Friday, May 1, 2015

Bridging the Gap: Law Enforcement and Community Relations

Today parts of our country seem ready to come apart along racial and social seams.  The causes and solutions of the larger program are beyond my scope of understanding and problem solving.  Racial issues, while not what they once were in this country, linger.  Racial tension has morphed into an institutional problem that is difficult to trace to any one source, making any one solution unlikely.  Answers can’t be found in political ideologies.  Both parties have tried to fix the problem.  Both have failed.  Both parties have those who sincerely want to create the conditions for a positive change.  Both parties have those who will use race as a stepping stone to greater power and influence.  Ideological fixes have exacerbated or mutated the problem into something more complex. 

One key societal interaction continues to impact communities at large, often leading to violence and calls for more violence.  The intersection of members of the black community and law enforcement, specifically in areas with poor economic performance and a large number of minorities.  Such areas are potential tinderboxes.  In places were the interactions, perceived or real, are bad enough, any tragedy can lead to greater tragedy.

While I don’t think we have the knowledge, wisdom, or capacity to address the root causes of the overall crisis, I do think we can alleviate some serious symptoms.  Perhaps by taking some first steps in addressing this symptom, we can develop the ability to see more clearly, understand more clearly and make other meaningful changes aimed at the root causes.

Two key elements are at the center of troubled relationships between law enforcement and the affected black community and individuals—trust and communication.  Without one it’s very difficult to have the other.  At some point both sides, all sides, involved in the relationship need to agree to begin doing one or the other—trusting or communicating.  It would be best if they could do both at the same time, but baby steps may be required.

I propose the following steps be taken by law enforcement and municipal leaders and respected leaders in the black community in cities where there is a recognizable problem.

First, there should be a sit down meeting of law enforcement/municipal leaders and a variety of leaders from the black community.  Each person in attendance should express their goals for the community and their perception of the problems in terms of racial interaction with law enforcement.  This session should be a listening session that is moderated by a third-party.  I believe that they would find some common ground in terms of desires for a safe and more prosperous community.  I also believe that, if the various parties listen, some understanding of other perspectives will begin to have an impact.  The very act of being able to speak clearly to the other side can be beneficial.  I suggest that the conversations take place privately, behind closed doors without the media present.  A report of this initial conversation can be released to the public after it takes place.  This may not be viable, but it may help reduce the likelihood of participants grandstanding to score political or public relations points with their constituencies.

Second, all parties should agree to an in depth look at the situation.  A third-party should be hired to do the following:

-       Conduct community polling among all ethnicities regarding the perception of law enforcement-community relations and the role of race in those interactions.

-       Conduct a polling of all law enforcement officers in the agency and their perception of community relations and the role of race in those relations.

-       Conduct a review of conviction rates and sentencing statistics broken down by crime and race.

-       Conduct a review of the law enforcement agency’s policies and history of race-based complaints.  The goal would be to present findings that show which complaints are founded and which is not.

-       Conduct a review of public statements made by law enforcement/municipal leaders and black community leaders.  The goal would be to identify statements that were helpful and which were needlessly inflammatory or harmful.

Third, all parties will attend another meeting where the results of the third-party review are discussed.  This meeting once again will focus on listening.  Attendees should be open so that they can develop a more clear, unbiased picture of reality and the steps that will be necessary to find common ground and to begin a serious dialogue.  Not everyone will agree with all of the findings.  That is not necessary to begin the dialogue.  The goal is to identify gaps in perception relative to a more objective look at the big picture.

Fourth, a series of interactive meetings will take place.  The parties will discuss each of the major findings.  Attendees initially will focus their remarks on what they can do to improve the situation relative to the findings.  As each attendee offers up ways they and their constituents can improve the situation desires and perceptions will move toward common ground.  Productive dialogue has the potential to allow for concessions on issues that are meaningful but not restricted by principled beliefs or values.  Law and order can be maintained while recognizing and protecting the rights and concerns of the black community.  This concept is central to the dialogue.  Law enforcement and municipal leaders must not be asked to sacrifice law and order in exchange for anarchy.  The black community can demand and receive fair and transparent treatment.

