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Two Floyd-Inspired Changes (One’s for You)

June 5th, 2020 by dk

It’s been years since Eugene assembled peaceful protests as large as we’ve seen this week. And it’s been decades since any of our after-dark assemblages turned violent in such a coordinated way. That phone alert that interrupted our sleep Monday night was a (literal) wake-up call. Things have changed, and not for the better.

More importantly, we must recognize what many of our less fortunate neighbors see. For them, the issue at hand is not what’s changed, but what hasn’t changed at all.

Police violence hasn’t changed. Unequal opportunities haven’t changed. Widespread acceptance of the status quo hasn’t changed. Our tepid response when tragedy strikes  a community of color hasn’t changed. And our ability to imagine a better alternative hasn’t changed.

For those who insist that violence is not the answer, I agree with you, but you’ve arrived late to the conversation. Every instance of racism and bigotry is an act of violence. Every refusal to fix the system abets the violence visited on those the system oppresses. Every plea for patience without a plan is a violent request, inciting a violent response. Ignorance does not confer innocence.

I have two suggestions. One is large and one is small.

The longest background check interview I ever participated in was for a friend who wanted to be a Eugene police officer. They had me on the phone for nearly an hour, asking me a hundred questions about my friend’s background, his character, and how I’d seen him react in certain situations.

He got the job, and then spent about a year in training before he was ever asked to interact with the public alone with his badge. Eugene follows best practices for recruiting, hiring, and training its force. But those best practices draw heavily from a military model. Community policing doesn’t look like war. It looks like social work.

Police training has too much insularity. That builds camaraderie within the force, but it blunts the edges of empathy. Where does training end and indoctrination begin? We hear too often about a few “rotten apples.” Nobody ever talks about how a closed container spreads the rot to other apples nearby.

Send rookie cops out into the community as soon as they are hired. Give them the uniform and the badge, but not the gun. Let them experience how the public treats them differently. Then they won’t need veterans to warn them how it will be. If training leads with empathy, policing will be practiced differently.

Here’s a change that you and I can make. Stop saying what’s “not acceptable” or “not OK.” Those phrases paint you out of the picture, when we need you very much in the picture. Express your feelings and exhibit your resolve in an active voice. Take responsibility for the part you play and contribute as you are able to making necessary changes.

Saying that something “is not acceptable” has a regal ring. Can you hear it? Imagine a dismissive hand gesture, sweeping away something that barely deserves your attention. That’s how it sounds to those in pain you. It subtly makes things worse.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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