the moment we live in and not get called crazy by someone, often someone you wish would see you as deeply sane. You are not crazy. The world is crazy. If you are affected by this imbalanced, unjust world, it only proves that you are a sentient being with some sense of empathy.
5. Empathy is built. You need to learn to really listen. This means listening without thinking about how it relates to you, or planning the next thing you are going to say. This means seeing everyone, regardless of who they are, as a human being. You cannot really be a human being unless you regard everyone as such, even your greatest nemeses and the gravest perpetrators. All of our damage comes from somewhere. Yours and everyone else’s. Learn to listen to others. Learn to listen to yourself. Empathy cannot exist without really, deeply listening first.
6. You are going to have moments of unbearable pain. It takes time to learn how to heal yourself. And healing sometimes still leaves scars. Healing is sometimes incomplete. Think of your scars as battle-wounds – evidence of how much wiser you are now- maps of where not to return. Cherish these scars and honor them. There will come times when they are the only reminder of where you have been, and how much you still need to grow.
7. You are going to have moments of unbearable loneliness. You need to learn how to love being with yourself, because ultimately, no one has the potential to love you like you can. It is beautiful to love and be loved, but these are just hints as to how to regard yourself. If you regard yourself highly, and learn to turn loneliness into soothing solitude, you will be capable of giving and receiving truly transformative love.
8. Find something that makes you feel like the world makes sense, even if you can’t justify it intellectually to yourself or anyone else. Personally, if I don’t rock a wall, get up, get laid, get down on a dancefloor, read a good book, write a poem, listen to a mind-blowing record or have a soul-shaking, satisfying conversation at least once a week, the world doesn’t make sense to me and I am unmoored. If I don’t get these things for a month, I become a total, inconsolable, incomprehensible wreck. This wreck can easily snowball into all kinds of self-destruction. Find what works for you and be loyal to it as a loyalty to yourself.
9. The world you live in is sick. This sickness creeps into all of us, and in many it manifests as an inability to love oneself, let alone others. Some of those afflicted with a parasitic strain of this illness will latch onto you as a host. You may believe it is part of your nature to nurture and support endlessly. These people will eat your love whole, and you with it, and leave you as a husk. You can grow again from your husk, but it will be hard, and it takes time and the training of betrayal and heartbreak to learn to trust yourself enough to determine who is worthy of your trust. Do not let anyone ride you. Only walk with those who will walk side by side with you, as an equal.
10. Do not mess with lovers that don’t prioritize your pleasure. That can look like a lot of different things, and you’re probably still figuring it out. Don’t put up with lovers that don’t give you room to explore, to express, and above all – if a lover is only focused on using you as a vessel to reach their plateau –be out. This doesn’t mean to ignore your partner’s pleasure, but rather to see yours as of equal worth.
11. You are not responsible for the actions of those who hated themselves so much that they hurt you.
12. Collectivism is a beautiful concept, and something worth constantly striving toward and building. Collectivism has radically changed and challenged unjust structures and institutions. But if you sacrifice your own survival for the benefit of the whole, you will find yourself wringing your hands and questioning the meaning of your life and doubting the worth of others in light of their unabashed self-interest. Find a balance.
13. Do not carry broken people who are not in the process of rebuilding themselves.
14. You are not your job. Your job is simply a paycheck, and you are probably not compensated what you are worth and it is not your fault- you inherited a broken economic system, and you will not be the first generation to fight for your right to live. But you need to fight for your right to live, in solidarity, with those around you who are also struggling.
15. Going to college is an accomplishment. It does not, however, make you better than anyone else. It doesn’t make you essentially more intelligent. You never really make it “out” of the class you came from, and you never really make it “in” to the class you aspired to.
16. If you cannot translate what you have learned from whatever access you’ve had back to wherever you came from, then you have not gained anything- you have changed. Assimilation is a choice. Seek to be a translator. Seek to share your access to those who you may have left behind. Seek to disrupt the structures that taught those of us who gained more access that we are worth more than where we left, and less than what we found ourselves among.
