Showing My Cards

During the 1968 Olympics, African American athletes from the United States that gave the “Black Power” salutes in support of the civil rights movement were LOUDLY derided. The International Olympic Committee kicked Tommie Smith and John Carlos out of the Olympics simply for bowing their heads and raising a fist during the national anthem. That was peaceful – and made too much of white America uncomfortable almost 52 years ago. Sounds a lot like today, doesn’t it? Why do we get to be “comfortable” with a protest, unless if the only outcome is that we don’t want to be bothered under any circumstance?

I feel compelled, due to recent current events, to explain a few things about me and this blog. By nature, blogs ARE a selfish endeavor. I’m going to start very general (talking about me) and work up to the specific. Upfront, this is totally shaped by the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent events in Minneapolis, MN. If you feel like you’ve been bombarded, look away now, but I’m not apologizing.

-I’m white – that’s just stating the obvious. I think my parents did a pretty damn good job of raising me to be conscious of others that would fit, in America, the “minority” label and treating everyone with love, kindness, and an eye for equality. However, that is for others to actually judge if I’m doing a good job – I can’t judge myself. I don’t want my friends jumping in on the comments to defend me – that’s selection bias, as there are a lot of people that I’ve only had a few interactions with that won’t find this blog that might have an opinion. We don’t get to solely judge ourselves. Ultimately, I try really, really hard to be fair, equitable – all the superlatives – but that’s for someone else to judge if I’m doing “enough”. I hope I measure up.

-Politically, I’m “lefty by accident.” I’d like to think of myself as “independent”, but then there’s my voting record. And before people criticize me, I want to make a few points. One, is I understand conservative viewpoints, at least on some issues. Two, my parents raised me to be fiercely self-reliant, a key conservative sticking point. It makes A LOT of sense to me – I personally don’t ask for help until I’ve exhausted all other alternatives (can you see how I burned out on career #1)? I really do think that’s very important on an INDIVIDUAL level.

Side bar – I think all political philosophies fail on some level. Libertarianism – small government fails because pure capitalism is a) brutal and b) people want to pick who their neighbor they help is – and I think history has shown that leads us to be discriminatory. Oh, and power winds up in the hands of a few. Communism fails – fewer opportunities for self-advancement, oh, and somehow, power still wound up in the hands of a few. I think you can point this out about any political philosophy.

Anyway, it comes down to a simple choice for me. I don’t love liberals and hate conservatives. They each have their share of crazies. As I weigh options, it comes down to this – which is less brutal? Which emphasizes compassion? Lately, it seems to be the lefties.

Before you lefties start cheering – understand something. The reason many conservatives don’t like liberal philosophy is simple – big government tends to run amok (and it’s really hard to argue against it). The only reason I tend to support the left is that it forces people to treat everyone equally (you don’t get to pick your neighbor – everyone is your neighbor). If that could be done without big government, I’m listening and interested (I just haven’t seen that happen). And no, Libertarians, you haven’t done that – nor can you realistically ensure that (not to my satisfaction at any rate). Sorry.

This will rub some people the wrong way, but it makes the point. I gave a talk to my church when I quit medicine about working in a Federally Qualified Health Center and the challenges and inequities therein, and I ended with a quote from Lewis Black – the comedian – who is 1) Jewish and 2) a self-avowed socialist (I’m not a socialist by any stretch ). But I like his quote:

“Part of the reason I believe in Socialism, is if you are going to have a Christian philosophy – if that is going to be the basis for the country – and it IS a Christian philosophy, and I know this, because I’m a Jew – you might want Socialism. Because what it is is enforced Christianity. You put your money where your mouth is, and shut up. We’re not going to wait on you to help the poor. We’re going to help the poor, like it or not. Toughski shitski.”

Like Lewis Black or not, he has a point. If we get to pick our neighbors, and get to pick whom we offer compassion and help, 1) ouch 2) there’s a lot of people who deserve and benefit from help (that have done well with it and deserve it) that have historically been ignored and 3) I think if we are honest, many of us have benefitted from help and services that maybe we didn’t otherwise “deserve.” I fit #3.

My point? I don’t disagree with conservatives on some ideas or principles. And I’m aware that many liberals (perhaps myself at times) would discount the cost factor in debates (we really can’t fund EVERYTHING). Liberalism does in fact have its downsides (sorry lefties, it just does. Everything has a plus and a minus.) I just can’t get past the arbitrary nature of getting to “choose” our neighbors and who would have been left in the cold. Fact of the matter is, many changes that have been made would not have happened had they not been mandated and forced upon us. Along those lines…

-It’s an old lesson, but one that people don’t seem to get – if you don’t clean up your own when you have a problem house, someone will clean it up for you – and you won’t like what they do. I was in medical school in the early 2000s when it was clear that overworking residents (100-120 hour work weeks really ARE bad for people) had to stop. I don’t know how much of a chance residency programs were given to change before regulations were imposed upon them. In 2002-2003, as a fourth year student – I worked like a dog under the “old” no rules system.

