28 Takeaways From Days of Dialogue in Los Angeles Re: Police Brutality and Other Divisive Issues in U.S.

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In the past two weeks, I volunteered at two events (Days of Dialogue) organized by Institute of Non-Violence. The events are mainly aimed at improving police relationship with communities. The audience for the first event was a union for low-skilled school workers, the second, a muslim community. It was a pleasant experience for me: from having a cop slide a hand-written note that read Jay Jay Okocha my way when I mentioned that I grew up in Nigeria, getting an opportunity to say Salam Alekum (a greeting I learned in 2008 during my National Youth Service in Katsina, a predominantly muslim State), to learning that each stripe in the sleeve of an LAPD cop uniform represents five years of service.  More important, the  events provide a  rare opportunity to get unfiltered views from both sides of the aisle on issues  relating to police shootings of often unarmed  civilians.

Below,  in no particular order and sometimes contradictory, I highlight views  expressed by both members of law enforcement and the community at the two events

1. If law enforcement officers try to establish rapport with, and get to know members of the community before they are called for encounters that may necessitate deadly force, then officers are more likely to know, for example, which member of the public has mental illness and what step to take when they  subsequently respond to an incident involving the person. Also if officers have a rapport with a member of the community, a traffic stop is more likely to be a “Hey, buddy, looks like your brake light is off” than a series of commands to a belligerent driver who has preconceptions that officers are just out there to get people like him.

While writing this post, I did some research and found that the Los Angeles Police Department has about 9000 sworn officers serving Los Angeles’ 4 million population. So even if all these officers worked patrol, which isn’t the case, each officer will have to personally know about 444 members of the community. So while more engagement with the community will be possible in smaller cities, a city as big as LA may not afford having officers engage personally with members of the community in a way that yields the benefit proposed by this view. Events like the Days of Dialogue, targeted at groups, is more feasible and I applaud it.

2.  In order for gun control laws to be effective, they should be uniform throughout the country, otherwise,  a state that has strict gun laws, like stricter backgrounds checks, for example, will still have people bringing into the state guns purchased from out-of-state.

3.  There is no need for tougher  gun control laws. People who do not obey the law do not obey existing gun laws anyway, so they will not obey any new laws. Stricter gun laws only hurt law-abiding citizens and limit their rights to acquire arms, a situation that renders them vulnerable and defenseless in the event they are attacked.

4. Australia’s 1996 tighter gun control laws has reduced homicide rate in the country significantly. While writing this post, I did a little research and found that there are conflicting views on the effect of the 1996 laws. That said, I found this excerpt from Wikipdia:

“Since the 1996 legislation the risk of dying by gunshots was reduced by 50% in the following years and stayed on that lower level since then.

The rate of gun related suicide was greatly reduced as well.[26] In 2010, a study reported a 59% decrease in firearm homicides in Australia between 1995 and 2006 (0.37 per 100,000 people in 1995 to 0.15 per 100,000 people in 2006).[29] They also reported that the non-firearm homicides fell by the same rate. The decreasing rate for homicide with a firearm was a continuation of a pre-existing decline prior to the 1996 reforms, and several analyses of these trends have been conducted and claimed that the reforms have had a statistically insignificant effect on homicide rates with a firearm .[30]

Suicides by firearm were already declining; however they fell significantly after controls, dropping around 50% in two years.[31] Overall suicide rates remained steady until a slight drop in 2003, followed by stable rates since then.[27]”

5. There is currently no law mandating any training for new gun owners.

6. There is  a real  need for gun owners to be responsible for where they keep their guns. Keeping guns locked away is the safest way to store them; not in plain view, however high. Even a hidden but accessible place is unsafe as the gun may get into the  wrong hands in the event of a burglary.  Officers at the event gave an example of their colleague who is now paralyzed because he stored his gun under his chair while riding his young child in a car. I think the young child somehow got her hand on the gun and accidentally shot his dad. As I am writing this, in the news is the story of an 11-year old South Carolina girl who killed herself with a gun. So the need for safe gun storage  cannot be over emphasized.