Fifth, a robust community-policing program must be put into action.  The program must be developed by and specifically for the members of the community and the law enforcement agency.  Among many possibilities, a community-policing program should consist of at least some of the following:

-       Law enforcement and municipal leaders should attend community events and arrange for moments of meaningful dialogue.  Community and cultural understanding must be deepened.  They must come to understand the challenges facing community members and the impact they might have on law, order and potential interactions. 

-       Community leaders and members should participate in appropriate law enforcement activities to understand the perspective of law enforcement.  They should go on ride-a-longs.  They should participate in various training events to include use of force training.

-       A board of review should be put in place with members from law enforcement and the community.  The board will review community complaints and questionable issues of use of force.  Recommendations and findings by the board should demand serious consideration.  The reasoning for actions and decisions of law enforcement agencies should be explained clearly to the board and open for discussion

What can we hope to gain by all of this?  Trust through dialogue and transparency.  Law enforcement leaders need to be able to trust that when a community leader comes to them with a concern or a complaint, that it is something credible.  Community leaders need to know that they will receive the information that the information they receive from law enforcement leaders is timely and credible while accepting the fact that at times legal concerns may delay the release of that information.  With this type of trust, law enforcement agencies and community members will begin to work from the foundation of shared goals and understanding.  The lives and rights of community members and those of law enforcement officers will be placed on equal ground by all of those involved.  Police officers will monitor themselves to make sure they are behaving properly.  Community members will monitor themselves to make sure that their members are behaving properly.  Both sides will address actions and reactions to poor and improper behavior civilly and legally.  The law will be enforced and crime punished more fairly.  Communities will be safer for everyone.

To reiterate, these steps will address a symptom only.  They do not have the power to heal some deeper issues.  They do, however, offer a start, a place of beginning.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Escape on the Lake

Quiet and gray, crispness in the air

Clouds and surface combine in one

Snowflakes fall heavily into dark water

Pulling on the oar, my breath freezes

The shore recedes, gray water surrounds

Mountains rise above our cabin set on a hill

Snow attaches slowly on evergreen needles

Ripples run outward from the silver canoe

Horses in the pasture stamp feet

Field lays fallow, yellow stubble wetted

Fowl paddle by as all shapes fade away

Isolation embraces and nature encircles

Lying back, staring up; sky is falling

Thick, wet crystals land gently on bare skin

Solitude is my blanket; silence my music

Weight and worry slide off, melting away

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Memories of the Duchesne County Fair

Who remembers watching the horses come off the side of the mountain as they would sit back on their haunches and slide down?  Usually their rider would be out in front holding onto the reins, running and sliding just in front of the horse.  Eventually they would reach the bottom and drop out of sight momentarily…then in a mad rush horse and rider would come galloping through the river and into the rodeo arena.  As a young boy I knew of a few people who rode in the Crazy Horse Race year in and year out.  It seems most of the riders were younger guys who didn’t know better yet, but there were a few experienced riders that continued to race.

At the end of every summer I looked forward to the Duchesne County Fair.  Shortly after my family moved to Duchesne my dad was put to work fixing the old wood rodeo stands, repairing seats, gates, and fences.  I loved to spend time with him as he put up new lumber and painted it as the fair approached.  My dad, Reed Van Wagoner, would go on to serve on the Fair Board for several years and as Chairman for some of that time.  His service on the Fair Board and his work as a deputy sheriff allowed me to spend a significant amount of my time around the fair as it was set up, executed, and closed up.  I remember when the Blue Fair Building was brand new.

For a year or two I had plans to be a bareback rider in the Little Buckaroos rodeo.  I never made it, but one year, with a brand new set of school clothes on my body, I won the greased pig contest.  Both my dad and I got in trouble when I got home that night, but I did win a bag of Jolly Ranchers.

My dad was on the Fair Board the year the old rodeo arena was replaced.  I think he was Chairman of the Fair Board that year.  It was fun to go down every day or two to check on the progress, to watch the new chutes and announcer stands put together and to watch the huge light poles go up.  

That year Charly McClain put on a concert at the fair.  Sitting up front with my parents and family friends was a cool treat.  At one point in the concert Charly McClain asked for a ten year old boy to come up to the stage.  I happened to be 10 that year, the summer before I started sixth grade.  My dad shoved me a little and told me to get up there, but I hesitated, not sure if I wanted the attention and uncertain what would happen.  Suddenly one of my dad’s friends sort of grabbed me and threw me out in front of the stage.  Pretty soon one of the stage hands had me by the shoulder leading me up on stage where the beautiful Charly McClain took me by the hand.  I was thrilled and terrified at the same time.