In 2003, as a new resident, I worked under the “new” system. “80-30-1 in 7” is what I remember. Your hours had to average out to 80 hours per week in a 4 week window, no more than 30 hours on duty consecutively, and you had to have 1 day off in 7. My program tried really hard to obey the rule – but the first few years were hard, and honestly, my duty was to my patients – so if I went over, I wasn’t going to tattle.

What’s the rule now? No clue. Again, 4 years removed from working in medicine and I’m a dinosaur.

Was the “80-30 rule” a good solution? Ummm, I don’t think so. Stockholm syndrome I guess. As a trainee, there were certain things I needed to see and do in order to truly learn about diseases and patients that didn’t pertain to a clock.

At one point as a 2nd year resident, I still had a ton of work, and it was 12:45 PM. My attending, a great man by the name of Dr. Fete, told me, “Jason, you need to wrap up. It’s almost 1 PM.” I looked him in the eye, turned off my pager, and said, “It’s 11:45 in Denver.” I disappeared down a stairwell to do patient care. I won’t tell you when I left the hospital.

The rule was put into place because programs weren’t taking care of their residents. Programs had known that overworked physicians make mistakes – and there could be a variety of ways to structure it. The programs, in essence, told the ACGME (Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education – the body that oversees residency programs)  “Screw you, stay out of our kitchen. We’ll do this our way.” Which was to do very little. So the ACGME came up with a solution for everyone – which very few places liked.

My point? Police departments have known there’s been an issue with community relations, excessive use of force for some time. Within the last 5-6 years, there have been notable cases on national news that have come to light – though people more intelligent and those that have more experience will probably inform me that the problem predates this. And the police – while maybe paying out lawsuit money – have come out largely unscathed. This ought to have been the warning of, “hey, it’s time to change. You can do this willingly, or someone is going to it for you.”

And the pity is, there are plenty of good officers. I’m sure of it. That’s not the point. When bad things keep happening, and 1) there seem to be no consequences for the officers that do wrong and 2) if the departments don’t change, it erodes trust in the community. 

You’ve had chances to clean up willingly, and you are running out of chances. And I guarantee, when changes are forced upon you, the solutions created won’t be onces that officers like. It will be overkill, and force undue restrictions upon the officers that are doing perfectly fine jobs now. Tough. You’ve had the chance to take care of your own house, and you’ve failed. If you are getting taxpayer money, the taxpayers damn well expect that you report to them and protect them equally. If you want to build TRUST with the community, you have to change. You will have to bend to the community – according to the community’s wishes (you had your chance, and you did nothing.) No whining now if you don’t like the solution thrust upon you.

-Broader point – speaking up about seeing wrong isn’t “snitching.” I hear this from my students, and we hear that “good police officers” can’t “snitch” about the bad cops.

B.S.

When you see something wrong – it’s your job to speak up.

White people – if you see something wrong (racial injustice) – speak out.

Covering up a crime – that’s a problem.

Problems don’t get addressed if the problem doesn’t see the light of day. And this is a universal issue, one that doesn’t fall along “white vs. black”, “old vs. young”, “rich vs. poor” lines.

The reports have to be taken seriously, or course. The problem is that the “no snitching” culture is championed by the people that have something to hide.

(Big difference between two year old that “tattle” vs. real problems that are being hidden and actual wrong / harm that is being done)

-Unpopular part of this post (maybe) – if you want better officers, we’re going to have to pay them MORE. The job is complicated, dangerous, and it isn’t what it used to be. We want and need officers in emergencies to be aware and to be able to respond to people with mental health issues (that’s a big portion of what happens).

A lot is asked. A lot of training is needed. A lot of critical thinking and compassion is needed – and toughness at the right time. (And maybe, the requirements to be a police officer need to be more stringent).

Guess what? If such things are put in place – they should be PAID accordingly.

-Officers are held to a high standard (and many tough jobs are). In my old world – I could get sued easily. I was under pressure night and day. In my current world, if I do something that a student or a parent doesn’t like – I can hear from them, or my principal quickly. Do I like it? No. Is it fair? Probably not. Solution? I’d better be good. So I strive to be. Does it hurt when someone complains and I feel like I’m awesome 99% of the time or more (and the complaint is off base)? Absolutely. Is being a police officer tougher than being a teacher? Tougher – depends on your criteria. More dangerous? Absolutely. My point? I’ve been in jobs held to high standards. I know – it’s really hard and exhausting. They should be paid and supported accordingly. But it is a position of public trust, so it has to be done correctly. And I don’t think asking a police officer to use force a) judiciously and b) equally across skin tones is too big of an ask. If Dylann Roof didn’t get stomped into the ground, George Floyd should be alive and well – can we agree on that?

