A Buddhist View on Kalief Browder, and McKinney, Texas

Dharma, Buddhism, Mckinney, Kalief BrowderI came home from a wonderful stretch discussing The Road Home in Colorado and Texas to read the story of Kalief Browder’s suicide and to watch a hard-to-stomach video of a white police officer going absolutely bonkers (not in a good way) on African American children at a pool party in Mckinney, Texas. Since I was in Texas when it occurred, and because the incident involved the nostalgic memory of kids at a summertime pool party, the latter struck me even more closely, somehow. Both stories demonstrate the deeply institionalized racism of our society and legal systems. We can see some of Kalief Browder’s treatment here (held for three years at Riker’s Island without any charge of a crime, mostly in solitary confinement, later to commit suicide), and we can also watch how an officer engages in insanely transparent racism against a group of unarmed kids. But we can also develop compassion, compassion for what happens to our world when a human being in an authority position has inadequate training for working with his own emotions. Of course, not being subject to racial profiling, this is extremely privileged of me to say, but nonetheless, here’s what struck me the most about the video: it shows an authority figure who SO clearly lacks any of the mental training he needs to hold the position of authority with which he is tasked.

Just a thought: What if we taxed billionaires just a teensy weensy bit more (eventually we are going to figure out how insane, how beyond all reason, the level of our current wealth schism really is) and used just a tiny bit of that abundance of money to train the officers who need it in how to A) become aware of institutionalized racism, and B) how to handle their emotions more effectively in the heat of duty, how to work with the deep and intense stresses of their jobs?

Part A) may seem like a “liberal” perspective, but part B) is dharma, plain and simple. If you are going to be charged with the safety of others (especially kids!) you need serious training in compassionate awareness of your own triggers, emotions and reactions. This video reminds me of the most confused parts of myself, which is why I chose to watch and why it is so hard, yet necessary, to see. When I imagine being this unable to control myself in the presence of children (and yes, they are just kids) AND holding a gun and badge, I cringe.

And still, when I think of the many police officers who actually work well with their own difficult emotions and see the full humanity of the young citizens they are charged with protecting, I bow.

4 thoughts on “A Buddhist View on Kalief Browder, and McKinney, Texas

  1. there was an article on CNN today about the conflicting stories given with regard to the Texas story. There is an African American man, a witness, who said that these kids broke into the pool and were fighting.
    I have been listening to your podcast for years, & I love your work… AND I think the larger issue here, is that we are fed hook line and sinker the first thing we read about something. We are no longer discerning about our news. And our reactions are immediate, and very polarizing. more and more often before we have a whole story.

    1. Very respectfully disagree, based on directly watching the video and seeing how the officer left their white friends (including the one who shot the video) alone, as well as how brutally he talked to them and handled the young girl. Whether they were invited or not, how could that possibly be considered ok for a public servant? Even if they crashed a party, this can’t be considered acceptable police work, and I can see that with my own eyes, not anyone else’s.

      Thanks for your kind words about my work! With every best wish, ethan.

  2. sorry, I did not mean to imply that the officer’s behavior was acceptable. I am a social worker, & I actually work, in Baltimore, teaching behavioral health crisis intervention to law enforcement.
    I have been involved in social justice in this city for the last 25 years, and I’m well aware of the many social inequities.
    my point was more about how instant communication allows for…… non skillfulness, not only in communication, but in reaction. We hear things (and post them!) before we have all the facts.
    to me, this is a huge obstacle to healing the many ills of society.
    Sort of like a collective “monkey mind”.

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