17. Never take validation too deeply to heart. This is especially true of those who came up entrenched in the age of social media. The gaze of hegemony is always on us. Find validation in the ratio between how positively you impact yourself and others versus how you mess up and hurt others. You will hurt others. Be accountable for this, when you need to be, and always be mindful of how often that happens in relation to those you help grow. None of us can be saints, but we can be salient and sentient.
18. Take your struggle to your community, and find community in those whose struggles intersect. It is only within one another that we will make any sense of this destroyed world and it’s corrupt ideology that we’ve inherited. Fight. Fight. Fight.
19. You are inherently valuable. You have worth. Ask no one for permission.
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More Americans Killed By Police Than By Terrorists: With Crime Down, Why Is Police Aggression Up?
This article first appeared at WhoWhatWhy.
You might not know it from watching TV news, but FBI statistics show that crime in the U.S.—including violent crime—has been trending steadily downward for years, falling 19% between 1987 and 2011. The job of being a police officer has become safer too, as the number of police killed by gunfire plunged to 33 last year, down 50% from 2012, to its lowest level since, wait for it, 1887, a time when the population was 75% lower than it is today.
So why are we seeing an ever increasing militarization of policing across the country?
Given the good news on crime, what are we to make of a report by the Justice Policy Institute, a not-for-profit justice reform group, showing that state and local spending on police has soared from $40 billion in 1982 to more than $100 billion in 2012. Adding in federal spending on law enforcement, including the FBI, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Drug Enforcement Agency and much of the Homeland Security Department budget, as well as federal grants to state and local law enforcement more than doubles that total. A lot of that money is simply pay and benefits. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that the ranks of state and local law enforcement personnel alone swelled from 603,000 to 794,000 between 1992 and 2010. That’s about two-thirds as many men and women as the entire active-duty US military.
What these statistics make clear is that policing in America is ramping up even as the crime rate is falling.
To the advocates of militarized policing, this just proves that more and better-armed cops are the answer to keeping the peace. But former corrections officer Ted Kirkpatrick, like many experts in the field, warns against jumping to this conclusion: “Police will of course say crime is down because of them,” he tells WhoWhatWhy, “but they have a vested interest in saying that.”
Kirkpatrick has the credentials and training to look beyond statistics and simplistic answers to the underlying social forces at work here. In addition to his years of law enforcement experience, he is a homicide expert in the Department of Clinical Sociology at the University of New Hampshire, and Co-Director of the university’s Justiceworks program, a think-tank specializing in law enforcement and justice issues.
“When something goes sour, like an increase in crime,” Kirkpatrick says, “everyone looks for a way to explain why. Yet when things go well, like this long-term fall in the crime rate, nobody bothers to look at why.”
Surprising Reasons for Drop in Crime Rate
Militarized “pro-active” policing may have had some effect on the drop in crimes in the US. But Kirkpatrick says, “I don’t think it’s the big thing.” Crime is down even in many cities where police forces have been cut for budget reasons, and experts agree that the decline in crime began before the militarization of policing really started to take off.
Other factors likely play a bigger role. One is increased immigration since, contrary to common belief, communities with greater numbers of immigrant families show the biggest drops in crime thanks to those families’ “stronger social fabric.” Another factor is an aging population—older people commit fewer violent crimes.
So what’s behind the push to put more police on our streets, with ever more impressive military equipment, while training them to behave like occupying troops in Iraq or Afghanistan?
One might assume that the militarization of American law enforcement began after the national trauma of 9/11. But, in fact, its roots go back decades earlier, when media stories in the 1970s created the impression that the nation was awash in illegal drugs.
An aroused Congress passed a “no-knock” law in 1970. The law allowed police to conduct drug searches and arrests by entering homes without first presenting a warrant. President Nixon’s declaration of his War on Drugs a year later led to an exponential increase in warrantless drug searches, with an inevitable emphasis on military-style policing.
