The Policing Controversy, Part Two

Police Officers or Peace Keepers?

 Police violence against child

In my last post, (, I said:

The police have often (not always) become an “occupying” force for some elements of our population bringing harsh consequences for minor misbehavior while protecting not only the lives and property of the upper and middle classes, but shielding them from facing the consequences of illegal activity – especially in the case of their children.  (See below for documentation.) And of course, there is the problem many of us have with the increase of military type equipment in our police departments.

What should the role of the police be?

First, maybe we need to stop calling them “police officers.” I think what we call ourselves makes a difference in how we behave. They are sometimes referred to as “peace officers”, a term first used in 1649.  If they see themselves as spreading peace, rather than as catching villains, they might not be as ready to see others as villains.

And maybe we shouldn’t use the word “officers” which has a military edge to it. According to Wikipedia, “An officer is a person who has a position of authority in a hierarchical organization.” We’re supposed to be a democracy, not a “hierarchy”.

How about “peace keepers”?

Newark Police Department detective Michelle Cote, left, lets 4-year-old Kevin Maresca wear her cap during a visit to Ironbound Community Corp Preschool, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, has partnered with PSEG to develop "Let's Get Ready: Planning Together for Emergencies" and "Here For Each Other: Helping Families After Emergencies" emergency preparedness and response initiatives in English and Spanish. These apps will help families talk with their children about preparing and dealing with emergencies. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Second, we must insist that our “peace keepers” have training in non-violent approaches to people with special needs.  Far too many people with special needs have been killed by police when there was no need.

Third, we must educate our “peace keepers” in the cultures of people from all the different ethnicities that make up our communities.  Yes, ethnic studies.

And fourth, let’s make their uniforms less intimidating and more friendly.  During the 1960’s when I attended my first protest march in Berkeley, the Berkeley police wore khaki uniforms.  They lined the march, but seemed friendly and protective.  We got to the Oakland border and the police were wearing black uniforms and swinging bully clubs.  To me, at 22 years old, they were very frightening.  If the police are working for us, they should not appear frightening to us.

We spend lots of time teaching our police how to shoot a gun, how to physically restrain people, ramping up their adrenal reactions to situations, and very little time training them how to approach a situation slowly and calmly, how to read the body language of people with a different cultural background than their own, and yes, how to take the “flight” reaction rather than the “fight” one when faced with “flight or fight” situations.  Simply moving to a protected place from which to negotiate with someone who is out of control rather than shooting them seems much more logical to me.

Our jails are full of people with mental illness. Why are they there instead of in institutions designed to help them? Our jails are full of very young men who behaved stupidly, as teenagers of all races and ethnicities are apt to do.

Interesting that black and brown boys are in jail, and the white ones released to their parents. The police are the first in line to effect this, often taking kids down to the station and calling their parents. Judges, of course, are second in line here giving probation or community service to white boys and jail to black kids.  (See corroborating articles listed below.)

Who wants to be a police officer?  It would be interesting to interview various officers to find what drew them to policing? There are many good officers out there. Why did they join?

We also know that there are many who join because they want the power and the gun. These folks need to be weeded out. Our “peace keepers” need to cease being a symbol of authoritarian power and start being a symbol of someone who can help – for all peoples, not just the wealthy and the white.

Please feel free to add your suggestions on policing in the comments or on my posting of this article on Facebook or Twitter.  My next post will continue the discussion.

Helpful references:

Black kids get harsher sentences: *

The original meaning of the word “police” was “policy.”  How did it move from “policy” to meaning “the regulation and control of a community”?

In my novel, The Earth Woman Tree Woman Quartet, there is a world wide protest movement.  At one of the marches the Earth Woman Tree Woman challenges the police to become a part of the movement.  In this mystical fantasy, humans are trying to rejoin the Tsin Twei, the dance of life, where all the species on earth (except one…) dance together in order to have a compassionate understanding of all their needs.

