American Child: Isn't being accountable to America's promise the highest form of patriotism?

Loving parents do not simply hope for a child's development, they aid in its progression. Their awareness of good attributes does not preclude them from imagining potential. This pattern parallels in adults, who love themselves, seeking improvement. They embrace positive qualities (kindness, intelligence, empathy) while acknowledging adjacent possibilities. (Could I eat more nourishing foods, be less judgmental, have more patience?)

An inherent tension then arises in loving — acceptance alongside aspiration. Denial, deflection and dismissal are counter-productive for growth. Development — of a child, the self or societal — demands holding these truths together. We are miraculous and malleable, intertwined in an infinite state of becoming.

Arguably, this notion is transferable to nations. After all, a country is actually a composition of her people. There are certainly attributes of America I admire. Ingenuity. Individual agency. Entrepreneurial energy. Diversity of thought coexisting. As surely as I am the daughter of Rose and Guy Laurent, I am a child of yours, America. Grateful for being raised well — nurtured with a relative sense of freedom for formulating and voicing an opinion, reared with immense access to knowledge of the rights and responsibilities citizenship carries, fostered with a deep appreciation for egalitarian ideals.

And there are certainly attributes I find as problematic. I understand unearthing the unfavorable is uncomfortable, but to quote Renaissance poet Pietro Aretino, "I love you, and because I love you, I would sooner have you hate me for telling you the truth than adore me for telling you lies." We cannot fix issues by ignoring them, failing to comprehend their root causes. Being labeled "merciless" for exercising critical thought on our history and systems is frustrating. To me, questioning means care.

In my first job post-graduation, providing legal services to victims of domestic violence, I bore witness to frequent and gross miscarriages of justice in our family law system. On our screens, we watch, horrified, as countless lives are taken, all presumed innocent under the law. In his Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson sounds the alarm for every citizen: "We have a system which treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent."

These issues, though immense, aren't limitations on our potential. While living in alignment with our aspirational values is arduous, this country has always instilled the value of taking pride in honest, hard work worth doing. So let's get to it, Spokane:

The Initial Encounter?
I am grateful to Spokane Police for completing the "One Mind Campaign," which allowed some officers to take 40 hours of crisis intervention training, learning to de-escalate tense situations and that Chief Craig Meidl stated his desire to build trust. I also applaud decisions to fire an officer who kicked a handcuffed suspect in the genitals (though this decision is under review) and find it reasonable that an undersheriff received an unpaid suspension for saying "ex-wives should be killed."

And I imagine us doing better. What would a radically different policing model look like? What if departments investigated and adopted more procedural justice and "principles of good policing?" What if they track upstanding officers to learn about positive encounters with the public and modeled training on these types of behaviors? Can we have a more nuanced conversation about how we've foisted too much on police? 911 cannot be the response for every issue — homelessness, addiction, mental health crises along with wanton, willful violent crime. To move between these must create a disjointed, jarring experience. It seems like a setup, a recipe for disaster, ripe with possibility for blame shifting by politicians who have failed to pass effective policies and properly deal with societal issues. How quickly does being caught in this crossfire wear a person down? When that burnout naturally occurs, what kind of response (healthy or un) does police culture dictate?

Recently, I watched the Dalai Lama address over 1,000 UK Metro Police, putting to use mediation tools for improving public interactions and personal wellbeing. I was moved to see so many taking agency in choosing healthier responses. They take their oaths seriously, recognizing the immense responsibility due to those they have chosen to serve. From within, they are forging a better way. Also, in neighboring Oregon I read about CAHOOTS, a medic/crisis worker team responding to calls, assessing and assisting folks, helping them receive a higher level of care with necessary services. The program has been around for 30 years. In 2019, they answered 24,000 calls, requesting backup only 150 times, diverting around 20 percent of community calls from 911, freeing up resources.

Adjacent possibilities always exist.

I am grateful to those who worked tirelessly to bring the Bail Project here and for judges who carefully review every case file, crafting fair, individualized responses.

And I'm incredibly concerned about how bail operates. Is innocent until proven guilty still a thing we're doing? Nearly half a million people sit in jails on any given day just waiting for their cases to be heard pre-conviction, sometimes months, sometimes years. Have folks heard the tragedy of Kalief Browder? If you have access to funds, securing a quick release is likely. If you don't, the wait can be catastrophic, causing immense losses to relationships, jobs and housing, making recidivism more likely. The longer folks are incarcerated, the less they have to lose.

I have plenty more thoughts/questions on court proceedings, confinement and release, but I'm running short on space. I'm lucky enough to be joined by people from within and outside our system, working for something better. Though I still worry. I see us slowly giving away pieces of our democracy's soul, abandoning our idea of liberating strife. And I can't help but question — doesn't this country want to actualize, instead of simply profess, its principles? Isn't being accountable to America's pledge — of liberty and justice for all — the highest form of patriotism, the action that actually makes us great, what really makes us, America the beautiful? ♦

Inga N. Laurent is a local legal educator and a Fulbright scholar. She is deeply curious about the world and its constructs and delights in uncovering common points of connection that unite our shared but unique human experiences.

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About The Author

Inga Laurent

Inga N. Laurent is a local legal educator and a Fulbright scholar. She is deeply curious about the world and its constructs and delights in uncovering common points of connection that unite our shared but unique human experiences.