SWAT team actions soared from hundreds annually in the 1970s to thousands a year in the ‘80s to 40,000 a year by 2005, according to a report by the libertarian CATO institute. The author of that report, and academic experts studying the issue, now estimate there may have been as many as 70,000-80,000 such raids in 2013 alone. Hard figures are not available: the Justice Department does not keep records on SWAT-team usage.
On top of the increase triggered by Nixon’s War on Drugs, President George W. Bush’s War on Terror in aftermath of 9/11 gave a dramatic boost to the militarization of American police forces.
“There has been a clear escalation of violence by police, particularly since 9/11,” says Brigitt Keller, who heads up the National Police Accountability Project of the National Lawyers Guild. “The willingness of police to use very harsh measures against people has definitely increased.”
A big part of the problem, she says, is that these days “officer safety” is given primacy over “protect and serve.” A case in point: a South Carolina sheriff’s deputy in February shot and seriously injured a 70-year-old man at a traffic stop when the man tried to retrieve his cane from the back of his pick-up truck. The Sheriff’s Department said the deputy acted “appropriately,” as he had “a legitimate fear” that the cane might have been a long rifle.
In another recent example, New York City police shot and injured an unarmed man who was acting “erratically” in Times Square. The officers were exonerated, while the man they shot was charged with causing injury to several bystanders—who were hit by the police officers’ stray bullets.
“I’m all for police officers not getting hurt on the job,” says the Lawyers Guild’s Keller, “but if you make that your first concern, then it’s problematic, because you allow the use of deadly or excessive force in practically every situation between an officer and a citizen, and you end up with citizens getting hurt.”
In fact, while being a police officer has been getting less dangerous, killings committed by police have been rising despite the drop in police who are killed.
The numbers are eye opening. The Justice Department, which keeps all kinds of statistics on violent crime, does not tally up individuals killed annually by police. But by combing public news reports and other sources, the Justice Policy Institute has estimated that police officers in the U.S. killed 587 people in 2012 alone. Over the course of a decade, they’ve tallied more than 5,000 people in the U.S. during that period—far more than the number of people who lost their lives in acts officially classified as terrorism in roughly the same span.
The many instances of deadly police violence captured on video give a visceral reality to these statistics. They show police beating and sometimes needlessly shooting citizens—even those with their hands up or armed only with a knife or stick while standing too far from responding officers to pose a threat.
In some jurisdictions, police have responded to these damaging videos by routinely confiscating bystanders’ cell phones and threatening witnesses with arrest, even though federal courts have consistently held that citizens have a right to photograph and videotape officers engaged in police actions.
The National Police Accountability Project’s Keller suggests that, along with the public’s acceptance of military-style policing, the killing of civilians has become more acceptable too. Police are rarely punished for killing people—even those who were unarmed or already restrained—because in most communities, police shootings are investigated by the police themselves, or by a closely-allied district attorney’s office. Indeed, about 95 percent of police shootings end up being ruled “justified,” a statistic that hasn’t changed as the body count has risen.
“I think when non-targeted individuals are killed in a raid, or when a person is shot in the course of a routine traffic stop, it’s seen as a kind of ‘collateral damage,’” Keller says, “instead of as some tragic or criminal use of excessive force by police.”
Public indifference to “civilian” casualties in police actions highlights a disconnect: The public perceives rampant crime while the actual crime report suggests nothing of the sort.
This fundamental misapprehension seems to be fueling the continuing political push for more police and tougher policing. While the militarization of law enforcement has little or no relation to the falling crime rate, there is reason to fear that it is eroding our constitutionally protected rights under the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
“I’m not sure that spending money on more police, on Kevlar suits and on things like armored vehicles is the most efficient thing to do,” says UNH’s Kirkpatrick. “It might be better to spend it on Big Brother/Big Sister-type programs and other kinds of services for kids. The trouble is, we generally implement public policy based on sentiment, not logic or statistics, and thanks to the 24-hour news cycle and its really quite dramatic reports on crimes, the average Joe or Jane thinks that things have gone nuts.”