7. LAPD has the best model in the country for dealing with people with mental illness. The unit has about seventy sworn officers who respond to cases involving people with mental health issues. This 2015 article provides more insight into the program for anyone researching on the subject.

8. In 2015, LAPD officers had over 1.5 million contacts with members of the public, including arrests and responses to 9-1-1 calls. Only .13% of those contacts resulted in any type of use of force. This represents a Use of Force rate of 1.3 per 1,000 public contacts.
The 48 Officer-Involved Shootings in 2015 represent only .03 per 1,000 contacts with members of the public or .003%. See the full report here.

9. There is need for mutual respect between the police and the public. If an officer is friendly towards a driver during a traffic stop, the driver is less likely to be hostile towards the officer. Likewise, a police officer is less likely to be violent towards a citizen who obeys instructions given by an officer. Giving an officer attitude places one in a bad position. This is true. I had previously heard an officer say that she is more likely to give a ticket to someone who is uncooperative. A family member also told me of how once he was stopped by an officer for no apparent reason. After questioning him, the officer let him go but then he asked the officer why he stopped him in the first place. The officer then issued him  a ticket that contained the violation. Yep, silence is golden and officers admit they are humans after all, so don’t give them attitude.

10. Despite the training they receive re mentally challenged people, the police may nevertheless use deadly force on such persons if they pose immediate danger to others.

11. The LAPD has contemplated not pursuing fleeing felons, and withdrawing and running away from people who pose immediate harm to officers. But the downside to adopting this de-escalation technique is that it will set a dangerous precedent and lead people to commit  crime with impunity.

12. A black man was walking around in Beverly Hill and a police officer stopped him and asked him, “What are you doing here?” Beverly Hills is 82% white and 2% blacks.

13. Family dynamics in U.S. is changing. Children are not held accountable for their actions at home and so they have no respect for authority. It shows in the way they talk to officers. A participant recounted an incident she witnessed. A juvenile spat on a sheriff while they were all waiting for a hearing in a courtroom, the officer remained professional throughout the incident. Moments later, the juvenile alleged that the officer had manhandled him, which was untrue. The officer’s saving grace  was that there were witnesses, including lawyers, to the incident.

Young adults who have no sense that certain actions lead to certain consequences are always shocked when they end up in the justice system for actions that hitherto went unpunished.

Recently my friend started substitute teaching. Within her first two days, an 11-year old in her class told her to say please or she would not obey her order. So there’s definitely some truth to the assertion that young people have no respect for authority.

14. You can make a report against an officer for the silliest of reasons and the department will launch an investigation, no matter how improbable the allegation may be. I didn’t quite hear this part well but I think  an officer gave an example of a cop that was once investigated because a woman alleged the officer stole her ovaries!

15. There is a lot of misinformation and exaggeration by the media regarding police use of deadly force.

16. Minorities  experience some sort of discrimination wherever they are. A participant who is Armenian believes that Glendale police stop them more than they do others. This, despite Armenians making up about 34% of Glendale population.

17. Doing a ride-along with a police officer may help citizens see things from  police perspective. See this page if you want to do a ride-along with LAPD.

18. LAPD is diverse: about 50% of sworn officers are Hispanics.

19. Illegal immigrants in Los Angeles shouldn’t worry about LAPD officers engaging in deportation activities against them. LAPD is not cooperating with the Feds in that regard.

20. A by-stander videoing officers when they are making an arrest makes the officers’ job harder as the officers now have to worry about the safety of the bystander while trying to effect an arrest.

21. Officers love that their departments now use body-cameras because it makes them more accountable, and exonerate them when they are falsely accused. However, officers say body cameras now make them harsher on citizens as they now feel impelled to punish minor crimes they would have used their discretion to pardon in the past, lest their department discipline them for being soft on crime. They also  hate that the department can nit-pick on their actions recorded in the video. I agree with them. However good an employee may be, it will be suffocating to have an employer watch every move one makes.

