field notes pt. 1 (06/16/2017)

these are being written after-the-fact. didn’t have a notebook yesterday.


 

Quite a day in St. Paul. Was at work around 4:00pm on the computer. Facebook messaging a comrade to offer her some thanks & affirmation when she let me know that the verdict came thru on officer Yanez. Not guilty on all charges.

Funny how we are taught to believe that progress – time – passage of years, decades – exist. Or hold relevance. There is absolutely no correlation between the passage of time and the improvement of social circumstances. None. A fictitious civil rights era is touted by the establishment today & folks are quick to rest when they’ve been told that we all have equal rights. So as soon as the little red notification (one new message) popped up, & I clicked that chat window, & heard the news – it was like stepping into a time machine. This is Alabama with Parks & Mississippi with Till. One can only hope that Philando – who suffered brutality as Till did – is as highly revered by the history books (& the masses) as Parks. At the very least he is revered by the masses of St. Paul – we’ll see about the history books.

Immediately after clocking out I messaged a few folks about getting down to the State Capitol. Juliette joined me – after a few moments trying to gather myself at the house we took off. Walked up to University ave & hopped on the light rail – of course, it was more packed than I’d ever seen it. I was expecting a ton of Metro Transit officers to be cashing in on the opportunity: so many young bodies, & people of color, headed to the capitol…you’d think they would have been very aggressive trying to ticket people on the light rail. Add more coins to their piggy banks. Luckily, the train we were all getting on didn’t have any bacon boys in sight.

Got to Capitol/Rice street station and wow…..the people. So many people. As Juliette and I approached the inside of my chest was searing – the heat of excitement, of belonging, of antagonism against the state. It was almost like a massive inferno and we were the orange yellow hot hot hot dancing burning combustion. Flames already licked and ate and swallowed each and every municipal surface & sent the group’s smoky cries for justice up to the heavens. But the smoldering coals and carbon-clad ashes upon which this fire burned were pure sorrow. Pure, loving sorrow. The flip side of love is not hate – in fact, I don’t think love has a flip side. But love certainly has a cousin, and a teacher, and a source: very often it is this indescribable sorrow that can only come from unimaginable tragedy. The necessary colleague and advocate for this sorrow is rage- A contempt the likes of which occupies the mind, the spirit, one’s entire life- a rage which replaces each and every cell with a disoriented sense of self. A collection of candles can do more than light a room: they can set it ablaze. And so we did.

To be white during times like these is, for me, a reminder of my own emotional disconnect from the lives of POCs. Rage, sure. Sorrow, yes. But it is a learned sorrow based on mutual personhood – not on mutual experience. I can try to relate to these experiences – I can listen to them but not experience them. I can try to understand – I can hear them out but never understand them. I can relate to the vision of the racially marginalized but only because of their immense efforts and outward cries. But despite seeing their vision, which must on a daily basis be hammered and hammered and hammered through the enamel of white supremacy – which has so thoroughly passed itself from our [white] ancestors to ourselves, & has engulfed the very surface of our brains – I do not see their day to day experiences. Not from their perspective anyway. But what I can see in our shared imagination is their hope for a future – the chance at a future. To be upset at racial issues when one is white is not a phenomenon with a single source or meaning, or legitimacy. Some white folks want to feel entitled to credit or they want to feel helpful & so they show up at rallies expressing rage. Outwardly. But who does this serve? In some instances it can be directed usually. But whites feeling offended after blacks are murdered must not be a weakening force for whites themselves. As we approached the scene I was deeply aware of my own rage and discomfort but struggling to know how to direct it. And of course the beautiful folks running the entire protest were more than gracious & offered some plain & simple direction for how everyone ought to direct their bodies. So as the sound of the crowd grew louder and the thousands of candles drew their light to the capitol I found myself fully aware that to add heat – hot, dripping wax – was a validating choice, but still a choice. A choice that I was privileged to have. So many folks don’t have the choice – death and extermination by police has been their lives since day one. But for me – & other white folks, however marginalized – the point is to be supportive of the movement while still realizing we aren’t oppressed. The point is not to feel threatened by white supremacy – though it is threatening. The point is to instead cash in on one’s own white privilege to CHALLENGE white supremacy, in whatever way is most supportive. The hot hot hot feeling in my chest was therefore being mediated by my little brain – listen, Ian, don’t act up. 