-The looting is bad – but let’s have some perspective (see the next 2 points). The business owners that had their shops and businesses damaged or destroyed didn’t deserve this. If we don’t accept “collateral damage” in other aspects of life, we can’t accept it here. A friend of mine who owns a small business in St. Louis pointed out that many small businesses aren’t insured against “acts of civil disobedience”. In other words, businesses that help the community are scarred by what happens, and may not be able to come back and HELP. This doesn’t help. These people need to be arrested and prosecuted. Before people pile on and tell me that “rioting is the voice of the unheard,” hang on. The bigger point is….

-This doesn’t happen if the officer in question had been arrested in a timely fashion, like say, any normal person. Folks, it’s May 29th when I wrote this. The murder took place on May 25th. Any other person would have been arrested immediately for this crime. It took 4 days to arrest a police officer for a crime that took place ON CAMERA. If you are condemning the looters, you need to condemn the murder 100x as forcefully. The looting doesn’t happen without the the murder. The community didn’t get together and say, “It’s a nice night, let’s go looting.” None of the looting occurs if the murder doesn’t happen. The looting likely doesn’t occur if this is the first incident. Further, the line defending officers is often, “don’t let the actions of one bad officer detract from all the good cops that we have.” If that’s your defense, “don’t let the actions of a small percentage of the community detract from the majority of law abiding protestors.” If you are going to make that point for the majority for ONE group, do it for both. If the majority of police officers are GOOD, then the majority of protestors are GOOD as well. Which leads me to another point I made…

-Colin Kaepernick tried a peaceful protest by taking a knee during the national anthem. That is peaceful. It’s a protest. It was derided loudly. Why? In comparison – look at what it did. It was actually, in comparison, a much more respectful protest (if we’re going THERE) that 1) got your attention 2) made his point and 3) didn’t damage businesses. So what was the problem? Was it the type of protest? Do protestors need “assent of the majority” to protest? Or was it simply that a black man was protesting? Search your soul on this one. If you had a problem with his protest and have a problem with current events, you have some reconciling to do. Remember, in the 50s and 60s, MLK just marched and took fire hoses because that was “inappropriate.” Protestors have been told that assembling and blocking traffic is over the line. That marching down the street is over the line. (The first two alone have gotten people pepper sprayed and maced) That taking a knee before a sporting event is over the line. The target for the protestors for a “socially appropriate, yet forceful protest” keeps shifting. If we agree that looting is over the line due to collateral damage – then what is an acceptable form of protest that allows someone to express anger that will a) get your attention b) might make you empathize with their point and c) not make them subject to derision? Because I’m honestly confused. (But showing up with guns, if you are white, to threaten legislators is a “peaceful protest”? “Do what I want or I shoot you” is ok? Just checking…)

My father brought up a great point today – a great historical reference. During the 1968 Olympics, African American athletes from the United States that gave the “Black Power” salutes in support of the civil rights movement were LOUDLY derided. The International Olympic Committee kicked Tommie Smith and John Carlos out of the Olympics simply for bowing their heads and raising a fist during the national anthem. That was peaceful – and made too much of white America uncomfortable almost 52 years ago. Sounds a lot like today, doesn’t it? Why do we get to be “comfortable” with a protest, unless if the only outcome is that we don’t want to be bothered under any circumstance?

-As stated before, I care because during my medical career, I worked with a lot of Black children (and I’m sorry if I should be writing “African American”, I’m not trying to use the wrong language nor be inappropriate) and Latino children. I currently teach children (teenagers) of the same background (black and Latino, although my school has a lot of other groups mixed in there, too). I have AWESOME kids. Really smart, motivated, kind students. I had three mystery guests for my Anatomy class, and they all agreed – just awesome young people. I have written stacks of recommendation letters for scholarships and college for my students (I just got another request in my email last night for a young woman that just graduated). I want to help them get ahead in life after they leave my school. And it is painful to think that they could have a very different interaction with a police officer based upon the color of their skin. It’s honestly terrifying for me, so it has to be infinitely worse for them. Their reality is different from my reality – and it needs to stop. And I’m not smart enough to offer solutions. I don’t have answers. Hugging my students won’t solve this. They do need to know I have their back. Beyond that, I don’t know what else to do, except to say, “I’m here to help.”

-The kicker is we need good law enforcement. We need good relationships with police officers for strong communities. The current formula isn’t working well enough FOR EVERYBODY. Law enforcement has to 1) be willing to change and 2) be a willing participant. And it won’t happen overnight. Until police departments really digest this, it’s going to be hard to move forward.

But we don’t need another May 25th. It took almost 96 hours to put a man behind bars that any other person would have been arrested for on the spot. Don’t question the anger of the Black community. Question what we can do to make our communities better.

Author: Jason Kesselring

I am a 42 year old high school chemistry teacher (and former pediatrician), happily married, and a father of two wonderful children.

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