21. Police draw their guns only when they fear an imminent threat to life.

22. One hundred and thirty-five officers lost their lives in the U.S. in 2016. This is not widely reported in the news so the public are not well informed about the danger officers face. But the officers know this figure and so are apprehensive during encounters with dangerous members of the public. Many of them have had their friends killed on the job.

23. Younger African males are more racially profiled than older African Americans.

24. Older members of the police force engage members  of the community more politely than younger law enforcement officers. Experience does come with age.

25. A participant recounted how his son and his friends, all high school students, were walking to a Taco Bell for lunch. They were stopped by the police. His son greeted the officers politely and respectfully. The police detained his friends and sent him home. This reinforces the  earlier point that the police reciprocate courtesy.

26. There is more tension when officers who grew up in sheltered suburbs are assigned to patrol inner cities.

27. Even blacks are biased against members of their race whose dressing and conduct in public give the impression that they can cause harm. It is recommended that people dress the way that they want to be addressed; even people who aren’t racist have implicit bias and may judge us wrongly based solely on the impression they get from our appearance.

28. Muslims don’t support ISIS. Muslim participants said ISIS actually kill more muslims than people who practice other religion. There may be some truth to that assertion. In Nigeria where Boko Haram, another Islamic extremist group that has claimed thousands of lives, operate, they bomb mostly Northern Nigeria which is the muslim region in the country.

It is hard to capture all the lessons from the events in this one post. If you want to learn more and have an unbiased opinion about police brutality in U.S. or to participate in future events, please visit Days of Dialogue website and follow them on Twitter.


Anne Mmeje.



Dear Devil’s Advocate: My Wife Bought a House and Won’t Put My Name on the Deed

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If you are wondering what the Devil’s Advocate series is about, read the intro to this blog. This next scenario is inspired by a rift between a couple I met sometime ago.

Dear Devil’s Advocate,

I have been married to my wife for three years. We are both Igbos and we live in Onitsha. She was a widow and I, a widower when we met. I have a son from my previous marriage. She has two daughters from hers. My wife gave birth to our daughter last year and we don’t plan on having another child.

My wife and I are both hardworking professionals–she is a lawyer; I’m a lecturer in a State university. Although we have never really discussed our financial arrangement, we have an unwritten rule where she takes care of grocery and other minor expenses around the house while I take care of the house rent and other major bills. However, I pay my son’s school fees and she pays her daughters’. Her kids attend an expensive private school which I feel is unjustifiably expensive; I won’t ever send my child to such school even if I can afford it–it’s waste of money. But I don’t mind her daughters going to the private school since I don’t pick up the tabs. My son is enrolled in a federal school that offers the same quality education as private schools.

My wife is a wonderful person. But yesterday she told me that she bought a rental property last month. She never told me she was buying the house. She is now telling me after the fact. Obviously, my name is not on the deed and I’m hurt. I have real estate investments I purchased before I married her and we live on a private residence I bought more than a decade ago. So this is not about me being an opportunist. I’m self-sufficient. But I feel her action is self-serving and shows a lack of commitment to our marriage.

We have never had a major misunderstanding since we got married and I’ve never had a reason to question her loyalty. But her buying this property without my knowledge, and especially without putting my name on it has made me question how committed she is to our marriage. I know it’s hard to manage relationships in blended families but I was hoping she would come on this ride with me without any reservation.

Given what she did, is she still worthy of my trust?


My Response: Dear Emmanuel,

I’m sorry you feel the way you do about your wife’s actions. That said, there may be deep-seated issues that motivated her actions which you need to discuss with her before you lose faith in the woman you love.

First, you mentioned that she has two daughters from her previous marriage. What happened when her first husband died? Did she inherit her late husband’s property? As a patriarchal society–and I have seen this happen over and over again–when a man dies in Igbo land, his widow, if she doesn’t have a male child for him, is stripped of all she and her husband owned together. You may think it is unlikely this happened because she is a lawyer who knows her rights and would have stood up for herself if that happened but people’s professional persona often differ from their their personal lives. I have heard of a female Judge who sits on her bench every morning with a black eye from domestic abuse at home. So you may want to have a talk with your wife about this–if you two haven’t discussed it–because a proper understanding of her past will help you understand her actions in the future.

