Thursday, April 26, 2012

Task Force Progress

Democracy is amazing.  The system of government that we live in right now is one of the greatest social experiments in human history, and what makes it so cool is that we're still experimenting to this day.  What makes people frustrated is that we tend to feel that we are under this system instead of a part of it.  A little participation by a group of residents can turn the tide, though, and if we come together, we can think of the city government as "us" instead of "them."

We're getting to the point where it doesn't matter what started the Soda Springs Park Safety Task Force, we're helping to shape the outcome.

It is very important that people continue to participate in this process, and some of the newcomers last night brought us to a level that we hadn't even approached up until then.  One person has one voice, no matter who they are.  If you find yourself being bullied into submission, bring your friends.  The more witnesses there are, the more democratic the process can be.  Non-participation has become the culture, and as a result, processes that are legally open to the public tend to be carried out by small groups of people with narrow agendas.

The meeting started off as they always do:  a reading of the norms of the meeting followed by an introduction of the people on the panel.  The demographics in the meeting last night were much more diverse than in meetings gone by.  After the introductions, we started to head into the agenda.  This involved questions about what we're going to do about the triangle shaped planter in front of the Mate Factor.  After kicking around a few suggestions, one of the newcomers to the meeting brought up an interesting point.  The area in front of the Mate Factor is not the park.  He wondered out loud to the committee what we were really trying to accomplish.

To begin with, this set off the usual round of explanations that amounted to little more than empty political rhetoric.  They were basically using the language that framed the issue as a crackdown to try to say that that was not the purpose.  The newcomer kept digging, and what ensued what a wonderful conversation about the real state of affairs at Soda Springs Park circa 2012.  We talked about self-policing, and we talked about how we are actively working to ingrain that into our culture.

We also talked about how our new police chief is cool enough to be fully accepted by all walks of the community.  If we welcome him with open arms and help him really get to know our community, then he can offer a directive that can guide our police department in the right direction. 

If we can introduce Joe Ribiero to the street scene with the respect he is due, he can issue a directive that helps alleviate our real problems without discriminating against any particular groups of people.  If he gets more experience of the culture firsthand, he will better understand what our real problems are.  We cannot help it that certain things are going to make people uncomfortable, and we have to be smart about what real crime is.  We can't placate every person who complains because some of the complaints are more cultural grievances than criminal concerns.  There is a concerted effort to say that it is a crime to be present in the park if someone is made uncomfortable. 

This only applies, though, if certain people are made uncomfortable.  "The rest of you will have to pay," they say.  By participating in our democracy and getting to know the head of law enforcement, we can ensure that all people are truly represented, not just a vocal minority.

It is a joy to have youth that spend their time outside instead of in front of television or video games.  When there is crime, we should address it.  All in all, though, our problems are more social in nature than criminal.

It is not and can not be a crime to be different.  What happens, though, is that it is possible to pass laws that "different" people commonly break and then urge police officers to enforce them primarily on the target demographics.  On paper, there may be no discrimination, but in practice, a lot of times there really is.  It's easy to say that it is not if a person is outside of the target group, but we are following a social and economic trajectory that is expanding the ranks of the "undesirables."  More and more people are finding themselves in the difficult economic circumstances that make a person make other people feel uncomfortable. 

In this day and age, if your clothes aren't new, clean, and in a certain range of styles, you will make people feel unsafe.  In this town, though, it is OK to be a little gritty.  That means that a certain segment of the population feels unsafe because the rest of us don't follow the dress code. 

Beyond that, though, we strengthened bridges that this task force has helped to build.  A street minister who was present at the meeting said, "We have the nicest bad kids I've ever seen."  He also talked about how in three years ministering at the park, they have only had two negative encounters.  We, for the first time, got to formalize the fact that we've got the same mission:  to transform the culture through respect and positive teaching instead of force and imprisonment.

It is going to interesting to see how all of this goes.

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