Police brutality no joking matter

To the editor,

I walked into Miller Middle School the other day to pick my son up. It was still in the middle of the day and the energy in the lunchroom was full, their schedule having been delayed by a fire drill. As I was walking out, I witnessed a uniformed police officer take an eighth-grade boy and thrust his arm behind his back in a submissive hold. I paused to see what was going on. The boy was released and then the officer pushed a young girl up against the wall, her hands up. I looked at my son in disbelief, feeling some-thing to be wrong, and he reassured me that the officer always played with the students like this. I felt moved to speak with the officer, but my son pulled me out the door by my shirt sleeve, telling me everything was OK.

I would like to remind my community that everything is actually not OK. In an age where the tensions between police and their community are high, where police are killing people every day across our country, where officers are armed with military surplus and trained in anti-terrorist techniques, the casual action of a uniformed officer exhibiting actions of dominance toward children, however playfully intended, sends deep messages into the psyche of our children. These messages reinforce the separation and fear that people feel toward these roles of au- thority. I admit, to walk through a mass of eighth-graders in uniform must be challenging for any person. The effort to reach out and attempt a familiar ease of contact with a herd of kids, a deeply mammalian instinct, may have moved this officer from a place of wanting to connect. But the fact that this playful wrestling occurred while in uniform sends other messages, suggesting to these children what their place is in relation to authority.

Today, we have to press voice-activated systems to pass through the locked-down front doors of our children’s schools. Uniformed officers roam the halls. Such institutionalized efforts on the part of our education systems parallels those of our prison systems. Yes, the message is that schools today are dangerous places. In the most heavily armed country in the world, people live in fear, in the shadow of expectation, waiting for the next school shooting to occur. Tragically, mass shootings have become too common place. Our administrators are tasked with taking a stance that shows they are doing all they can to prevent such dangers. However, a deeper message is at play. The way we frame problems is important, and the apparent solutions often contribute to the problem. Crime? Build more prisons. Now we actually have more criminals. Traffic? Build more roads. Now there are actually more cars. There is something fundamental and problematic in our thinking that must be addressed.

I encourage parents to speak with their children about their place in the world, especially as they attend institutionalized brick-and-mortar schools that reinforce deep messages about their place in society and what it means to be human. As our schools are now occupied by uniformed officers, who in their attempt to connect with students may be playfully (or not so playfully) putting our children up against walls, the importance of communicating to your child the vision of the future is real. We must strive to unpack the infectious messaging of institutional thinking that has led to a great separation between ourselves and the sacredness of all of life. Our place on this planet powerfully demands that we empower our children to see their role as caring, creative and cooperative, not submissive.

– Don Lewis, Durango

PS: Despite concerns about the institutionalization of education, I want to acknowledge that in essence Miller is a good place, filled with a great staff, and that this officer himself may indeed be a great guy. My son loves being there. To be clear, I am writing in response to an incident I witnessed that is problematic to me because it normalizes behavior that I feel is wrong.