Posted on: February 19, 2021 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

By Mariah Trujillo, JRN 111 Student

Tensions of the riotous year past, ways to rebuild trust between people and police, and the most crucial domestic threats to our democracy were topics explored during a Moraine Valley Democracy Commitment panel discussion Tuesday morning.

“As educators, since we have a pipeline right to the people, maybe it’s a duty for us to air out the dirty laundry, hear people out, and realize that everybody is right in a certain circumstance, just not everybody is right at the same time,” said panelist Mathew Harland, who is a police officer, criminal justice professor and Marine Corps veteran.

What I am doing is trying to take police out of situations that are a waste of their time, are super dangerous and unproductive, where they are not trained, and leave them to do the things they are trained to do.”

John Roman, University of Chicago

The panel also included John Roman, senior fellow of economics, justice, and society at NORC at the University of Chicago, and Merri Fefles-Dunkle, a Moraine Valley professor of history, political science, and sociology. Political science professor Kevin Navratil moderated the event.

The event, entitled “Civil Unrest in the U.S.,” was held on the videoconferencing tool Webex from 10 to 11:15 a.m. 

The panel began with a discussion based on what Navratil called a “massive” increase in homicide rates over the past year.

Roman said 48 of the 50 biggest cities in the United States saw significant increases in homicide in 2020 compared to 2019.

“This is unparalleled,” he said, calling it “the largest one-year increase frankly we’ve ever seen.”

Excessive free time due to the pandemic, along with built-up tension over a drastic period of time, were among the causes, he said: “When you have dense clusters of young men with very little to do, who aren’t employed, aren’t in school, aren’t in training, and put them back in their most disadvantaged neighborhoods, what we see is a lot of prior conflicts and not surprisingly, a lot of these conflicts escalate.”

Harland agreed, adding that with such a rise in conflict, police activity also is increasing.

“It’s going to be a long retracted event,” Harland said. “We’re going to see those police interactions on my level because a lot of those support networks are not in place to defer or delay the youths from other opportunities.”

‘Policing the police’

Navratil asked the panelists how to restore trust of law enforcement in the United States, which  is declining due to previous incidents. The panelists agreed that society’s first-hand interactions with authority play a large role.

Roman said officers should “avoid adversarial actions.” In other words, he feels it is best for officers to not make assumptions and jump into situations where there is uncertainty, which can cause unnecessary conflict between authority and the people.

 “What I am doing is trying to take police out of situations that are a waste of their time, are super dangerous and unproductive, where they are not trained, and leave them to do the things they are trained to do,” Roman said.

Harland disagreed, saying that as a police officer, it is his duty to do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of his community, even if that is dangerous.

“We are not paid for what we do; we are paid for what we might have to do,” he said.

If we are talking about militarization of police…in the domestic sense, we’re going to end up not just looking like the military but acting like it too.”

Mathew Harland, criminal justice professor

Harland pointed out that policing requires “perpetual leg work” to build not only community relations but also a “sense of understanding and empathy” toward police. The extra work is needed to help people see that officers are solely working to “protect life, liberty and the livelihoods of their community,” he said.

Fefles related the topic of distrust of police to time she had spent in Northern Ireland. The authority there was so overbearing, she said, that she often couldn’t even distinguish the military from officers.

“At the time I was there, there was a heavy British army presence,” she said. “They were ever-present. The helicopters are something I will always remember. You would hear stories from people on the ground saying, ‘They always know what’s going on.’”

She said this situation led people to disconnect from their government, but as the reins have been loosened, over time, that trust has been reinstalled. Fefles explained that the country still has a lot of progress to make but that Northern Ireland now is nothing like it was 20 years ago.

Her point was that, if actions are taken to better the relationship between the people and authority, there is hope to rebuild trust. But the process wasn’t quick; it will take time and a lot of effort from both sides.

Growing threats to democracy

While we tend to see threats coming from outside our country, the panelists agreed that the greatest threat to our democracy is from domestic terrorism.

 “I think we just need to change our political orientation and be a little less afraid of the Boogeyman from the Middle East and maybe a little more afraid of the Boogeyman in New York City,” Roman said.

Harland spoke about the dangers of viewing the police as militia in the “war on terror”: “If we are talking about militarization of police…in the domestic sense, we’re going to end up not just looking like the military but acting like it too.”

Harland said he wishes there was more transparency into the lives of an officer because he feels that this could easily reinstall the trust lost.

“If I could ever get a body cam, I’ll gladly wear it,” said Harland. “I’ll put it on YouTube if I could because the things that you could see if we had that increased transparency, I think, over the course of 10 to 20 years, could change the perspective of law enforcement.”