You can order print versions from Powell’s Books or your local independent bookstore, or purchase print and ebook versions at Amazon and Barnes and Noble
Quartet EbookCover

The Policing Controversy

(Important to know as you read this: I am an older white woman of privilege, born in 1943, so these early memories of police encounters come from the nineteen- forties.)

One of my earliest memories – I must have been three or four years old – is of following the wrong coat out of a department store in a town twenty or so miles away from my home town. I had been playing under the dresses on a rack of clothes my mother was looking at. I saw the hem of her coat move away from the rack and followed it out the door of the store. When the woman in the coat turned around and looked at me, I realized she was not my mother.

She gave me a strange look and walked away.

I don’t remember what happened next, I just know that the next memory is of being in a police station – it was a small round building, I think, and white – and sitting inside with the nice policemen eating an ice cream cone waiting for my mother to come pick me up.

In later years my mother and I talked about this event, but I don’t remember being aware of the sheer terror my mother must have felt – that I certainly would have felt – when she looked under the rack of clothes and I wasn’t there. The only moment of terror I remember was when I looked at the woman’s face and she wasn’t my mama and she wasn’t smiling.

I do remember feeling happy with the policemen at the police station.

I know in the neighborhood where I grew up, the role of the police was to make sure the “wrong” people didn’t come into our neighborhood. My father worked for a publishing house. I must have been around eight one night when an author who was coming to our house for dinner was picked up by the police as he walked to our house from the train station. They were polite to him. Asked him where he was headed and gave him a ride to our house, coming to the door with him.

“Why did they do that,” I asked my father, feeling uncomfortable about the whole thing.

“They were just making sure that he really belonged here,” he assured me. The author was a white Englishman who lived in India. I remember that his clothes didn’t look quite the same as an American businessman which probably drew the attention of the police. He wasn’t wearing the uniform of the privileged men of our neighborhood.

Imagine if he’d been black.

Today I live in a traditionally black neighborhood  in Berkeley, CA that is being gentrified.

On my neighborhood elist there has been a lot of discussion about “police.” Many are concerned because people are not applying for police jobs in our community (and apparently in many, many other places) and our police department is understaffed. Some people attribute this to Black Lives Matter and the restrictions placed on police. (Actually, the restrictions have been there. What is different is the call for enforcement of those restrictions.)

Some don’t think that more policing is the answer. Some don’t want any police at all.

There hasn’t been a lot of discussion on my neighborhood elist about the role of police.

Historical research shows police have traditionally been about protecting the rich. In the south policing came about from the slave patrols who chased down runaway slaves. In England the first police were “marine police” who were protecting the cargoes of ship owners. (

In his article, Guardians or Warriors? The Changing Role of Law Enforcement, Timothy Roufa says:

When the concept of a uniformed police force was first championed by Sir Robert Peel in London in the early 1800s, he was met with much resistance due to fears of what would essentially be a standing army within the city; comparisons were made to police as a government-sanctioned occupying force. The problem of how to enforce laws while preserving rights is not at all new. (

It’s clear to me that this has become a real problem. The police have often (certainly not always) become an “occupying” force for some elements of our population bringing harsh consequences for minor misbehavior while protecting not only the lives and property of the upper and middle classes, but shielding them from facing the consequences of illegal activity – especially in the case of their children.  (See below for documentation.) And of course, there is the problem many of us have with the increase of military type equipment in our police departments.

What should the role of police officers be?

I will continue this discussion in my next posts. Please send me your suggestions and ideas through the comments section or on my facebook or twitter link to this post.

Helpful references:

Black kids get harsher sentences:*

The original meaning of the word “police” was “policy.”  How did it move from “policy” to meaning “the regulation and control of a community”?

In my novel, The Earth Woman Tree Woman Quartet, there is a world wide protest movement.  At one of the marches the Earth Woman Tree Woman challenges the police to become a part of the movement.  In this mystical fantasy, humans are trying to rejoin the Tsin Twei, the dance of life, where all the species on earth (except one…) dance together in order to have a compassionate understanding of all their needs.

