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December 2014

Race relations; Don’t be a RAT; Violence

SAVVY: Two perspectives on race relations and the police

SKILLS: How to teach children not to be a RAT

SOUL: Violence – what is underneath?


There is always a well-known solution to every human problem–neat, plausible, and wrong.” H. L. Mencken, Prejudices: Second Series, 1920. US editor (1880 – 1956)


Or I like the paraphrased version: “For every complex problem there is a simple and clear answer; and it is wrong.” When it comes to the conversation – or more accurately – the war of words and deeds currently raging on in the USA about race and alleged police brutality, there is not a simple answer. So I am adding my words on the subject for this edition; or more accurately I am adding my comments on a couple of other people’s perspectives on this important issue.



How do you view race relations in the USA and what solutions resonate with you?


Matt McDonell, a high school librarian in San Francisco, wrote in a Perspective he titled “The Conversation on Race – You can’t have a conversation on race if both sides aren’t prepared to listen.”


If you want to hear Matt speak what he has written below, here’s the link:


“In college, I attended a Christian Men’s rally where two speakers, one white, one black, addressed racial reconciliation. Longtime friends, they had spent years working through these issues together.


When the white speaker addressed the white men present specifically, he exhorted us to pursue relationships with people different from ourselves, to acknowledge the privilege we are born into and not to hoard that privilege but use it for the good of all.


Then the black speaker exhorted the black men to not use racial oppression as an excuse to avoid responsibility for the example they set for their community.


The white men sitting in front of us seemed defensive and dismissive of the white speaker, but cheered loudly when the black speaker addressed the black audience.


I’ve been thinking about that rally while reading the responses to my Facebook posts during our latest supposed national conversation about race. I’ve noted who has more to say about the loss of black lives and who has more to say about violent protests and it tells me we have a lot to overcome if this conversation is going anywhere.


Nobody wants to be the first to blink and admit that not only is my perspective incomplete, but I also have a real and important part in the change we need. Admitting the other guy has a point doesn’t let him off the hook, and taking responsibility isn’t accepting blame.


In my experience, the reluctance to do either is a human condition that affects us equally. I see no group — racial or otherwise — more inclined to defensiveness or humility, blaming or repenting, being open-minded or willfully ignorant.


I am just as guilty of this as the next person, but I want things to change. I don’t have any pat answers, so for now I’m just going to try to listen better. Not just listen for holes in others’ arguments and jumping in whenever there’s a pause. I’ve been doing that for a long time, and it hasn’t resulted in any productive change for anyone. I want to really listen, and let myself be humbled, and let myself be changed.


With a Perspective, I’m Matt McDonell.”


My Comments on Matt’s Comments:

While driving in the Bay area December 9, I heard Matt McDonell’s views on San Francisco radio station KQED. It made me think about these points:

  • It’s natural to tune into people who think the same way we do. With the plethora of opinionated radio commentators and cable TV pundits, it is even easier to listen only to stations that reinforce our beliefs.
  • Notice how the white men were dismissive of the message they didn’t like even though exhorted by a man of their own race. It is hard not to be defensive when I hear a message that requires a change in attitude or behavior.
  • It’s also difficult, as Matt says, to “admit that that not only is my perspective incomplete, but I also have a real and important part in the change we need.”
  • It takes a real step of humility and open-mindedness to admit “the other guy has a point”, and to take responsibility to change one’s attitudes or behavior.
  • But I’m glad Matt also made the point that it doesn’t mean I am all to blame. The “other guy” might have to make some changes too.
  • Like Matt, “I don’t have any pat answers” either. But I remember a family therapist years ago teaching me how to look at a dispute between a couple or family member. The advice: the person who thinks they are most right should be the first person to reach out to the other “wrong” partner or family member.
  • If we all took that advice, we might all “really listen”, and might all “be humbled”, and let ourselves “be changed.”


Lisa Hendrickson is a Substance “Recovery” Counselor, from Utah who wrote an email to me with the Subject line: “Drugs NOT Race!!”


Dr Mee-Lee,

Please bring attention to a critical factor in the recent shooting stories. I’m a substance recovery counselor, and I’m scared there’s a wave of chemistry destroying our youth that everybody’s missing. Michael Brown (MB) had THC levels in his blood and urine consistent with current and past use of marijuana. He was either intoxicated, i.e., cognitively impaired, OR more likely, he was CRAVING – hence the strong-arm robbery of the cigarillos which are typically used to make “blunts.” People behave in irrational ways when they are in midst of very real biological “urges.” (Everyone can relate to speeding when in need of a toilet.) MB didn’t want to go jail; he wanted to go get high, and no one was going to stop him. THAT explains his bizarre response to being detained by Officer Wilson. It’s called “dope” for a reason – it turns off the “thinking” part of the brain!


Right after MB’s death, Dillon Taylor (white), was shot and killed in Salt Lake City while intoxicated on alcohol more than twice the legal limit. He had hinted that he would rather die than go back to jail. He ignored the cops’ orders and acted like he had a weapon. The Salt Lake cop (mixed race) who shot him was cleared because he was wearing a body camera that showed the alarming behavior of the suspect. Just last week another young man, Gil Collar (white), was shot in Mobile, Alabama while under the influence of LSD and engaging the police officer (black) in an erratic manner. I’m sure if we analyzed data nationwide we’d see a CLEAR pattern: People do stupid stuff while intoxicated regardless of their race or that of the cops!!


