Tuesday, August 11, 2015

When do we stop relying on physical dominance as the answer?

Years ago I worked as a family therapist at a shelter for runaway and homeless youth. Our receptionist at the time was a young woman (late 20's) who had worked as security detail for Prince and was a bouncer at First Avenue (the nightclub where Prince got his start).

Because we sheltered youth, occasionally a parent (usually a father) or even a pimp would show up in a rage demanding to see one of the residents. These could easily turn into loud and potentially violent confrontations. But our receptionist told the "muscle guys" on staff that when it happened, she did NOT want them showing up in the lobby to intervene. Her point was that if they did, it was an invitation for the confrontation to get physical. She was completely confident in her ability to utilize her verbal skills to de-escalate the situation and didn't want anyone interfering.

That young woman taught me a lot. And I think of her often as we talk about the problems in so many of our police departments. A lot of it boils down to the fact that too many officers think of themselves as the "muscle guys" whose job it is dominate a potentially dangerous situation with the threat of physical force.

In many ways, it is not that different from the neocon fantasies of many Republicans when it comes to foreign policy. They assume that the answer to any threat is to bring in the "muscle guys" of the military and attempt to dominate the situation. It is precisely why so many people were drawn to George Bush's "swagger" after 9/11.

And so I ponder this whole idea of our attachment to physical dominance as a problem that stretches from the lobby of a shelter for runaway and homeless youth to the streets where police officers encounter potential threats to the Commander-in-Chief developing foreign policy.

We obviously have a current occupant of the White House who has some of the same skills our young receptionist did at the shelter. But I wonder how long its going to take for people to value those skills...and to learn how important they are in finding a way to address some of the violence we're seeing here at home.

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