You can order print versions from Powell’s Books or your local independent bookstore, or purchase print and ebook versions at Amazon and Barnes and Noble
Quartet EbookCover


March for Our Lives and the March for the Dance of Life

Last Saturday I listened to the speakers at the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. on the radio.  I laughed, I cried, I clapped my hands to one, four, and ten.  I tried to sing along to “We Will Shine.” I wasn’t there, but I joined the march where I was.

I have marched before, for women, for Black Lives Matter, and many years ago for the Civil Rights Movement, and over, and over again during my long life for the end of some particular war. Marches have brought me hope, which is probably why the climax of my mystical fantasy novel, The Earth Woman Tree Woman Quartet, is a march by a group called One Earth Together that is joined by people all over the earth.  Each group has its own song, its own particular story, and its own Tla Twein. (See my last post, Exploring Your Tla Twein).

For instance, an “island nation” is described:

“… another group swept in, a deep red and black sparkling with bright colors pouring into the amphitheater like lava from a volcano, their island song flowing like an undercurrent through the songs of the others.

We are the land in the sea, sun cooled by sea breeze.
Bright blossoms, many-colored joy,
mirrored in darting fish, corals, and anemone,
in the depths of the clear blue sea.

We come from our creator-destroyer,
fierce goddess, dark beauty,
erupting in fire from the deep,
flowing in red-yellow rivers,
pouring in black writhing smoke,
building our soft gentle island
our land in the sea.

Protect our island. Protect our sea.
Come, our tempestuous island goddess,
pour your fierce love,
fierce and fiery love, into me.

We come from creation-destruction.
In death, new life will be.
We risk death in defiance.
A sacrifice, so Gaia can be freed.

As they sing their songs they are swept up to Ninas Twei, the mystical world of the Dance of Life, the place where all the species dance together to ensure the continuance of life on earth.

You can join in singing and dancing one of these climatic songs by going to  The words are:

Arise, arise, Open your heart!
Open your heart to the Dance of Life.
Arise, arise, Open your eyes!
See the world in the Dance of Life.
Beat your feet
To the beat of your heart!
Dance the Dance of Life!

Peace, peace, Laughter and dance!
Joy and life for us all.
Sing your tears, Sing your fears,
Defy oppression through the years,
Dance the Dance of Life!

Arise, arise, Open your heart!
Open your heart to the Dance of Life.
Arise, arise, Open your eyes!
Dance the Dance of Life!

Read more about the Dance of Life in The Earth Woman Tree Woman Quartet available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and through independent book stores everywhere.

Want to know more about your Tla Twein? (see last post, Exploring Your Tla Twein) If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area I am holding a workshop where we can explore our Tla Twein through dance, song, art and poetry on April 28th from 2-5 pm in Oakland.  Contact me at for more information.

On attending an Art Response to Japanese Internment:

cranes on branch
The dancing, the poems carried the message,
In our muscles, our bones.

letters from the interned.
A connection –
tenuous but important
to those left behind.

A thousand tiny red origami cranes
moving with the hands of the dancers,
forming shapes,
a heart.

The presence of people
black, brown, white
so warm and right.
All one

Japanese Internment.
Immigrant Detention.
Incarceration of minor drug offenders.
Genocide of Jews, of Armenians,
Indigenous Peoples,
Africans on slave ships.

The pain of separation
one group from the rest
is a ripping pain,
our Selves
No longer whole.

For the oppressed side
their very lives threatened.

The oppressors
numb themselves
to the pain
eating them
from the inside out,
killing them, too,
soul dead.

We cannot be whole without all of us present.
When I left the Art Response I carried with me a desire to never again be in a gathering without everyone there, every race, religion, culture, age, gender.

All the living and non-living things in the Universe are One Being emerging from one singularity. All pain belongs to all of us. When we hide ourselves from the ugliness of the pain we have caused, deny the pain, it becomes a disease eating us from the inside.

We are oblivious to it and it will destroy us all.

