Monday, June 8, 2020

Your Tax Dollars, Hard at Work

Our Tax Dollars, Hard at Work
Like a lot of you, I'm dealing with emotions right now. Anger, and sadness, and frustration at the terrible violence Black people have been suffering at the hands of police, and the continued violence the police and national guard dole out to citizens who dare to protest that violence.

I am dealing with these things as someone who is not Black, which is to say, I am dealing with a tiny portion of the issue, and in an easy, superficial way. A way that raises my awareness just a bit, but I can put the whole thing away whenever I like. I can feel bad for a week or two, donate some money, and then put the issue on the shelf if I want and go about my day.

It's a convenient way of dealing with it all. 

I'm the son of a Filipino immigrant from Manila and a white man from Massachusetts so, growing up in Western Pennsylvania, I've had some experiences with racism, sure. 

But I don't understand a bit of what it's like to be worried for my life if I get pulled over. I've never experienced the full brunt of racism that America has to offer. I don't even know what it's like to be systemically underpaid just due to my race. Because my father is white, a lot of the time, I can pass.

Which all goes to say I just don't know a whole lot about what it's like to be Black in a country that has always been racist and violent to Black people. I can't speak to any of that, and can only point to others who can.

As a half Filipino, half White person, I think the part that hurts me is the fact that we are supposed to be able to trust the police who are beating and killing Black citizens. 

There's a social contract at play. When we elect a public official and grant them the power to govern us, that power is given with the understanding that it will be used to help the community. To serve it. To serve us.

And that means all of us.

Our tax dollars pay for the jobs, and the equipment, and the guns, and the vehicles, and the salaries and the generous government benefits, and the lifetime pensions, too. All of this is given to police departments with the tacit agreement that all this power is to be used to protect us citizens

Police officers work for us. Just as it is with all public employees, the citizens are their employers. Every dime that department gets comes from citizens and the purpose of those funds are to keep us safe. 

We are paying these people to do a job: a very important job. One that comes with a whole lot of power, and that power requires restraint.

So when the police systematically target Black citizens, when they attack and brutalize and kill them, it first and foremost racist, criminal, and abhorrent. 

But as the bitter cherry on top, this violent behavior from police breaks the contract between the civil servant and the community he is supposed to serve. It breaks the public trust in a way that can't easily be fixed. 

When the people we hired use the equipment we purchased to hurt and kill the very citizens they are supposed to serve and protect, it's a fucking brutal way to break the social contract.

Because who exactly are Black citizens supposed to go to when it's the police who are doing the killing?

In the instances where charges are even brought against police officers, where are Black citizens supposed to turn when the courts have systemic flaws that repeatedly, commonly prevent justice from being served? When the same district attorneys who rely on their relationships with police departments are asked to potentially prosecute those same police officers, how are Black citizens supposed to accept that justice will be served with such an obvious conflict of interest?

The answer seems to be that they are not supposed to expect that justice will be served. They probably should not expect most of these police officers to even be suspended or fired. Even fewer will ever be arrested or charged. 

Fewer still will be convicted, thanks to qualified immunity: a judicially created doctrine that protects agents of that same government from prosecution in its own courts. Isn't that convenient?

Given all the ways the government has broken the social contract, and how ineffective decades of police reform have shown to be, it's not surprising that communities are pushing to defund police departments, or disband them altogether, rather than throwing additional millions of public dollars at reform programs which have not yielded lasting change.

And why not? If these public safety departments are violating their most basic oath, to serve and protect, and doing so while taking ever and ever larger shares of public budgets, why isn't it reasonable for the community to take away some of those funds?

When police departments won't listen to the citizens of their communities, or the outcomes from reform initiatives, or even the edicts of the politicians they serve, one has to wonder if they'll finally listen to the sound of a budget being cut. 

Because sometimes money is the only language people can hear.

In that vein, I'd like to try something new here on the blog. If you're still reading and would like to do some talking with your money, we'd like to join you.

Send me a note at, or tweet me a screenshot of your donation to a charity of your choice, and we'll make a matching donation to the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. Mrs. Done by Forty and I decided we will donate $1,000, but thought maybe others would want to join in if they knew their donation would be multiplied a bit.

In addition, my employer will be making an additional matching donation on top of that. So if our dear readers can find a way to donate a thousand dollars, a total of three thousand will be donated.

It's a small thing. Mrs. Done by Forty and I aren't out there protesting, lending our voices, and I doubt either of us will be. Our hope is this is another way we can make our voice heard. Money talks.

Update: Thanks to the generosity of the community, we ended up fully meeting the goal. Thank you all so much for chipping in and making this happen. You all are the best. Love ya.

*Photo is from dsgetch at Flickr Creative Commons.

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