by Joe Fitzgerald
“Defund the police” is a stupid slogan.
Give its proponents the benefit of the doubt, however. Maybe what they meant was return police to their core mission of protecting life and property, remove their frequent role as social worker or mental health counselor, demilitarize their responses to all but the most dangerous situations, and soften the qualified immunity defense. It’s still a stupid slogan, especially at the local level.
“Let cops be cops” might have been a better slogan if the murder of George Floyd hadn’t stoked anti-police sentiment in so many. The more rational response might have been reforms to the concept of qualified immunity, which is roughly the idea that a police officer can’t be prosecuted for a harmful or destructive reaction if he thought he was doing the right thing. “Defund the police” seems predicated more on the idea that all police are bad or that paying them less will improve policing or that having fewer of them will reduce crime.
The attitude behind the slogan on the left is half of a symbol of the polarization that keeps government from accomplishing anything. The other half is the anti-teacher sentiment on the right. Public safety and education are the two largest segments of any local budget. Someone once observed that a local government is a school system with a police force. In Harrisonburg, those two segments of the city budget consume 57 percent of local funding.
The anti-teacher sentiment is growing in Rockingham County and we’re always one School Board election away from it becoming prevalent in the city. The anti-police sentiment is represented by City Council member Monica Robinson.
Robinson posted a video on her Facebook page some time back that shows an altercation in an open space in one of the schools, possibly a cafeteria or library. A student pushes his way past one teacher or administrator who is trying to block him. The teacher doesn’t try to grab him. A police officer stands by, letting the school personnel try to handle the situation. The student twice shoves and then pushes by a second teacher or administrator. Only then does the school resource officer put his arms around the student to restrain him. The student apparently trips on a chair while trying to get away from or around the officer, and they both fall to the floor.
Robinson identified the student – I won’t – and maintained that the video showed pretty much the opposite of what most observers would see. The student is apparently trying to get at another student, but Robinson says “the student was not aggressively pursuing.” She describes the fall to the floor as a “full on body slam.”
Robinson claims an expertise on the issue of school resource officers because she was part of a panel that considered possible changes to the memorandum of understanding between schools and police. The panel’s report, among other errors and absurdities, described a 56-31 percent opinion split on one topic as a majority for the 31 percent.
Neither the video nor Robinson’s misrepresentation of it came up during her campaign for City Council. She was nominated for the post in a Democratic caucus that was decided by one vote, with at least one unqualified voter allowed to cast a ballot.
While Harrisonburg slept, a strongly anti-police candidate won election to the City Council. Whether her attitudes are shared by other council members and what effect this will have on police protection in Harrisonburg is unknown.
(Worth noting: My son is a police officer. Before that, he worked in a bank. My conclusion that “Defund the Police” was a stupid slogan was formed while he worked in the bank.)
Robinson’s description of the video:
“This is a video of an incident that occurred at [a high school] yesterday. Now you understand why I don’t want SRO’s (School resource officers) in schools. This is an unnecessary USE OF FORCE. The fight was over, no deescalation techniques were implemented, no restraints were used, the officer went straight to a full on body slam even though the student was not aggressively pursuing, Notice how the child’s head and backeslammed into the cafeteria floor, notice how it knocked the breadth out of him, notice how the officer pointed his finger into his face and yelled at him, and notice how the other student is being gently guided away from the by a SCHOOL EMPLOYEE. What this officer did was create a greater damage here by elevating the risk for injury. Tell me where in the MOU, memorandum of understanding, it list that the SRO‘s duty is to handle fights and disciplinary issues. it doesn’t!! How do I know? Because I helped to rewrite the current MOU that is in existence … . I could go on and on, but I won’t!!”
Joe Fitzgerald is a former mayor of Harrisonburg.
Republished with permission from Still not sleeping.