Never again.  Never again.  NEVER AGAIN!


Our US Version of Hunger Games

From Allan Kehler’s blog at the website

From Allan Kehler’s blog  post, Unity, at the website

I’ve just finished reading the first book of The Hunger Games series.  I’ve seen the movie, but as a novelist realize I really need to read this series and some others that are supposedly young adult novels (they appeal to me and I’m far from a “young” adult).

This dystopian novel is about a United States taken over by corporate greed. The powers-that-be (referred to as the “Capital”) control the outer Districts by setting up a competition to the death between two children of each district, chosen by lottery, in a wild terrain called the arena.  The competition is called the “Hunger Games.”

I thought about what the “Hunger Games” did to keep the “Capital” in power.  By setting up the competition between the Districts they not only terrorize the Districts, but they divide them – turning them against each other.

Except for the blatant violence, Roman circus atmosphere of the Hunger Games, this is not too different from what is happening in this country today.  Using racism as the tool, the one percent is tearing apart any unity the rest of us might have by setting us against each other.  Trump, of course, is having a lot of fun playing into this.

“It must be those immigrants that are stealing our jobs,” — not the corporations that have sent the jobs overseas, or who are hoarding their money in tax havens so that they don’t have to pay their fair share of taxes.

“Those Muslims are terrorists and out to kill us,” — despite the fact that far more Muslims are being killed than people of any other religion by the violent extremists in the Middle East.  Extremists who are armed to the teeth with weapons sold by American corporations and those from other wealthy countries.  (I wonder just what the weapons industry has to do with this promotion of endless war?)

“That black man walking down the street must be casing my house because we know all black men are criminals.  Look how many are in jail,” – even though we know that the war on drugs was used as a way to imprison black men, destroy families, giving them huge sentences despite the nonviolence of their crimes which then made it very difficult for them to get jobs. This and so much more had the intent to dampen the success of the civil rights movement.

I’m hoping, as I start on the second and third novels of The Hunger Games series, to find that the “districts” find a way to unite against the corporate interests.  I’m hoping, too, that we will stop this racist nonsense here in our real world and begin to pull together for the good of all humanity and the earth.

This is the story that goes with the picture above (from

At the Festival of Peace in Brazil, journalist and philosopher, Lia Diskin, shared the story about an anthropologist who was studying the habits and customs of an African tribe referred to as ‘Ubuntu’. The anthropologist asked some children from this tribe to participate in a game. He placed a basket full of candy at the base of a nearby tree, and told the children that whoever got to the basket first was the recipient of all the candy.

After organizing the children behind a line that he had drawn on the ground, the anthropologist announced ‘Go!’ To his surprise, he observed all of the children join hands and run together towards the prize. One they reached the candy they all sat down together to enjoy their winnings.

The anthropologist was intrigued and asked them why they had run together when one could have had all the treats. One of the children responded by saying, “How can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?”

Yes.  How can any of us be happy when so many of us are sad, hungry, discriminated against, warred upon, dying, being pushed out of our homes…



What do we mean when we call someone a thug? If you google it, you find the meaning of this word is all over the place these days.

The urban dictionary says:

As Tupac defined it, a thug is someone who is going through struggles, has gone through struggles, and continues to live day by day with nothing for them. That person is a thug and the life they are living is the thug life. A thug is NOT a gangster. Look up gangster and gangsta. Not even CLOSE, my friend.

“That boy ain’t a gangsta, fo’sho’. Look at how he walks, he’s a thug… That’s the saddest face I’ve seen in all my life as a teen.”

Historically the word “thug” has been used to mean people who gang up and beat up others.  It originates in India – a group of robbers who attacked people, beating them up and killing them in the name of Kali, the defeater of demons. Did these people think the people they attacked were demons or is this just another of the many examples of people taking the name of some god or goddess or religion and twisting it to suit their own personal needs? (I’m tempted to segue into research about these original “thugs”, but I’ll refrain and bring the discussion back to today!)