She told the crowd that she was going to dedicate the next song to me.  Before she started she leaned over and whispered in my ear.  In the days and weeks afterward several people asked what she whispered to me.  I told most of them it was a secret.  But, here is what she said to that ten year old:

“The music is going to be really loud.  Don’t let it scare you.  Just smile and squeeze my hand.”

As they started the song I recognized it from the radio.  My mom always listened to KNEU 1250 AM at the house and car and I had heard this song more than once.  She started to sing the song “Men”.  Here are the lyrics and a link to the video.  Looking back, it may have been a little grown up for a ten year old, but I just kept thinking that a beautiful woman is holding my hand in front of my family, all of my friends, and everyone in my hometown.

Some men treat you just like a lady
Others treat you just like a child
And they can drive you so far away
Or they can drive you wild

Some you wanna show to your mama
And some you wouldn’t show to your dad
Some wanna take you straight to the altar
And some just wanna take you to bed

Women, I’m here to tell you about ‘em
Men, we couldn’t make it without ‘em
I’ve loved a few and I’ve a few that need a friend
There’s nothin’ better than men to hold
There’s nothin’ better than men

Some men are as cold as December
Some are ‘bout as hot as July
Sometimes they fill your life with happiness
Sometimes they make you cry

Women, I’m here to tell you about ‘em
Men, we couldn’t make without ‘em
I’ve loved a few and I’ve found a few that need a friend
There’s nothin’ better than men to hold
There’s nothin’ better than men

As she finished singing the song she turned to me and leaned over to give me a kiss.  In shock I turned my face away…I think I remember hearing a few gasps in the crowd.  Then, I came to my senses and turned back.  She kissed me on the cheek leaving a beautiful mark from her dark red lipstick.  The crowd roared and my knees felt weak. 

As I left the stage, I was given an autographed picture and a Charly McClain hat.  I took that hat to school every day for the first month of school.  I remember when Mr. Lowell Caldwell, our principal, came to my desk.  He saw the hat and asked: “What was better? The hat or the kiss?”  It wasn’t even close between the two.  (I was jealous later when I found out that my mother had lunch with Charly McClain and her husband Wayne Massey at the El Cid.)

Other concerts followed through the years—Pam Tillis, Earl Thomas Connelly (who was very drunk during his concert), and others, but none were as good as the Charly McClain concert.

I loved watching the rodeos from the announcer’s stand where I could watch the cowboys with their gear preparing to ride the rough stock.  I loved watching the demolition derbies and the horse pulls.  I loved listening to the corny clown jokes.  I loved walking through the displays in the Blue Fair Building.

Two summers ago I took my family back into town and we spent some time at the fair and the rodeo.  My kids loved the parade down Main Street, even with the rain.  They loved the food from the vendors outside the rodeo grounds.  Growing up my mom always warned me not to buy food from a certain food vendor.  As we asked one of my friends for a recommendation she shared several, and then, more than 20 years later, she gave me the same advice regarding the same food vendor—“Don’t buy food from there.”

As I’ve lived all over the United States and traveled abroad, I’ve come to realize how truly special it was to grow up in a place like Duchesne.  The Duchesne County Fair was and is an amazing opportunity for family, friends, and neighbors to come together every year and celebrate the community and way of life.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

When Fear Replaces Faith, Cowards Act: Terrorism in France

There are no justifications for the terrorist act that took place in Paris this week.  The cowardly and coldblooded murder of 12 individuals is a sign of weakness of those who committed the act.  I am no fan of satire directed at religion, except perhaps in those cases where religion crosses the line into international and domestic politics.  Radical, and other forms of Islam, cross the line into politics which invites the commentary of the world at large.  Some of the commentary, especially with such a diverse pool of believers, is going to be painful to many.    

While I may not agree with some of what was published by Charlie Hebdo, I do believe in their freedom of expression.  Our French compatriots know that free expression can and does make for a stronger and freer society.

