The Story of (Epistemic) Justice in South Bend

An interesting juxtaposition on the front page of today's South Bend Tribune...

Interesting for a number of reasons. Here's one.

The title of the article above the fold -- "Protests disrupt panel discussion" -- suggests the following narrative: City Admin and SBPD set up a panel as a gesture of good will, activists unwilling to engage civilly. The title of the article below the fold -- "Court: Video, police conflict" -- tells us virtually nothing about that story. It's an almost non-narrative story. The online version of the story better captures the narrative in its title:

To be totally fair to the author of both articles, this phrase is included as a pull out in the print version -- and I get it, space is limited, etc. I'm critiquing subtle and systemic phenomena, not Christian Sheckler's reporting (which I think is very good). 

To be totally fair to the author of both articles, this phrase is included as a pull out in the print version -- and I get it, space is limited, etc. I'm critiquing subtle and systemic phenomena, not Christian Sheckler's reporting (which I think is very good). 

So it's not just that a court somewhere has ruled that some video "conflicts with" SBPD (in some abstract way). An appeals court has ruled that the video "indisputably contradicts" SBPD testimony.

These are important details!

Return, once more, to the top story: protestors "disrupt" dialogue -- protestors behave badly. Panel is held back by protestors.

That's not what I saw.

I saw, first of all, a group of protestors who disputed the very terms of the "dialogue" -- who rightly asked why -- in addition to the phenomenal panelists who participated -- some voices were conspicuously left out. Who wanted to know why the concerns and requests that they have made clear are collected on index cards rather than aired publicly. Why they can't get a straight answer to the simple question: Why is an officer with a pattern of abusive behavior still in a position of authority?

I also saw some exasperated cops. And fair enough.

For a great overview of some of the extreme challenges of modern policing, see this excellent documentary from Frontline.  

For a great overview of some of the extreme challenges of modern policing, see this excellent documentary from Frontline.  

No one can dispute that being police in America is a thankless, difficult, essential job. No one can dispute that police are being asked to solve problems way beyond the scope of their office. No one can dispute that there are police in the SBPD who are good, honest, hard-working and motivated individuals. Who believe in justice, and who put the common good before their personal well-being. 

But it's also hard to miss today's headline. Video indisputably contradicts SBPD testimony. And think of the parallels between this case and the case that activists are asking the City and SBPD to adequately address: 

  • SBPD acts unlawfully  
  • Members of the SBPD dept refuse to take responsibility for their actions
  • The City does nothing 
  • A jury finds that this unlawful conduct has no meaningful consequences for SBPD

Now, the only difference between the DF case and the RL case (that I can see) is that the latter has gone through an appeals process. It's been resolved by a higher court. Perhaps we'll see the same in the DF case -- perhaps a judge will take some sort of additional action on behalf of the DF family.  

Regardless. It's not at all difficult to imagine that some in the South Bend community don't find the idea of a one-time panel (without any panelists chosen by organizers or activists)  -- an hour long, one-time panel -- to be a fair venue to begin this dialogue.

It's like a manager taking an employee with a legitimate complaint against a colleague, putting her in a room with that colleague and a couple others, demanding that she express her grievances then and there (on paper, too, so that the manager can vet the content), and then expressing confusion when that employee protests. This isn't a fair. You can't expect me to participate in a process like this completely and in good faith. You need to think more carefully about the venue, the context. You need to be more intentional.

Activists still have a list of unanswered requests out to the Mayor and the Chief of the SBPD. We can still come together to make the Story Police / Community Relations here in South Bend a story of justice, peace, and trust, but it's going to require more from all parties.

  • more discipline
  • more empathy
  • more just modes of engagement
  • more action

And less cheap talk. Fewer promises and sound bites. 

If the Mayor or SBPD can't do all of these things, we need to know what they can do -- that's how dialogues work. "I can't do that, but I could do this." "This is good, but can you also do one other thing..."

If the Mayor or SBPD can't do all of these things, we need to know what they can do -- that's how dialogues work. "I can't do that, but I could do this." "This is good, but can you also do one other thing..."

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News coverage of last night's panel:

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