 

The most pathetic part about the ruling class – politicians, corporate & business authority, & the cops who protect them – is their fear. I cannot imagine the hell which must follow the life of oppressive elites – they walk the earth believing that they are good. That’s the thing with human beings – we all feel like the good guy. So think about how truly delusional it must be to put on that officer’s badge each day (or to pick up the lobbyist’s briefcase). They, like you & I, drink coffee and experience some conscious tumblings in their frontal lobes about the day. Each thought and belief of these monsters is just as down to earth and kind as our own – they want the best for their families. But they know not how very small and limited and white their communal families are. They have not the love or awareness of larger groups & therefore continue to draw lines in the sand. They do not know of their indirect injustices and legitimately think that they write laws, or keep the economy moving, or keep communities safe.

All they do is steal.

The cries against them are so viciously controlled and suppressed that the white elite seriously think of themselves as normal, happy, loving human beings. And at the day to day level these state players are happy. But in the mythological-theological sense these people are demons. They live off of the blood and tears and oppressions of millions. The lavish cloaks & suits they wear are knitted with threads of death, & the legacies they inherit are nothing but shame embodied. And yet they believe they do a service to the world by waking up to write laws and work in courtrooms. Can you imagine the dissonance? Can you imagine how it must feel to have tens of thousands of people – all of whom have much better shit to do – complaining at your doorstep?

The human brain has a remarkable capacity to reduce dissonance and it often comes at the expense of social engagement or positive emotions. It must be so pathetic to be a politician. Especially in Minnesota. It must also be so pathetic to be one of the petty thugs who protects them – a badge is surely more powerful than any drug, and the occasional affirmation or thanks that officers receive is enough to carry their ego generation through generation, and through untold shootings. It is so sad for them, aside the obvious fact that it is sadder for those of us in the working class. As I stood at the capitol amidst the many faces this was all I could think of. The capitol building is one of the ugliest things I have ever seen – yet, at this junction in our several-thousand-year-tenure on earth, most humans think of those buildings as remarkable. They harken back to the Greek days – and of course, state authority would be nothing without some cheap mockup of Greek architecture. The silly robes that a judge wears – which provide a real sense of security to the white majority – are just a Puritan minister’s robes. These ancient and blind forms of authority are the bread and butter to white people, who don’t even realize that the marble-clad building is a waste of time and waste of space. Theatre is a powerful thing and the lavish decoration of our state is nothing more than cheap theatre. What must it be like to still be in the audience? How must it feel to be trapped within the delusion of white supremacy? Even the words white supremacy are so jarring to the ear that folks who propagate it instantly shut down & enter a flurry of hallucinations, excuses, & legalspeak. It is a fascinating form of neurological disability – not an inherent one, but a learned one.

I watched the surveillance plane owned by the PD circle overhead over and over and over and I pitied whoever was flying it. I pitied whoever was responsible for attaching the stingray node to the bottom of that little plane and I pitied whoever analyzes the data, & whoever uses all of that stolen cell phone information to continue this police state. I pitied them because only a terrified and lost group of people would ever go to such lengths to surveil a group of loving people – a group of lit candles. How awful it must be to be a part of the State backbone – to live off of fear, saved only by a thin membrane of control – & to continue believing that you are a good person. I’m sure most demons know nothing of the hell they wield, nor of the ignorance they harbor – least of all, these demons have zero imagination that they can access or direct towards better things. Any criminal’ that you grab off the street (save those who harbor a lot of self-loathing) has good reasons for doing what they are doing. So it is easy to see why someone dolled up, socially accepted, & with pockets full of money and decent health insurance must legitimately believe they have good reasons for doing things. Unbelievable. They can’t handle the fear of equality – the illusion is easier. They instead must fly planes over us, they instead must send militarized police to control us, they instead must keep their friends close but their guns closer. What a hell it must be.