If your wife lost everything after her first husband died, then you can see why she bought the house in her name alone: if anything happened to you, she could fall back on her own investments without having squabbles with your relatives over jointly-owned properties.

Second, because female children do not inherit from their birth families, your wife may have considered that if she died before you and your name were on the deed, the house will go to you and your son and her daughters will be left with nothing. You cannot fault her for a decision she made to secure her children’s future.

Third, you mention that her children go to a top private school that you consider rather expensive and that you can’t imagine spending so much on a child’s education even if you can afford it. This shows that your priorities may differ from your wife’s. She may have doubts whether you will continue to give her children quality education if she becomes incapacitated. So having a separate investment that can take of them will make it easier to continue to provide them a top quality education without your preferences and judgment overriding her wishes for her children.

Fourth, you already have real estate investments of your own. Given that you acquired them before you married her, I assume her name is not on the properties. Have you considered putting her name on them? Are you aware that your son, not she, will inherit those properties when you die? What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander so you may have to re-think your expectations in your marriage if you cannot make compromises of your own.

Fifth, I have argued that she may be paranoid based on her previous experience. However, what if she actually did inherit from her deceased husband and she bought the property from the investment. If that is the case, she may felt she has an obligation to keep the investment in her name to protect her daughters’ interest so that they will benefit from their father’s estate. Again, once she allows you to be a part-owner of the property, the primary beneficiary will be your son. So your wife concerns are valid.

More important, giving that you two pretty much seem to be handling your finances separately–she paying her daughters’ school fees and you your son’s–your expectation that she includes you in the deed may be unrealistic.

Lastly, regarding her keeping the transaction secret until she completed it, she may have been worried you would have objections, like you do now, to her having the property in her name. While openness is extremely important in marriage, it can be hindered where one party is always made to compromise her stand on important subjects. So accepting your wife’s decision on this issue will create an an enabling environment where she will feel free to tell you her intentions before embarking on a major project in the future.

To allay your wife’s concern for the future which concern I believe led to her actions, I recommend you sit down with her and assure her that she and her daughters’ future are secure with you. It is also important that you two draw up a will that will ensure each of the four children is taken care of in the event either of you dies. Estate disputes are more contentious in families such as yours where the children are not from the same parents. So drawing up a will will guarantee your kids don’t engage in ugly court battles after you are gone. In my opinion, anything short of this then your expectation that your wife leaves her financial future unsecured is not realistic.

Devils’ Advocate.

P.S : For real-life purposes, a 2014 judgment Ukeje v Ukeje held that women can now inherit from their fathers in Igbo land. See my previous post on the subject here.

Do share your insights and comments below.

Dear Devil’s Advocate: My Boyfriend’s Parents Won’t Let Him Marry Me

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A Devil’s Advocate takes the opposing side of any argument, just for the sake of debate, so that all sides of a question are discussed.

I am Launching a series Dear Devil’s Advocate to promote understanding and peaceful co-existent between people. From my experience–professional and personal–the strife and bad blood between friends, relatives, co-workers etc. stem from a lack of understanding of the other person’s perspective; if roles were reversed, people will do exactly the same thing as the other person whose actions they find intolerable.

In this series, I will take common situations and argue the unpopular position such that if you are in the position, you may begin to understand where the other person is coming from, and I hope, feel less animosity towards the person you believe have hurt you. For now, I make up the scenarios drawing inspiration from experiences of real-life people I know. With time, I hope you will send me entries about situations and people in your life that drive you crazy. Remember, the goal is not to justify the other person’s actions but to help you deal more objectively with the situation. This will help you keep your sanity and hold less grudge towards others.

The first in the series is from Tolu.