Until recently I associated this term with fascism.  The historically earliest use of the term that I remember reading about was when “thugs” hired by companies attacked labor organizers.  In some historical accounts the Pinkertons and other hired militias were referred to as “thugs”.

Before World War II there were “fascist thugs” who attacked labor organizers, Jews, and others in Italy and in Germany.

Even today the words “anti-union thug” can be found in articles on the internet although they are talking about a metaphoric “beating”, rather than a physical one.

But mostly today I see the word used by white people on elists and comment sections as a code word for “black or brown man” (sometimes women, too).  I guess these people think they can claim not to be racist because they never identified the people they’re talking about as black or brown – even though it’s clear to everyone.

I do understand what Tupac was talking about in the quote above. I see young black men in my neighborhood looking lost. I had a conversation with a young black man in a class I was taking who said a third of his high school classmates were dead. Where are these young men to find grounding when we both haven’t prepared them for adult life in our society, and even when they are prepared, there are no jobs for them – where those hiring take one look at them and turn them down because they’re black.

But I have a hard time referring to these young men as “thugs”, even using Tupac’s definition.  I want us to stop using this word and start seeing each person in front of us as a complex human being whose life might be awash with fear, with violence, neglect, and the low self-esteem that comes from being immersed in the values of a racist society.

Please, no more name calling!

Running Internal Scripts

Racism permeated our childhood
A muddy stream constant through our lives
Crying out to our innocence with its painfulness
Interfering with our friendships
Seen clearly in our child-eyes as the wrong it was
Murdering the purity of our souls.

(Tyler, Humming on the High Wire, 30)
(Tyler, Dancing the Deep Hum, 62)

Last post, just as I was talking about the “script” we have that says people shouldn’t complain about being victimized; they should just ‘grow wings’, another old script came popping up out of the ether.

An article circulated through Facebook about a justice of the peace in Louisiana who refused to marry an interracial couple.  His excuse?  It would be hard on any children they might have.  “He came to the conclusion that most of black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships, and neither does white society.” (

We all have scripts running in our head especially from things we heard as a child, but also from messages we’ve heard repeated over and over again on TV, in both ads and shows, in church, at schools, and in organizations we belong to.  This justice’s comment is one of those scripts I heard many times as a child and young adult.

One friend, who probably had not heard this script before, questioned whether or not this was really racist.  He felt the justice had thought it through and believed that he was doing the right thing for the children.

Of course, many racists believe that they are right, that “separation of the races” is the way things should be.

What makes this action racist is not that he believed he was right, but that he had motives that came as a result of an attitude that white and black “races” should be kept separate.

I’m sure this justice isn’t living totally isolated from what is going on in the rest of this country.  In the movies, on TV, in magazines and in the newspapers, interracial couples, and their offspring, abound.   Our own president is the offspring of an interracial couple.

All of these folks are, for the most part, accepted in both the black and white worlds, and indeed those worlds overlap far more than they did when I first heard this “script” back in the fifties.  The prevalence of interracial children has done a great deal to further this overlapping of societies.

So, in 2009, the argument doesn’t make any sense, if it ever really did.

When I first heard this script the social climate did sometimes make it hard for interracial couples and their children.  But because we rose up, black and white together, to fight against racism, the world changed, drastically.  So now the argument is just a “script” left running around in people’s heads.

How subtle, how hidden even from our own awareness are our reactions when judging others.  There are lots of scripts about other people hidden in our subconscious minds.  They pop randomly into our consciousness when we encounter people of different ethnic groups, different religions, with physical differences, etc.  Even though we don’t like to admit it, if we are truthful we all know it is true.

We didn’t create the scripts and we usually, dearly, don’t want them there, but we can’t erase them, only recognize them and reject them as they pop up, and, most importantly, refuse to perpetuate them by letting our children hear them.

I have learned when the script from some inane television ad for something that is not good for me pops into my head, to “just say no!” (A useful “script”!)  That’s because I recognize the ad script for what it is.