The speeches at the capitol were beyond powerful. The most striking moment for me was when Philando’s dear friend took the mic. He sobbed. He wailed. He bled each drop of love out of his heart & into the air, and the hot bright flame of his candle surely burned brighter than the sun. The smoky wails flew not only to the heavens but into us – and we burned with him. As soon as his speaking began countless eyes began to water, as if an actual smoke were agitating them. He sobbed and explained that Philando was like family – and that Philando had come over to his house, to use his own mother’s dinner plates to eat off of. They were family. As soon as Philando’s friend mentioned that his own mother’s dinner plates had housed many a meal for Philando I lost it. Food is love & to share it – to commune in it- is deeper than any other experience. We are each made of food, & the gift of togetherness-in-eating is what has built my very bones. Yours too. And Philando’s. Moments later the speaker broke down in screams, and in cries, and as I looked at the ground I knew God must be crying, because a single teardrop fell at my feet.

We listened to many more wails and cries – from many more friends (I have lost track of their names). And then we marched.


 

5 minutes is 300 seconds

http://consciousness.arizona.edu/

The Barbara Schneider Foundation – a brief summary

Most of the world, connected tightly by digital devices, fiber-optics, and touchscreens, is well aware that we have a problem with use of force by law enforcement. In fact it is not uncommon for the average person in the United States to be acquainted with someone who has been the victim of brutal and outdated forms of police training and often times also to have been a victim themselves. This is especially true for people of color, persons with brain diseases, individuals who do not conform to gender-binary norms – and if you’re several or all of these things, life in America is feudal. And it’s all over the news – every day there are videos of more shootings, more police officers being released despite having blood on their hands. You know it sucks. Everyone knows it sucks – not least of all the police themselves.

But despite the huge public awareness of the problem, there is very little discussion or awareness of possible solutions. Why is that? Certainly, for many people, the mistake is to assume that there are no solutions to the use of force problem or to police brutality. This is actually quite understandable. Why should the average citizen, who is pretty much voiceless and without any influence over the police, be expected to understand how to stop police-related killings?  In our western world the preference of media entities and of lawmakers is to stagnate any real progress in the realm of public safety or social equality, and subsequently tragedies continue to occur and the police continue to have suboptimal training. The police themselves (with the exception of some groups) have, without adequate education or funding or support, been absolutely unable to be the nation’s emergency psychiatrists, even though they are generally expected to be. But thanks to the federal and state governments there is no money or space for individuals with sickness, and the cycle of death and pain continues. The natural tendency of individuals at the level of the community, then, is to be upset – the media can make a lot more money by perpetuating and dramatizing that problem rather than helping to solve it. Those who remain unaware that this is a systemic issue of a lack of training continue to be upset with one another, and upset at the police, when disaster strikes again and again. It makes sense, even though it’s terrible. So it’s not surprising that the problem persists overall.

But there are solutions. Despite the fact that your local and state government have absolutely no time, money, or compassion for the individuals suffering at its own hand from mental illness, drug abuse, or personal crisis, there are a handful of individuals within that system who have helped to make some progress. And above and beyond that there are truly miraculous grassroots efforts to improve circumstances for individuals in crisis who have to face off with police – these are tiny groups of advanced trainers who teach law enforcement officials and police how to better handle these situations peacefully. Larger still is the contribution of individuals – doctors, nurses, social workers, advocates, community organizers, families, friends, clergy, artists – the burden continues to remain on medically unskilled persons to bear the emotional weight of their troubled loved ones. Out of these massive support networks, and the associated tragedies, a number of groups have emerged to offer the world’s most advanced training in crisis intervention. Various survivors of police encounters, police trainers and officers themselves, and other healthcare, emergency medicine, and psychiatric experts are the meat and bones of these entities, who are few in number but great in power. With great pleasure I am describing to you groups like Minnesota’s own Barbara Schneider Foundation – a nonprofit that focuses on the CIT model of crisis intervention.