Dear Devil’s Advocate:

My name is Tolu. I have been with my boyfriend Uche for three years. He’s 30, I am 25. I met him during my National Youth Service in Anambra. He is the first man I have truly loved. He’s kind and funny and everything I want in a man.

Problem is, he’s Igbo and I’m Yoruba. His parents who are typical Igbo traders, have never met me but have stood their ground that he won’t marry me because I’m not Igbo. In fact, they insist he must marry someone not just from his State in Anambra but from his town in Ozubulu. How can people who have never met me judge me so harshly? I’m hurt that they have declined to meet me to even assess if I’m ‘worthy’ of their son. How they can be so close-minded at this age and time when people marry people from other race is beyond me.

Anyway, my boyfriend and I have decided to go on with the wedding plans and I have resolved that after the wedding, I’m going to pay his parents back for all the hurt they have caused me. They will never be welcomed in my house nor will the receive any financial help from us.

My Response:Dear Tolu,

Parents disapprove of marriages for reasons ranging from the ludicrous to the reasonable. While I am not going to tell you if going on with the wedding plans is proper in the circumstance–even I don’t know if it is–I can tell you that being mean to your future in-laws is unreasonable for at least four reasons.

First, like you said, your future in-laws have never met you so their disapproval of you is ‘Not Personal’; they would reject any girl that is not from Ozubulu. So why will you make personal something that is not. They don’t hate You as they don’t know you, so please don’t hold any ill-feelings towards them.

Second, you are educated; they are not. Probably you have had Igbo friends in the past and from your relationships with them you learned that certain stereotypes we associate with people whose cultures are different from ours aren’t true. If your future in-laws are like many Igbo parents, they have never left the Southeast and don’t know what Yoruba people are like except that Yorubas use a lot of palm oil to cook soup (Now, I don’t mean this to be derogatory). Will it be fair then to judge these people who may have never talked to a Yourba person by the same standard as you who probably have a mix of Igbos, Yoruba, and Hausas as Facebook friends. Your experience has taught you that irrespective of cultural background, we all share our humanity and cherish such values as honesty, integrity, fairness etc. Yes, your future in-laws are close-minded like you said but they have not been privileged to be otherwise.

Third, have you considered that their reluctance to accept you may stem from fear and worry and not hate; fear that their relationship with you will be awkward; worry that they cannot have conversations with you if you can’t speak Igbo and they cannot speak English. Can you make oha soup, jiakwu, ji agworogwo etc? ‘What the heck are those?’ You ask. Same question your future in-laws will ask when you marry their son and during your visit to them at Christmas you prepare ewedu and amala. The point is, no culture is better than the other but your future in-laws may be worried that you may not be open to learning how they do things. Their reluctance to accept you could be because they believe you will not fit in. Their concern is real–even if not valid. While these days, as extended family relationships weaken, you feel that you will be married to their son, not them, and that their opinion and preferences shouldn’t matter, it is hard for your future parents in laws who grew up in close-knit extended family units to understand this fact and how times have changed.

Lastly it may not be proper to cut them off from their son’s financial support. You have known your boyfriend for only three years. Your boyfriend is thirty. So for the first 27 years of his life you weren’t there when his parents provided for him, offered him emotional and financial support such that he has become the wonderful person you said he is. Parenting is the hardest job there is and robbing you future in-laws the pleasure of having their son take care of them now that they are old is morally wrong. Your boyfriend owes his parents his life and whatever your issues with them are, never prevent him from paying them back for all they did for him.

I understand how close-minded (and old-fashioned, if you like) your future in-laws are. However, were I born when they were, where they were, and had the same life experiences as they did, I would be singing their tune, not yours.

I hope my response helps you find it in your heart to forgive whatever hurt you believe they have caused you. And hey, check back with me twenty years from now when your daughter (assuming you have one by then) presents you a tattoo-sleeved, dreadlocks-rocking, motorcycle-riding white dude as her suitor. I hope you will remember then that you cannot judge a book by its cover.

Good luck Tolu as I invite my readers to comment and help you put this issue in proper perspective.

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