Unarmed Cops and a Can-do Culture of Nonviolence

Cops without guns? Snort. Impossible. Who is going to stop the next mass shooting slaughter?

Well, not so fast. There are a few folks who remain quite cross about police who kill unarmed people. Those unarmed people tend to fall into two categories—people of color or people suffering a mental health crisis.

Here in my town, Portland, Oregon, police have killed several unarmed people in the past decade or so, including young mother of two who weighed about 98 pounds. The young African American mother, Kendra James, was not only unarmed and shot by a cop, she was then yanked out of the car she was in and left to bleed out on the pavement before the cops bothered to call for an ambulance—so she could be pronounced dead. Another unarmed fellow was both African American and suffering an emotional crisis, as his brother had just died. And another was a Mexican migrant worker who hurt no one, was unarmed, and spoke very little English, shot dead in a lockdown mental health unit where he was mistakenly placed because he suffered from epilepsy.

The crisis in our country of police killing unarmed people, coupled with the crisis of a hyperarmed civil society engaging in approximately one mass shooting per day, is absolutely begging and crying and screaming for a new direction, a cultural sea change toward nonviolence, toward a massive educational and training not just of police, but of all schoolchildren, parents, and teachers.

The NRA and gun lovers are trying to convince us to arm up so we have a sense of agency in all this. That is precisely the wrong advice. We do have agency, but if we learn the theory and practice of unarmed security, de-escalation, and face-to-face negotiation and mediation we will draw down the damage and begin to turn this giant problem-set around. There are resources. Check out the nonviolence training hub and other resources located in various towns in the US, for what might be happening near you, or what you can help bring to your community.

This will not work by waiting for a government mandate; it can only succeed by a bottom-up generalized acceptance of responsibility to put our shoulders to the wheel of culture and society where we live, where our children go to school, and where our police patrol. The harder we work on developing nonviolence as a skill set the closer we grow to each other, the healthier our communities become, and the more we trust and care for and understand each other. Isn’t it time?

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Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and founding director of PeaceVoice

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