Lisa Hendrickson

Substance “Recovery” Counselor, (SUDC in the state of Utah)



My Comments on Lisa’s E-mail:

I haven’t researched the facts in these cases to be aware of what Lisa raises as a possible common theme in these recent tragic situations. It made me think about these points:

  • There has been much focus on what the police did in the split-second decisions they have to make all the time to protect the lives of all involved.
  • But you don’t hear as much about what the victims were thinking and doing that brought them to the attention of the police in the first place: What were their attitudes and behavior when confronted by the police? How provocative or ambiguous were their physical gestures? How did they respond to questions that could have been interpreted as resisting arrest or endangering the police officer?
  • Lisa raises good points about how alcohol and other drugs is a common and even determining theme in all three cases. “Drugs NOT Race!!” is what she declares.
  • Emergency rooms, acute mental health facilities and other general health personnel too often fail to screen for, assess and treat addiction. Here too, Lisa is saying the focus, in her opinion, has been misguided: concentrated just on race and not drugs. She may have an important point that explains the victims’ attitude and behavior other than race as the assumed common factor.


I caught the tail end of a radio panel interviewed about race relations and exploring solutions. I heard a brief snippet from one woman who apparently does a lot of training of families and children about race and the interface with law enforcement personnel. I missed discovering who the wise panelist was, as I arrived at my destination and had to turn off the radio. This is what she tells parents to teach their children about how to avoid tragedies with police officers.



Teach your children to avoid being a RAT

I was taken aback at first when I heard Rat and children in the same sentence. But it soon all made perfect sense:


– Don’t run from a police officer

A – Don’t argue with the police officer

T – Don’t touch a police officer


I tried a Google search to find the panelist and what she teaches. I didn’t find her, however I did find a related article “Teach Your Child How to Survive Being Arrested at School”. You can read the whole content here:


Listed below are a few of the tips the article advised. Michael Brown may well be alive today had he been taught this:

  • Teach your child to say “I want a lawyer” as soon as they see handcuffs. Include the “zip tie” cuffs as well as the metal cuffs.
  • Teach your child to put their hands on their head when a police officer talks to them.
  • Don’t run from the police.
  • Don’t argue with the police.
  • Say, “I want a lawyer.”
  • Don’t touch the police officer at all.
  • Don’t gesture towards the police: no finger waving, no flipping the finger, no waving arms, no shaking hands, no speaking in American Sign Language (ASL), nothing they can and will interpret as a hostile move.
  • Don’t talk other than giving your name and saying “I want a lawyer”: “My name is __ and I want lawyer.”
  • Ask “Am I under arrest?”
  • Keep your hands where the police can see them.
  • Do not consent to a search.
  • Don’t resist the arrest, innocent or not.
  • Remember the police officer’s name, badge number, and patrol car number.


Originally posted to Practical Survivalism and Sustainable Living on Monday, January 30, 2012. Also republished by Education Alternatives and Community Spotlight.


It’s hard to watch the video of how Eric Garner died on July 17, 2014, on Staten Island, New York, after a police officer used a chokehold or headlock to arrest this 43-year-old father of six. It seems baffling to understand why such violence was necessary. Even though Garner had a lengthy criminal history and was well known to the police, you wonder why such force was applied.


Just the other day on December 20, 2014, two New York City (NYPD) police officers were ambushed and killed by a 28-year-old man, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, in retaliation for the Eric Garner and Michael Brown deaths. Again, it is shocking to consider such venomous violence against two police officers who daily risk their lives to preserve law and order. One officer was married with two children. His colleague just got married two months ago.


I am allergic to violence. It never seems to solve anything: people beat up police and loot innocent people’s stores protesting police violence; police beat people who may have just beaten up someone else.


I know, it is not all protesters and not all police. I’m not taking sides because Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. taught me there are commonalities about violence that join all protesters and police together – in fact, that join all of us together.


I referenced Dr. Rosenberg and his leadership with Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in the February 2007 edition of Tips and Topics. See more detail in SKILLS of that edition:


Rosenberg said: “Violence in any form is the tragic expression of our unmet needs” (P.78)

  • The tragedy of verbal or physical violence is that it usually induces a violent reaction in the other person.
  • That victim of the violence is now sadly even less likely to want to resolve disagreements, let alone reach out to help fulfill the unmet universal human needs of the attacking person.
  • Yet it is these needs which fuels the violence in the first place. If those needs could only be acknowledged, appreciated and addressed, the power of the conflict would dissipate.

What might be the unmet universal human needs of protesters, police and all of us which is fueling the violence?

  • The need for: justice, safety, security, respect, acknowledgement, recognition

Rosenberg again: “When we listen for their feelings and needs, we no longer see people as monsters.”

  • The universal human experience is that we all have feelings and needs. Even the most obnoxious behavior and aggressive language arise from feelings and needs we have all experienced.
  • The recognition of these feelings and the fulfilling of these needs is what all people crave.
  • Can you see the “monstrous” behavior as if it comes from a helpless child crying out for help to get their needs met?

There is no vaccine for the virus of violence that feels like it is going “viral”. But despite my abhorrence of violence, I try to remember: “Violence in any form is the tragic expression of our unmet needs



Rosenberg, Marshall B (1999): “Nonviolent Communication – A Language of Compassion”   PuddleDancer Press, P.O. Box 1204, Del Mar, CA 92014.

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