Defund? No, re-fund. Fifty years on the Hawaii Five-0 Task Force have taught me plenty.
From a safe and suitable distance, of course.
In 1968 I, along with many others, got hooked on a TV series centered on a somewhat aloof and staid (some might say arrogant) cop named Steve McGarrett and his special unit of Hawaiian law enforcement—three or four men entrusted with the task of keeping our fiftieth state reasonably peaceful. The formula kept Hawaii Five-0 on the air for a dozen years, and even its theme song became a hit.
When the reboot arrived in 2010, purists like me said no, never! But the reboot became my new favorite show. Now after ten years, that version is gone also.
But this isn't about my TV preferences then and now; it's about the police then and now. The original series in the sixties featured lawmen with guns. I don't know what kind of guns. No one cared. It was probably some kind of weapon that fired six rounds. Now every once in a while a really bad guy would have a high-powered rifle, and once I can remember McGarrett's second-in-command shooting another really bad guy with a scope. But for the most part, the guns looked like, well, guns. They were a necessary evil to protect the officers and subdue those bad guys. Back then I never thought of any individual police confrontation as a mini-war.
With the 2010 reboot, that changed, and by the final episode last April, the weaponry was all high-tech military ordnance. And the body count rose dramatically.
Don't get me wrong, characters always drive fiction, and I liked the characters. But I was often disturbed by the firepower and the seeming willingness to kill lots of people at once: there were callous criminals who killed with abandon by employing unthinkably horrific WMDs confronted by decent policemen with grenade- or rocket launchers at the ready, ready to kill just as efficiently. And the body count rose dramatically.
I thought about this last week when I watched the grisly confrontation between the National Guard and U.S. citizens in the nation's capital. The weaponry was extreme, and though nobody fired a gun as far as we know, the possibility of widespread slaughter lay right there. And always ready for gasoline on the fire, President Trump suggested the use of tanks—on the streets of the nation's capital—to dominate (his new pet word) not a well-armed insurrection but a group of protesters. Adding to the muddle were military and police in unmarked uniforms and various explosive devices intended to temporarily blind and deafen. What fun!
I heard a commentator suggest last week that cops needed to be more like Andy Taylor in Mayberry (another ancient TV reference) and less like a military commander with WMDs at his disposal. If defunding the police—or re-funding them—might accomplish that, then I'm for it. If it means more emphasis on neighborhood policing and trust-building, then let's try that. I was never a law officer, but I'll bet for most cops a good day does not involve launching a rocket at a car filled with bad guys or winding up with a lifetime of paperwork on why someone died in his custody; maybe instead it's setting up a neighborhood watch or gathering neighbors together for an informal meeting, a picnic, a party. In many cities these are regular occurrences; unfortunately, Minneapolis was not one of them, though after the murder of George Floyd, it may become one.
Another offshoot of the George Floyd matter is the common knowledge that tour military is unloading its excess weaponry on municipal police departments, and not for free. This is a hideously awful idea in itself, but a larger question is this: why is there excess weaponry to begin with. Who benefits financially? Answer that question and we can begin to fix this. Arm the police suitably, take the money squandered on armored vehicles and grenade launchers and turn it back to the community. Neighborhoods with adequate schools, decent employment opportunities, and suitable housing do not foster crime, do not require heavy artillery, do not reek of teargas and pepper spray. Spend the money to make that happen instead of arming some twenty-something rookie cop with a $15,000 "gun."
So yes, I enjoyed the new Hawaii Five-0, but maybe we watch shows like that and begin to believe that's the world we live in. If it were, nobody would ever deplane at Honolulu International, visit the USS Arizona Memorial, or marvel at the statues of Kamehameha I. (See? I paid attention. Mahalo.) Let's apply that same ability to distinguish fact from fiction to our policing demands. We don't have to defund/eliminate the police—we need for them to know what they're supposed to be doing—what is expected—and then create an environment in which they can effect it. It's not a Washington thing, and certainly not a Trump thing; but if we on the local level want a police force that serves and protects—and does so without endangering itself or the community—then the local level is where it begins. And it begins now.