Often satire can feel painful to those who are the targets, especially when sacred things are ridiculed or made light.  As a practicing Mormon, I’m familiar with the feelings generated by occasional public or personal ridicule for my religious beliefs and practices.  Words, however, are truly dangerous only when they present a threat.  While I do not know of the actual motivations driving the cowards who murdered 12 individuals, I will venture a guess.  I suppose that they felt their faith, either personal or that of the wider world of Islam, was threatened.  Perhaps they felt that the cartoons in the magazine threatened to destroy their personal beliefs.  Or perhaps they felt that it threatened to destroy the beliefs of their family, friends, and personal believers.  Either way, it seems to me that these terrorists, and any and every person who cheers or supports what they did in any way or measure, sees the foundation of Islam as a delicate structure, one that could be pulled down or damaged by the work of some French writers and cartoonists.  It seems in a moment of their own crisis of faith they sought to punish others. 

How sad this reality must be for those terrorists and their supporters?  Faith cannot be strengthened by meaningless acts of violence.  Anytime faith rests upon the need to commit violence against those with opposing ideas, it is no faith at all but only fear.  The words of non-believers, no matter how harmful, should not be a cause for violence.  If words of criticism are accurate, make positive changes.  If words of criticism are inaccurate, seek to correct them.  If you can’t correct inaccuracies or vulgarities, ignore them and live by faith.

Peaceful followers of Islam should condemn the violence of these terrorists in no uncertain terms.  Condemnation of these terrorists does not equate to approval of the work of Charlie Hebdo.  Condemnation of these terrorists equates to recognition of the value of life and freedom.  Condemnation of these terrorists equates to a faith that is strong and firm.  Then peaceful followers of Islam, if they so desire, should defend their faith through words and kind deeds.

My heart bleeds for the freedom loving people of France.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Stage Left to Stage Right: A Tale of Fun at DHS

This is a short recollection of an event from my 7th grade year at Duchesne High School.  It's mostly accurate, I think.

“Did you get it?” I asked impatiently while trying to keep a look out for our teacher. 

We had less than a minute before she would come back to find us.  Quickly I glanced back at my two friends, JS and MW.  They were attempting to unlock the bar on the exterior door to the high school auditorium so we could sneak back in later during our lunch break.

“Got it,” JS said, closing the door quietly.

Turning we ran back down the aisles between the seats and upon to the stage just as our teacher stepped out from the dressing rooms.

“Come on you guys.  Quit playing around.”

As I followed her I looked back at the long rope hanging from the rafters at center stage.  One more class period until lunch, then we would be back.  The rope held so much potential.

We wolfed down our lunches over at the elementary school and then hustled back up the sidewalk to the side door of the auditorium.  With a quick look around, we ducked through the door, locking it behind us.  The large room was dark and eerily silent.  Carefully we made our way up onto the stage.  Feeling around we found the light switches, bathing the stage in bright lights for our pending adventure.

MW grabbed the end of the rope.  It was thick, maybe three inches with a large knot tied at the bottom.  Rope in hand we climbed up the ladder at stage left, to the small platform about 20 feet up on the wall.  The platform was small, crowded with old, abandoned stage props from productions past.  There was barely enough room for the three of us. 

The length of the stage lay before us.  We were ready to experience it at high speed.  I was anxious for my turn.  Since MW pulled the rope up we decided to let him go first.  Holding tightly to the rope, he carefully climbed over the railing of the platform.  With a deep breath and a scream, he jumped.

He flew across the stage with a full-throated yell.  As he reached the apex of his swing at stage right, the backstage door from the hallway opened.  In walked Principal JD and another teacher.  They looked up to see MW fall from the sky right in front of them and then streak away toward the other end of the stage.

Quickly JS and I ducked behind the props on the platform, hoping to remain unseen.  MW gave one brief look at us as he came back up toward the platform; his eyes were a cross between terror and amusement. 

Passing back out over center stage, MW offered a weak greeting to our esteemed principal.

“Hey, JD.  What are you doing in the auditorium?”

The initial look of shock was receding slowly from the principal’s face as he began to realize what he was seeing.  Unfortunately the teacher with him remained confused for at least a few more swings.

“Well, hello MW!  What are you up to?”

“Not much.  Just going for a swing.”

“Really?  Just a swing?  All by yourself?”

JD looked around, expecting to find some co-conspirators.  MW was a very social person, not likely to be engaged in any mischief alone.

