America is Burning

I had a nice blog post ready to go about dealing with other trainers and differing training styles, but then, America caught on fire.

A little background, a little over a week ago, Minneapolis police officers arrested a black man named George Floyd and during that process, one of the officers knelt on the back of Floyd’s neck until he died. Exact details may differ, but that’s the main thrust of what happened. The incident was caught on video.

The community protested and were met with force from police, including tear gas and riot gear. This painted a stark contrast to demonstrations a week or so earlier by armed white protestors in Michigan  who screamed and yelled and threatened, but got almost no reaction from officers.

Events escalated, more cities joined the protests, both police and protestors were caught on video doing terrible things from obvious over-escalation and violence from police to looting and property damage by rioters. There are curfews in place in dozens of cities, riot police have clashed with protestors, and there has been untold amounts of property damage. Civilians and police officers have lost their lives in the chaos and violence.

Bailey and Elizabeth Warren visit DC protest

This week, our President made things even worse, as is his typical way, by firing off incendiary tweets and then using America’s military as a prop in his demented political posturing.

Many people are shouting that it’s not all cops. True. However, if I have a friend who is a bank robber and we walk into a bank together, if he robs that bank and I say nothing about it, what does that make me? An accomplice. When you stand by and let people around you do the wrong thing, even if in your heart you disagree, well, as the saying goes, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.*

I know many police officers. Some I have known since long before they joined their respective departments. Some I know through dog training. Of those I personally know, I can say a few of them were terrible bullies before they got a badge and only got worse once they had a little power, no matter how slight. Others, I would say were born with a Superman gene, which causes them to run at trouble, protect the weak, and stand up for what’s right even during the toughest times. Our country has a problem though. Black men are killed at a much higher rate than whites. Police departments have steadily militarized over past decades until they look more like occupying forces than a part of the communities they patrol. With this comes the mindset that they are at war (War on Drugs, War on Crime) and all the citizens look like potential enemy combatants. One officer once told me that if you’re a cop long enough, everyone starts to look like a criminal. Those words have stuck with me for a long time. 

Police and protestors at Southlake Mall Chicago, IL

We have been fighting these fires for a long time. Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights movement, the deceitful attempt to rewrite the causes of the Civil War, and more recently in events like Ferguson, we as a nation continue to see racism rear its ugly head only to ignore it a few weeks later. The American system is flawed. Racism, even when not intentional, is built in to a point where it pervades nearly every aspect of our lives. The only people who really argue against that are those who depend on that racism to hold onto their positions. Just like the COVID 19 pandemic exposed the truth about how fragile our entire economic system was, these protests are exposing how unfair and unjust our social system is. We need to recognize that it was not only the death of one man that has sparked this moment, but centuries of oppression and brutality. In his statement about this, Former President George W. Bush said, “Listen to the voices of those who are hurting and grieving. Those who set out to silence those voices do not understand America — or how to make it better.” 

The violence is wrong. The looting and rioting are wrong. Police attacking peaceful protestors in the streets is wrong. Throwing bricks or bottles at officers is wrong. We need to de-escalate and try to understand what baked-in behaviors lead us to this point and figure out how to change it. It will not be easy.

There is a fire burning and it could engulf our entire country. We need to decide if we will take the hard but necessary steps to control those flames, or will we douse it with gasoline and wonder why everything burns down around us?

I apologize to anyone who just wants fun dog stories. I do try not to get political, but at times silence implies consent, and I cannot consent to what is happening right now. I cannot consent to an inherently unfair and unjust system. I do not have any answers and I don’t know what to do but I can’t sit by and pretend everything is okay.

Until next time, cheer on the good guys no matter which side they are on. Call out the bad guys, no matter which side they are on. Be strong. Be safe. And get out and do something with your dog.

*I didn’t want to assign attribution to this as it is credited to several people from Edmund Burke to Abraham Lincoln.