A common theme, in looking at America’s galaxy of ills in the fall of 2020 is that we are moving from being a high trust society into a low trust one. Low trust societies have all sorts of problems, but they boil down to the fact that trust is a lubricant, and less lubricant makes for more friction, which makes for more expensive problems.

A prime example is the breakdown of trust between the community of color, and the police. Now, any police shooting spark can set off a blaze of rioting. Then, both “sides” retrench in their half-right opinions of the issues: the police are doing a difficult job that can look terrible, and they are not to blame for the whole tangle of ill-conceived laws we expect them to manage photogenically. The other “side:” the police urgently need oversight, with a city having the ability to act on that oversight. Communities of color are right to fear a police force that imposes unfair laws on them, which they would never dare apply to the politically-advantaged (or, if they did, the laws would change with rare haste for government work). No community can trust a police force that harvests them for revenue.

Trust-erosion will make crime more likely, as it becomes taboo to cooperate with the police, which will create crime, which will disproportionately hurt those communities of color the riots are being waged for, which will make policing more necessary, not less. Mistrust breeds mistrust. Mistrust is friction, which is exploding in the heat of riots. Rinse, repeat.

This is the forest beyond the trees of the latest shooting-to-riot, that of Walter Wallace, a mentally ill 27 year old in Philadelphia

In the divisions of arguing about this particular shooting, some street-level fieldcraft brings a useful perspective:

1 – The officers Wallace was chasing were back-pedaling. Cops can do that for only a few seconds. Ask any basketball player: it’s harder to go backwards than forwards. They could barely see where they were going. If one of them backed into something, they would have been knifed.

2 – The Tueller Drill. A knife man can often, and surprisingly easily, kill someone with a gun at close range. All cops learn this in training. Historically, even with master swordsmen, a duel often sees both of them killed. Death from gunshot wounds is rarely Hollywood sprawling and instantaneous; there is no phaser with a kill setting that makes a threat vanish. It’s surprisingly hard to hit someone with a handgun, even at close range, particularly when both shooter and target are moving. Add in the loss of fine motor skills from terror, and a gun-vs-knife fight has no assured outcome. Nobody gets paid enough to take a knifing.

3 – The officers may not have trusted each other (though, since they both shot at almost the same instant, I’d say they were in synch in this case). In my experience, large numbers of emergency responders (up to a third, in my estimation) are simply not up to the job, with debatable criteria (that should be apparent to anyone watching their conduct on the news). I have worked with many of them in my emergency responder job as a paramedic. Bad apples need to be fired, for the good of the community, for all the damage their mistakes can cause, and for the safety of their colleagues. Firing bad apples reinforces the good ones, but rot is also contagious. Look around the room you are in, and tally the number of people you would trust with your life to make the right decision, at all, much less a correct decision given only a few seconds. But we can’t get rid of the bad ones because of the legal buttresses protecting them, so their bad behavior (and under-performance) goes unchecked. The true disgrace of the Derek Chauvin fiasco is his history of near serial-killing, which his department could not act on. It takes years, and tens, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to fire such a shit-bird. Getting it wrong can actually dent a town’s budget. The friction of the legal buttress creates a bureaucratic bias to paper-over the issues.

4) We already have crisis intervention teams. They are called the EMS. I have done this kind of work for nigh thirty years. But by the time a mentally ill patient takes up a knife and starts running around in the street, there are no intervention solutions left. A “crisis intervener” will run for their life, same as everyone else. Begging and screaming for someone to drop a deadly weapon counts as a non-violent intervention. Psychiatrists who manage the mentally ill for a living all day, every day, will have their patients cleared for knives through a metal detector. They will have orderlies nearby. Incorrigibly dangerous mentally ill patients are locked down like Hannibal Lecter. There is no neat magic to it (and it’s very un-photogenic). Even those of us who make caring for the mentally ill a creed will not sacrifice ourselves, like Jesus. Typical of the Left, the demand for sacrifice is never a personal offer, they always “volunteer” someone else.

None of this means that the point that Mr. Wallace should have had care for his mental illness is wrong. Quite the contrary: it is an indictment of our mental health system is that he had 911 called on him many, many times, and we still had no way to adequately manage his obvious mental illness. That is an endless loop of procedure without adaptation. Treating someone for mental illness is a long and tedious journey. The time for treating his crisis was long past by the time he tried to knife those officers.

Black Lives Matter (BLM) does have a point, though a bent tip of a distorted one: it says a lot about the society we live in that when it comes to policing (or war) we will write a blank check – whatever it takes. Mental health care is crumbs on the table, policing is the feast. Jail, policing (and war) should be a last resort, those should be the crumbs.

Eugene Darden Nicholas

About Eugene Darden Nicholas

Eugene Darden (Ed) Nicholas is from Flushing Queens, where he grew up sheltered from the hard world, learning the true things after graduating college and becoming a paramedic in Harlem. School continues to inform and entertain in all its true, Shakespearean glory. It's a lot of fun, really. In that career, dozens of people walk the earth now who would not be otherwise. (The number depends on how literally or figuratively you choose to add). He added a beloved wife to his little family, which is healthy. He is also well blessed in friends and colleagues.


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