Coming back by again, MW answered: “Yes, I’m alone.  Couldn’t get anyone to come over with me.”

I felt JS shaking next to me, trying to keep his breathing quiet.  Neither of us wanted to get caught, even for something so trivial.  Luckily for us MW was an expert at being in trouble.  I hoped he could keep us safe, the same way he had when we built the clubhouse off campus in elementary school. 

As his kinetic energy began to zero out, MW dragged a leg across the floor to bring him to a full stop. 

JD remained unconvinced that MW was swinging by himself on the stage during the lunch period.  MW was never alone.

“Come on, you’re really in here swinging all by yourself?”

He was squinting his eyes looking around the stage and into the darkness of the empty auditorium seating. 

“Yeah, I like to come here to swing by myself sometimes.  You know, just to clear my head.”

JS forced out another controlled breathe next to me.  I realized I was doing the same thing.

MW compliantly walked over to JD.

“So, I guess we’re going to your office to talk for awhile?”

“Yes.  I guess this is worth a chat.”

As they walked away, MW looked straight ahead, giving no indication of our hiding place.  JD stopped at the door and turned to look around one more time.  As he walked out, he turned the lights out plunging the stage and auditorium into a deep darkness. 

JS and I stayed in place for a few more minutes just in case JD tried to slip back in to catch us coming out of hiding.  Climbing down from the platform was a bit iffy in near pitch-black darkness.  With a few bangs and a slip or two we made it safely back to the stage and made our way quickly to the exterior door.  We slipped into the bright sunlight and walked away safely.

It turns out that MW had to sit through a half serious lecture for about twenty minutes in JD’s office.  He talked about the importance of rules and being safe.  He asked him a few more times about swinging alone on the stage.  He never gave us away.

Looking back on the events of that day, I still think about that rope.  Part of me wishes I had carried the rope up and taken the first and only swing.  Flying across that stage with a dark auditorium to one side would have been amazing.  Looking down to see JD and the other teacher standing there would have added to the thrill. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Swing Shift: Race, Body Cameras, and Safety in Law Enforcement

For the third time he watched the video with his captain, trying to explain what had happened.  It was simple domestic dispute.  Now his partner was dead and he was sitting in a hospital bed.  The day had started out so differently for everyone.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, he leaned over to tie his shoes.  His shift started in thirty minutes, just enough time to finish suiting up and make it to the precinct.  It was his second day back on swings.  The transition from graveyard to swing was the toughest for him, throwing his sleep pattern into disarray.  Also, for the next four weeks he wouldn’t see much of his children except for in the mornings.  He made himself wake up early enough to eat breakfast with them and see them off to school, and then he tried to get a couple of more hours of sleep.  Usually he wasn’t successful.

With shoes on he walked quickly down the stairs to retrieve his gun belt from the top of the refrigerator.  Along the way he paused, as he did before every shift, to look at the pictures of his family on the wall.  The picture in the center showed a happy family, posed together in matching clothing with a scenic backdrop from a nearby park behind them--mother, father and four young children.  Individual pictures of the children surrounded the larger family picture.  He and his wife had been married for eight years.  The children had come quickly, welcomed into a cheerful and loving home.  Well the home was as cheerful as you can expect with four young children keeping mother busy while father was transitioning between shifts every four weeks or so.

Tonight had the potential to be special.  His oldest daughter, Maddie, had a dance recital in an area of town that fell into his assigned patrol area.  His partner had suggested that they stop by the recital to watch.  Maddie loved to show off her daddy in uniform.  If the calls fell right, they should be able to see her dance and stay around for punch and cookies after the recital.  His wife was excited for a little extra help wrangling the two-year old Jeb.  Jeb, who hated to hold still for almost anything, was enthralled by his dad’s uniform with the various pins, patches, and accouterments.  The twins, who had followed just a year after Maddie, were now six years old.  Both Adam and Allison were surprisingly well behaved for their age, perhaps to make up for all the hard work they created for their mother during their first three years.

Looking in the mirror he adjusted his gun belt one more time, trying to shift the bulletproof vest to make it more comfortable.  Luckily the autumn weather was cool, making the vest more bearable.  Turning to the door he remembered one more thing, the newly issued body camera.  He and a few dozen other officers had received the cameras just a week ago as part of a pilot program.  Reaching back up on the fridge he pulled down the camera and strapped it to his chest.  With the heavy vest, he hardly noticed the small, light camera.