I have spent some time speaking, teaching, and consulting with this group in particular about my own experiences. This past January I also wrote their director a brief proposal  that articulated my understanding of the work BSF is accomplishing and my small vision for how it might be improved. In summary it is my opinion from experience and academic training that the brain sciences (and particularly the areas of affective neuroscience, developmental neuroscience, and psychiatry) will in coming years offer a revolutionary and unparalleled set of solutions and strategies for communities and nations to address the issues of brain disease, extreme personal crises, and the psychiatric stability of the public. The World Health Organization is of the opinion that by 2030, depression will be the leading cause of disability on earth. I would rather not cite statistics on how many persons with mental illness are killed by police every year – just go read about it yourself. The brain is the source of these mysterious issues, and it is through an accumulated world history of powerful, personal, and sometimes tragic anecdotes, combined with new and nearly mystical insights into our own existence through the study of the nervous system, that will begin to alleviate the suffering of so many. This must start with basic empirical research at the level of how mental health crises emerge in the brain, in the moment, and in the world – hence, ‘3 levels of the mental health crisis.’

enjoy.

BSF PROPOSAL

-iv

Contemplative Cops: Using Meditation in Law Enforcement

Should law enforcement officers engage in on-the-job meditation practices as a regular part of training or workflow? Might the use of certain contemplative exercises such as mindfulness training enhance the ability of police officers to perform their job safely (or recover afterwards)? Or, more simply: would meditating be good for cops? Should the police meditate? This note is written in response to a few online publications about this question that briefly describe the increasing osmosis between law enforcement and intentional, secular meditation practice. Only several online pieces from the early 2000s will be discussed [rather than the history/subject matters of police practice & contemplative practice in general]. If anyone doubts that exploring all possible strategies to reduce police violence is important, let’s just step into the comment area. Before initiating or joining any critical conversation about something as subjective as meditation (or something as serious as law enforcement) we might want to take a few things into consideration.

First, as your author, I am not [& never have been] ordained or certified as a meditation teacher — nor as a law enforcement officer. This places me in a position of relative inexperience when it comes to the following topics, and I encourage any and all from these communities to provide input (or contact me at iandoyleolson@gmail.com). My relevant expertise will be mentioned below but it is not of primary importance for our conversation anyway.

Second, both law enforcement and meditation are kind of hard to talk about with any truth or accuracy. This is because law enforcement and meditation are both quite common and and varied – they happen all over the place, and in a lot of different ways. This piece of writing you are looking at is coming from someone with no experience as a police officer and no authority on meditation. This means that we will fail in covering the breadth and scope of both of these practices…oh well.

Third, the observations to come are not meant to be judgmental or laden with approval/disapproval – they are simply observations. Those individuals working in both the meditation & law enforcement communities have my support, & it is from a place of interest that I enter the discussion about them.

Why would the police meditate? (We’re talking about on-the-job meditation – not any personal practice at home.) There have been a few internet publications about this recently [see list below]. There are at least some of us who are of the opinion that when it comes to police and law enforcement, the United States is in a crisis. This crisis, as described by Buddhist dharma teacher and former police officer Cheri Maples, is characterized by “[an] unnecessary use of force, racial profiling, militarization of police departments, lack of trust between communities and police departments, lack of strategies to address trauma and emotional health of police officers, unconscious and unspoken organizational agreements in police culture, and a lack of informal safety nets for people across the country….” All of these issues warrant immediate and honest speculation on how to improve our state of affairs. And for the past several years, especially in the midwestern United States, the quest for solutions has been a hot topic. Among existing thoughts on how to reform police practices is the idea of introducing and/or standardizing traditional mental and emotional training techniques for law enforcement.

