In my professional career I both practiced and taught crisis intervention. The particular system used included physical restraint, and the primary rule for the team was safety: if the person being controlled indicated that they were being hurt or were having trouble breathing, resolving that issue became first priority. The staff were to immediately adjust their holds to allow the person to breathe, and change position if necessary to prevent injury. This did not mean a full release; on occasion the person being restrained was still dangerous, either to themselves or others, and safety had to be maintained. It did mean that maintaining that safety was for everyone involved, including the person being controlled. Inflicting pain or damage was strictly forbidden, as was the use of mechanical restraints of any kind. What resulted was a kind of give-and-take, with the staff (ideally) using only the amount of force necessary to maintain safety; if a less restrictive hold would do that, that was what was used. It required the staff to be aware of the details of the situation as it unfolded and read as accurately as possible all the signals, verbal and nonverbal, using that information to continuously manage things safely. If taking physical control of the person was not absolutely necessary, it was not done. Laying hands on a person escalates the situation, almost by definition, and was to have been avoided unless it was needed. Even then, the least intrusive methods that would allow the situation to be resolved were to be used.

This makes the case of Mr. Floyd particularly heartbreaking for me. I know that the police, who are sworn to protect and serve the public, are trained in the use of deadly force and can use that option if it becomes necessary. I can’t imagine how Mr. Floyd, on the ground, handcuffed, with several officers in the immediate area, required the use of deadly force to maintain safety and protect the public. I have never been a police officer, but I have worked in settings where danger was both real and immediate, and I have to say that the videos of this case are disturbing on many levels. This needs a complete and detailed investigation by professionals who have enough distance from the parties involved to consider the facts as they stand.

One of the reasons I worked hard to establish and maintain good respectful relationships with the teens I was responsible for was that I learned early on how much difference it made in de-escalating a potentially dangerous situation. If a student was heading toward another student with the intent to harm him or her, it was my job to step into the aggressor’s path if necessary, manage the crisis, and keep the area we were in safe for everyone concerned. In those situations, action was called for; it was way too late to establish a relationship. I had to work with the tools available in that moment, and if I had an existing connection to the teenager it made a successful resolution much more likely. I have also seen how easily a situation can be made much worse, almost in the blink of an eye, by missteps on the staff’s part. Sometimes those are unavoidable, the result of being a fallible human being, but in other cases, the desire on the staff’s part to win what they perceived as a battle rather than manage the situation contributed to a downward spiral that no one escaped.

There’s a counterintuitive element at play here; just as the concept of free speech is important not for the speech I like, but for the speech I hate, the practice of treating others with respect is not confined to those who already treat me that way. The offering of respect should come from who I am, not who they are. One of the many lessons I learned from teenagers, some of whom who were sarcastic and uncooperative on their best day. 

The fact that now pretty much everyone has the ability to be a videographer has changed how situations like the one involving Mr. Floyd play out in the most basic of ways. Although it is not without drawbacks, the combination of a recording device in everyone’s pocket and the existence of the internet as a worldwide, cost-free distribution system means that questions of abuse of power, from the inconsequential to the deadly, are no longer just one person’s word against another. It’s a different world, y’all, and one with fewer secrets. I think overall that’s a good thing.

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

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