His wife was out running errands before picking up the kids from school.  With a last glance at the pictures he left the house.

Two and a half hours into an uneventful shift he was feeling hopeful that they would make it to the recital.  So far they had responded to a disturbing the peace call that was called in by an old man who hated disliked the young teenagers next door.  With the music turned down calm was restored, at least for now.  During a short foot patrol through one of the parks they had managed to nod their heads to several joggers and they gave one person directions to an elusive street address.  With just under an hour until the start of the recital, things were looking good.

Unfortunately, trouble waits for nobody, especially for police officers.

“Unit 342, Control.”

“Control, this is Unit 342.”

“342 we have a report of a 10-16 in progress at apartment 112 in the Greenbriar Complex.  Other units are 10-6.  Are you able to respond?”

He looked at his partner, feeling his daughter’s recital start to slip away. 

“Well, Daniels, doesn’t look like we’ll make it to the recital.”

“Don’t despair yet, Hansen.  Watch us work a quick miracle.”

He keyed the mike and responded:

“10-4, show us en route.  What other details do you have?”

“Caller states that her husband and son are arguing loudly.  They’re starting to push and shove with a few punches thrown.  She is unable to get either of them to leave.”

“Copy.  Are we aware of any guns in the home?”

“Caller indicates that she is not aware of any firearms in the home.  The son does have some priors for assault and petty theft.”

When they arrived, the fight had escalated and moved to the front yard.  Several neighbors were out watching as the police cruiser parked along the curb.  Both officers quickly exited their vehicle and headed in the direction of the altercation, ignoring a few of the taunts and jeers from a few of the neighbors who weren’t fans of law enforcement.  Father and son were mostly yelling, though both had blood on their faces. 

“Break it up!  Break it up now!” Hansen yelled.  For a second anger and sadness welled up inside of him as he thought of his daughter looking around the room for her daddy knowing that she would be disappointed again.

Both men were large and physically dominating.  Neither even acknowledged the presence of the officers.  Neighbors and others began to shout encouragement to the combatants and jeers toward the officers.

“Control, 342.  We’re going to need back up as soon as you can send it.”

Hansen glanced nervously at the growing crowd of neighbors.  What he saw made him nervous for two reasons?  First, there were several young children who didn’t need to be exposed to this violence.  Second, he and Daniels were two white officers in an economically challenged African American neighborhood with a high crime rate.  They were unlikely to get any help from the neighbors and may even get the opposite. 

A woman, who must have been the caller, began to scream at the officers, “Stop him!  Stop him before he beats my husband to death.  What are you waiting for?”

Suddenly he felt the weight of the body camera on his chest.  It was now clear that he and Daniels were going to have to use force to break up the fight.  Everything they did would be recorded and potentially dissected by the police department, the media, lawyers, and maybe even a jury.  His training told him what he needed to do in terms of use of force.  When he was issued the camera he was told to stick to that training.  For his own safety, the safety of his partner, and for the safety of the community, he knew he needed to forget that the body camera was recording what was happening.

But he couldn’t so easily forget.  Here he was with two large men trying to beat each other senseless surrounded by a group of people that seemed to hate him and his partner.  If this goes down badly, the video will become the focus of a public trial by the media, in social media, and by the police department.  The need to stop the violent actions of these two men in this moment was not dictated by race.  It was their sworn duty to enforce the law regardless of race.  If things were to get out of hand, however, the fallout would be driven by race and the perception of racial injustice.  Perhaps institutional racism, inequities in the past and future had led these two men to their current actions.  Even if that were the case, how should it impact the actions of two law enforcement officers trying to enforce the law?  To use force will be seen as an exhibit of racism.  To ignore the need to enforce the law in a black neighborhood will result in charges of racism as well.  What could they do but their duty? 

Hansen had been in such situations several times over the past six years.  In an effort to prepare him, thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours had been spent to teach him how to reduce the tension verbally without the use of force.  In this circumstance, however, he recognized that events had moved beyond their ability to restore order with words only.  Force would have to be applied to one or both parties.  The goal would be to avoid escalating the use of force beyond what was necessary to restore order, protect those involved, and to protect his life and Daniels’ life. 

