Hawthorne’s Max and urban conflict in the New America

Recently, Hawthorne police have landed in trouble for shooting a dog during the course of the arrest. I am not linking because the story has gotten plenty of air time, and with many outraged dog lovers weighing in, with many comments from dog haters or police-defenders who want to make excuses. Here are the base facts:

The police were done with the high stress standoff situation.
They approached a guy who has made it a habit of videotaping their arrests in Hawthorne. The Op-Ed in the LA Times hinted at something much darker: they had ‘dealt with’ this guy before. The ‘suspect’ appears to show up at arrests routinely to videotape Hawthorne’s police use of excessive force in arresting black suspects.

The dog is confused and doesn’t understand what is happening with the owner, and looks to be getting wound up. It’s a big, scary dog.
Instead of using pepper spray or asking the dog’s nonarmed, non-resisting owner to re-secure the dog, the officer just shoots the dog. On camera. Genius. I wonder if Hawthorne’s city manager has cirrhosis yet.

And gee, I wonder if the guy’s point about excessive force has been made yet?

So let’s get the caveats all out there. The police routinely shoot vicious dogs. But this dog wasn’t vicious. No, I am not a cop, and I live in a safe bubble where I can feel free to criticize and Monday morning quarterback, yada yada yada. But I am also a dog rescuer and I have been bitten many, many times. I have also subdued dogs as large as Max and MUCH more vicious. With. My. Blouse. I repeat: _a blouse_. A girly shirt.

Now, I’m brave about stuff like this, probably too much so, but there’s a big part of me that wants to smack the cop for being a bit of a physical coward here. I know they take risks all the time, and I really don’t blame him for not wanting this particular risk, but in the immortal words of Bill Cosby’s father on the roller coaster: who put you on the g-d thing in the first place?

And at some point, it’s not about the dog. It’s about police officers who are so badly trained in conflict resolution that they start out with making a ticky tack arrest and lose control of the situation so badly, and in front of cameras, that the Hawthorne PD is a national embarrassment to the city of Hawthorne. Police officers are street-level bureaucrats ; they are the face of the city to many people who never think about their city otherwise. By going all hardass on this guy and his dog, they make the city look like a violent suburban ghetto with a police state mentality. If I were on the Chamber of Commerce there, I’d be furious at the lack of training and savvy shown here. Yeah, police officers have a job to do, but the job isn’t just throwing your weight around and then using deadly force to put an end to a conflict you escalated and lost control of. Police officers are very well-compensated. It’s a very hard job, nobody is saying that it isn’t, but between pensions and perks, police officers are paid very, very well given their education levels. It’s ok for us to expect better than what we see in the Hawthorne video.

And that’s the point. From George Zimmerman to UC Davis police pepper-spraying their own students to that now-disgraced Hawthorne PD, the contemporary US is plagued by the idea that conflicts should end quickly. But conflict resolution is not efficient, nor should efficiency be the rubric we use to evaluate conflict resolution. Conflicts are messy, difficult, tedious, boring, and often unfortunately time-consuming. You have to sacrifice to do conflict management and resolution properly. You will put up with things you don’t want to put up with. It will take more time and energy than you want it to. You will put up with bad treatment; treatment that, in a better world, you would not get. But that effort is worth it–objectively–to maintain a civil society where a person or a dog or anything living is more than the bad behavior they are demonstrating in the moment of that conflict.

I’m worried we have wrought with gun culture in the US governed by the idea the idea that patience, gentleness, and negotiating makes you a sissy and shooting makes you a badass. But it’s actually rather the other way around in many conflicts.