A healthy amount of the existing chatter in this conversation comes in from the angle of affective neuroscience. Affective neuroscience is the multidisciplinary study of the nervous system in the context of mood, emotion, and affective processing. One of the pioneers in this field who has publicly offered thoughts about police work is the research psychologist Richard J Davidson, a Harvard-trained buddy of the Dalai Lama who does most of his brain research in Madison, Wisconsin. Richie is a righteous dude who gave me the chance to chat with him when I was 19 – not too long after I had some experiences at the hands of the Madison Police Department that were not ideal. A year later, just as my own personal Zazen practice was deepening, he let me volunteer in his laboratory in Madison. I am grateful both for his input on my experiences and career at that time, and for my current opportunity to reciprocate.

Because a lot of Davidson’s work has focused on the neurophysiology of mental illness, well-being, and other emotional states, it seems clear why he might be interested in the neural correlates of (and effective steps towards) compassionate police work. Not only do police officers deal with homelessness, mental illness, and behavioral crises on the job – they also go home with personal trauma. This is notwithstanding the myriad instances of police brutality in the news, including some shootings in Madison and some unfortunate practices in Dane County Jail. Mediating stress, fear, anxiety, and panic responses under pressure are certainly complex issues at the level of media social discourse, but also at the level of the central nervous system – Dr. Davidson seems to be interested in connecting the two. He is already helping to get the police to meditate. According to a 2015 article in the Atlantic he has been helping the police in Madison, Wisconsin to either learn some contemplative practices or to connect them with someone who can. (I’ve reached out to the handful of officers that I know in the MPD to see what they think about it – updates to come.)

This seems like a great idea to me…generally speaking. But what are the specifics? What benefit(s) to police tactics or police work overall might be found in sitting practice? As much as I love both topics I wonder why the MPD first chose to talk to Richie: in other words, I am skeptical about the immediate intersectionality between police practices and high-level neuroscience research. Certainly as a prominent researcher of meditation (and a personal meditator himself) Richie likely some great insights about how the practice works, as well as great connections in terms of teachers. But is he really the best (or only) individual to be providing such practices or consultation to the police? With no information about the program in place at the Madison Police Department I can’t say much. But my academic familiarity with Richie’s research, experiences in his lab, encounters with the Madison police, EMT training, my personal Zen practice, and role as a law enforcement instructor for the Barbara Schneider Foundation have given me a thought or two: I have some initial doubts about the application of “mindfulness” to law enforcement. My opinion is that the types of mindfulness practices – at least those being explored at the Center for Healthy Minds (previously the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds), where Davidson is in charge – are likely beneficial for the emotional stability of police officers, but perhaps less relevant during actual fieldwork or crisis intervention.  Elsewhere there are similar programs – a quick Google search shows that meditation programs are appearing in a variety of police departments. A mindfulness program in Oregon has been implemented for several years now, and some initial results and data shared at a conference in April 2014. There’s also some similar stuff happening in India. As a certified EMT and supporter of technology I have wondered about the possible efficacy of some type of an App for blending these skill sets – a mindfulness trainer for law enforcement and EMS that could fit in one’s pocket. Maybe that will be the subject of further research and another brief piece. Time will tell how these law enforcement/meditation programs play out and it is my modest prediction that the futures of neuroscience research, public interest, police work, and federal/municipal/private funding may continue to overlap in a big way.

-IV

 

sources

(9/30/2015) http://www.thewayofmeditation.com.au/blog/the-current-crisis-in-policing-and-how-buddhist-mindfulness-can-help/

(7/2014) http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/nov/07/india-police-yoga-meditation-police-crime-figures

(4/16/2014) http://www.oregonlive.com/hillsboro/index.ssf/2014/04/hillsboro_cops_meditation_trai.html

(early 2014) https://www.change.org/p/president-of-the-united-states-make-it-mandatory-that-police-officers-meditate

(3/4/2013) http://www.tm.org/blog/people/transcendental-meditation-helps-police-with-ptsd/

(fall 2011) http://www.ntoa.org/massemail/RyanFA11.pdf

(2/15/11) http://www.spiritvoyage.com/blog/index.php/from-police-officer-to-peace-officer-meditation-and-cops