He and Daniels would follow their training, but he would make sure they were extra deliberate about their decisions and vigilant about appropriate use of force.  Hansen wanted to go home to his wife and children and he wanted to go home without the fear of any unfair retribution for doing his job.  And, he wanted to get Daniels home safely.

Carefully both officers moved forward, hands on their holstered weapons.  Hansen’s thoughts kept returning to how the video would play out after the altercation.  Would he be able to justify what would be on the video?

“Hansen.  Hansen, tell me again, why did you hesitate here?” asked the captain pausing the video.

Sitting in his hospital bed, he could hear two other officers speaking in the hallway.

“Daniels’ wife didn’t take the news well.  The baby is only eight months old.  Won’t even remember his father.”

Monday, November 24, 2014

Crimea's Russian Destiny

Tonight I’m going to take a controversial stance on the issue of the Crimea.  Without condoning the methods employed by Vladimir Putin’s Russia in the annexation, it is my opinion that, when all is said and done, Crimea should belong to Russia, at least more than it should belong to Ukraine.  History, demographics, and public opinion fall heavily on Russia’s side of the ledger on this issue.

The history of Crimea, as with any geographic area that has hosted civilizations, is complex.  Tribes and nations have come and gone, leaving in their wake no certainty regarding ownership of the land.  How do we track right to a land that has been populated by the Cimmerians, the Scythians, the Greeks, the Golden Horde, Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians, and Russians?  The Cimmerians and Scythians would be difficult to locate today.  Ancient Greek colonies along the Black Sea coast of Crimea no longer exist; abandoned ruins are all that remain in places like Chersonesus and Feodosiya.  The Greeks obviously have no viable play left for the Crimean peninsula.  Crimean Tatars put in place the Khanate, a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, followed the Golden Horde. 

Under Catharine the Great, the Russian Empire wrested control of the peninsula away from the Khanate and the Ottoman Empire in 1783.  In the 19th century, the Russian Empire sought to gain additional territory as the Ottoman Empire began to climb.  Using the rights of Christians in the Holy Land as a reason, Russia went to war in Crimea against an alliance of France, Britain, the Ottoman Empire, and Sardinia.  It was a shock that the Christian nations of the West sided with the Muslim authority, giving rise to the idea that Russia was the defender of Christianity and civilization.  In open conflict with the West, Russian blood was spilled on Crimean soil, tying the land tightly to Russia.

From 1783 to 1954, Crimea was part of Russia.  Today there wouldn’t be any question about ownership of the Crimea if it weren’t for Nikita Khrushchev.  For a variety of reasons, Khrushchev basically gifted Crimea to Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954.  It seems certain, that at the time, the gift seemed largely symbolic due to the expected longevity of the Soviet Union.  Nobody expected it to become a geographic pawn between the Russian and Ukrainian nations.

Demographics in Crimea make Russia’s case of territorial possession stronger.  As of the 2001 census, Russians make up 60.4% of the population.  Only 24% of the population is ethnic Ukrainians.  Russians have outnumbered Ukrainians since Russia gained control of the territory.  In terms of national and ethnic identity, Crimea is not Ukrainian--it's more Russian.

The only other argument for territorial control that is viable today belongs to the Crimean Tatars.  After World War II, the Crimean Tatars were deported from the peninsula forcibly and allowed to return en masse only after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Today they make up more than 10% of the population in Crimea.  While the Tatars could mount a convincing argument for political control of the peninsula, their current numbers and the power of the Russian state make that highly improbable.

Public Opinion
In 2008 I was in Ukraine on a business trip for the US Air Force Academy.  As part of the trip we spent some time in Yalta and other parts of the Crimea.  One evening a few others and I went to dinner at a Georgian restaurant in Yalta.  This was just after the Russian invasion of Georgia.  Neither Georgians nor Americans were popular at the time.  As we sat in the restaurant, we could hear loud cheering and chanting at a nearby public arena.  Our hostess seemed very nervous at our presence and partway through dinner asked if we were Americans.  When we answered in the affirmative, she almost started to cry.  I asked here about the noise and what was wrong.  She informed us that there was a large pro-Russian/anti-American gathering taking place at the nearby arena.  She begged us to eat quickly, leave quietly, and to lie about being American.