We have to learn to recognize the racist, elitist, stereotyping scripts that are around (and unfortunately “in”) us and say no, no, no to them, sometimes over and over again.

And in the case of the justice of the peace we need to go farther.  What he did is against the law.  We need to say, “No, no, no, you can no longer hold this office.”

Take a deep breath.  Let it out with a long sigh.  Shake one hand and then the other.  Shake your whole body.  Let my ideas dance in your head and through your body.  If they sit well, keep them.  If not, throw them out! (For more information on deep breaths, sighs, and shaking go to

You can find more about my experiences with racism in my book, Dancing the Deep Hum, One woman’s ideas on how to live in a dancing, singing universe! You can learn more about this book and my other writings at  You can purchase Dancing the Deep Hum online at, Amazon, or Powells, or order it from your local bookstore.

Not So Little Boxes

Last post I talked about our love/hate relationship with the personal boxes we put ourselves in.  But there are some socially imposed boxes that we are put in because of our race, our culture, our religion, our physical makeup, etc. that carry with them stereotypes of behavior and expectation that are even harder to escape.

Remember the folk song about the calf “bound for market” who is told by the farmer to stop complaining.  “Who told you to be a calf?  You should be like the swallow and have wings.”  I always loved this song, but recently I’ve begun to see the subtle irony in the story.

I identify with the calf, not the farmer, or the swallow.

Why is this?   Is it because there is an unwritten subtext in the song?  Probably.

Calves don’t have a choice to grow wings and fly away.  The only way the calf is going to escape being sold and slaughtered is if there is outside intervention.  That’s not the calf’s fault.  If we look at it from this point of view, the song, using the voice of the calf’s exploiter — the farmer — is blaming the victim for his victimhood.  The farmer has put the calf in a box that says, “All calves are meant for slaughter.”

This was not the original intention of the author, Aaron Tsaytlin (1899-1974).  The song was written in Yiddish during the Nazi era and translated into English first by the composer of the music, Sholom Secunda, and later by Arthur Kevess and Teddi Schwartz.

There is no voice of the farmer in the original translation.  The song is written from the point of view of the calf who asks the wind, “Why can’t I fly like the swallow, why did I have to be a calf?”  The wind replies, “Calves are born and soon are slaughtered with no hope of being saved.  Only those with wings like swallows will not ever be enslaved.”  The voice of the wind is not the voice of an exploiter, but a neutral voice.  It seems to be saying, “This is the way things are.”  This doesn’t blame the victim, but it also leaves the victim feeling pretty hopeless! (

Interestingly, the second English translation, the one written from the farmer’s point of view, was written in 1956, after the defeat of the Nazis.

There is a “script” in our society that says that people shouldn’t complain about being victimized.  They should just “grow wings” and pull themselves out of the situation, out of poverty, out of racism, and all the myriad other deep mires people find themselves in.  In other words, if you are victimized, it’s your own fault and it’s okay to exploit you!

In the case of calves, it is obvious that we humans, born with physical advantages that privilege us and make us able to exploit the calves, are the only ones who can help them escape their circumstances.  In Dancing the Deep Hum when talking about this song I said:

….. I [can’t] help but imagine a stampede of cattle rising up against their human oppressors.
Mad cows, rather than mad cow disease!   (DDH, p 86)

We all know hundreds of “scripts”, stereotypes, boxes that people are placed in because of their race, religion, country of origin, size, age, etc.   Even those  who happen to be born with privilege are put in a box which makes it easy for them to fall into the role of exploiter, a box that can also be difficult to break out of!

We all of us, exploited and exploiter, need to be willing to ask for, and offer, help to break the boxes of stereotype we find ourselves in.   Frankly, I think if we can’t find ways to do this our world doesn’t have much hope of surviving.

How do we deal with this hard stuff?  Take a deep breath, let it out with an audible sigh!  Shake out one hand, and then another!  Shake yourself all over!  Let out another deep sigh and head out into the world!  (For more about sighing and shaking go to!)