The meal was delicious as Georgian food usually is.  Unfortunately, our departure coincided with the end of the rally.  Walking back to our hotel, we put our heads down to try to avoid any attention.  In the middle of the boardwalk a group of young Russian men stopped us, grabbing one of my associates by the arm.

“Who are you?  Where are you from?  Are you Americans?”

An entire group of about 15-20 men stopped around us, waiting to hear our answer.

Looking up, I smiled at them, and with poor pronunciation I said, “No, we’re from Canada!”

The mood immediately lightened and several of them clapped us on the back.

“We love Canadians!  Welcome to Crimea!  We hate the Americans.”

“And we hate the Ukrainians,” yelled another one to the cheers of his fellows.

Over a period of three years I traveled to Crimea on four separate occasions.  There was an overwhelming sense of belonging to and support for Russia.  Russian national flags flew from dozens of buildings in Sevastopol alongside the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

One poll in 2008 indicated that over 60% of the population in Crimea was open to the idea of seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia.  The same poll revealed that a significant portion was willing to stay with Ukraine if given greater political autonomy. 

The fall of the Yanukovych and the rise of Russian attention on Ukraine lead to a popular uprising of support in Crimea to join with Russia.  Calls for a referendum on annexation arose almost at once.  Polling prior to the referendum, by local and third party sources, again indicated overwhelming support to leave Ukraine and join Russia.  The credibility of the actual referendum is questionable because of the percentage voting in favor of annexation—over 96%.  Such results indicate that results were manipulated to some degree or another.  Even without the manipulation, it is likely that the vote would have shown overwhelming support for annexation to Russia.

Among all of the issues impacting the question of territorial control of Crimea, the only one that is not on the side of Russia is the legality of the annexation.  The referendum and seizure of Crimea was not done in accordance with international law and norms.  Without the assistance of a legal expert, I’m limited in my ability to hit all of the relevant issues.  I would venture to guess, however, that Russia would not recognize a similar vote for independence in a place like Chechnya or Dagestan.  The annexation of Crimea flies directly in the face of Russia’s claims of control over its own territories populated by non-Russians.

The legality of the annexation is made more questionable by Russia’s role, perceived or real, in aiding and abetting separatists in eastern Ukraine.  

Ukraine's Need for Crimea
Crimea is important to Ukraine for two primary reasons.  First, it provides a strategic location for the basing of naval forces in the Black Sea.  It provides a method for Ukraine to protect the rest of its Black Sea coast and establishes a degree of legitimacy in terms of military projection.  Second, and more importantly, the annexation of Crimea by Russia represents a direct threat to Ukrainian statehood.  If Russia can seize Crimea from a sovereign state, using historical arguments of national ties and based on a referendum that was conducted illegally and outside of accepted international norms, then Ukrainian statehood is under a real and direct threat of extinction.  

The annexation of Crimea is Russia's gate on the path to seizing greater swaths of Ukraine if they so desire, starting with east Ukraine where they can (and are) fomenting separatist movements with political and military support.  Further if the Russian government and military can weaken the Ukrainian government sufficiently and cause enough violence and instability, then President Putin may well use it to justify sending in forces in order to protect Russia from the expanding chaos.  Essentially, President Putin will pull regurgitate bastardized versions of NATO arguments for bombing Serbia and for the US invasion of Iraq.

With all of the factors weighed, Russia has much stronger ties and stronger claim to Crimea than does Ukraine.  Unfortunately, Russia used a political crisis in Kiev to gain control using illegal and questionable methods.  With greater patience and willingness to play by the rules, Russia could have regained control of Crimea legally.  Instead Russia showed the world that the rules only apply when they want them to apply.  It’s interesting this is a charge that Vladimir Putin often throws at the United States.  Russia’s actions and methods in gaining Crimea, and its continued effort to sow chaos in Ukraine, heighten concerns throughout Europe about further territorial aspirations.  Crimea has become the poisoned fruit that increase distrust and uncertainty in Russia’s international relations.

Russia's seizure of Crimea also highlights the weakness and lack of preparedness of the West.  NATO and the EU failed to foresee Russian reactions to events in Ukraine.  They failed to react in any meaningful and timely way.  The result is an emboldened Russia.

See additional posts regarding Russia and Ukraine: