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

Embed from Getty Images

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.

 

 

Advertisements

Be Inspired: This 24-Year Old Nigerian Without a University Degree Makes More Than N3.5 Million a Month as a Freelance Writer

Embed from Getty Images

I don’t remember for sure when and where I first read about Bamidele Onibalusi. It could have been in this 2015 Bellanaija post where he wrote about four ways to make money online. Because he is a success story in a field I am considering for a side hustle–freelance writing–I have been following his works through his blog Writers-in-Charge for the past few years. You can read more about his tale of rags-to-riches in Forbes (featured when he was only 19) and in this Huffington Post interview (2015).

Last year, I joined a closed Facebook group Bamidele created where a challenge required participants to make their first $1,000 as freelance writers in two months. Bamidele took the lead by taking up a pseudonym, not leveraging his reputation as an established writer, and solicited clients as a budding writer. Bamidele finished the challenge well before two months. Several other participants went on to establish their freelance writing careers as a result of that exercise. My other commitments did not permit me to follow through with the challenge. However, the challenge motivated me to contact and do a Skype call with partners from one of Nigeria’s top law firms about a business idea; I moved my blog to my domain name; and with Bamidele’s guidance to all participants, I got my first publication on Huffington post.

Yesterday, I got an email from Bamidele (I am only one of his 55,000 subscribers) and reading the email, I was reminded again of how far one can go if they persist in pursuing their goals. I had recently read portions of Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, a seminal work that shows that grit (:firmness of mind or spirit :unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger), not necessarily hard work, is the most essential element for success. In the email yesterday, Bamidele wrote that he made five figures last month (he lives in Nigeria but has clients in U.S. and charges in dollars). The email inspired me to reflect on my own goals. Here’s the relevant part of Bamidele’s email:

“Hey,

It’s Bamidele Onibalusi here.

It’s probably been awhile since you last heard from me: I’ve gotten emails from readers who have been missing my updates and wanted to check in to see if I am okay.

Yes, I am okay.

This year has been a very different year for me – in a good and challenging way:

First, I incorporated my offline business and took things to a whole different level (I had as many as 14 full-time employees at a point), and I have been scaling my business gradually. If you have read a bit about me, you probably know about my offline business (the catfish farming business). I took things to the next level starting late last year and got into crop farming, too. This meant I started planting yams (over 30,000 heaps), cassava, rice, maize and plantains. Managing the farm as well as my employees wasn’t easy – it takes time to get the hang of things, but I had solace in knowing that once I put a system in place I can slowly withdraw myself.These days, I don’t work at the farm as much as I did in the early days so I’m obviously doing something right. However, it is one of the major reasons I have been silent over here.

Second, schooling; I am doing a degree program in Psychology. It’s fun, and I’ve learnt so much that I blame myself for not having started sooner! However, it takes time too – especially when you decide you want to get distinctions all through (as I decided). I’ll probably finish the program early next year, though, so this will soon be out of the way.

Third, my health; this year hasn’t been the best for me health wise. My health hasn’t always been perfect, but you should see my energy! Even without the best of health, I do significantly more than very healthy people on the average day! 20-hour days have not been uncommon this year, and even on days that I do not work I usually put in more hours than people working a 9 to 5. Not because I am compelled to – by God’s grace, where I am today (thanks to income from this freelance writing thing that I’ve carefully invested into other areas), I could easily decide not to lift a finger for several years and I’d be perfectly okay. In fact, I spent the first two weeks of this year relaxing with my family, doing nothing — simply “being”. The sky didn’t fall over, and my businesses kept growing. However, I’m not gunning for “okay”; I want to be the biggest farmer in Africa and in the world, and that takes some sacrifice… which I’m more than happy to give. When there are health challenges, though, I have to put some things on the backburner even if I’d have loved to do them.

 

… I still actively freelance (just last month I pulled in five figures in income from my freelancing business – despite being busy with a host of activities). I also have really cool stuff planned for you in the coming days and weeks… especially if you are a beginner freelance writer, so you can stay tuned for that.”

Now, the exchange rate from Nigeria naira to U.S. dollar is about N350 to a dollar. If he made five figures, (I know it’s in dollars because I have been following his works and that is closer to what he regularly makes; also he writes for an international audience and so uses American currency as references) that’s at least $10,000 he made in September. That’s how I came to the N3.5m in the title of this post.

As you may have gleaned from his email, Bamidele has qualities that set him up for success. Having followed his works for a while, here are five lessons I have learned from Bamidele on how to be a success story.

Never Give Up

Like Linda Ikeji, Africa’s richest blogger who blogged for more than five years before earning money from writing, Bamidele blogged for at least two years before he made it. As we marvel at his success, it may be easy to forget all the hard work he did in the early years of his career. He succeeded because of his persistence. If Bamidele had given up at any point before his big break, he would not have been the success story he is today. In his quest for success, Bamidele wrote 270 guest posts in one year! He also wrote 30 posts in one particular week. Even though it looked at the time like his efforts were worthless, they did eventually pay off beyond his imagination.

Just like the Chinese bamboo tree I wrote about here, which doesn’t show much sign of growth until much later, all the efforts we make do add up in the long run. If this is true, and if it is also true that we have no crystal ball to determine when we will get our big break, quitting at anytime could be likened to digging for treasure underground, going several feet in, and giving up when the treasure is mere inches away, not knowing that removing a little more dirt will reveal the prize. So Bamidele’s story has taught me to never give up, and that grit is more important than hard work.

Quit Making Excuses

Bamidele started freelance writing around 2010 when internet service was still unstable and a luxury in Nigeria. He wrote from a computer center. He could have easily given up on his goal because of poor network and the money he spent pursuing a goal he wasn’t certain at the time would yield results.  When his freelancing career eventually took off, he wasn’t deterred from writing for American clients even though English is not his first language. He didn’t give up when he realized that PayPal is not supported in Nigeria. His resourcefulness led him to figure out how to produce content comparable to that of native speakers and to find other alternatives for receiving payment for services he provided. Despite the challenges he faces working from Nigeria, Bamidele is more successful than most freelance writers in the U.S.

Confidence

You may have noticed that in real world, it is not always those who excel in school who go on to be the most successful. In my experience, people with type-A personalities, (You know, the confident, aggressive, ambitious, proactive, highly organized, business-like, controlling, highly competitive, preoccupied with his status, time-conscious, workaholic who multi-task, push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence (thanks Wikipedia) and most-likely-to -get-an-MBA type) are more likely to succeed.

An otherwise intelligent hardworking person may not be as successful as Bamidele if they were not as confident as he is. The tone of his email above gives a glimpse into his personality. Bamidele is among the most sought-after freelance writers because he is confident in his skills and has somehow managed to convince us that he is an authority in freelance writing. And he knows his onions. Even when he was still coming up, Bamidele started a blog aimed at telling writers how to become successful bloggers. It took confidence for him to know his worth and establish himself as an authority. He  charges premium rates and command more rates than some writers who are more experienced than he is. I am not the most confident person but seeing how Bamidele exudes confidence and even toots his own horn where necessary,  I now remind myself that no U.S. president (arguably the most difficult job in the world) had experience on the job before they assumed that role. So I have learned to be more confident in my abilities.

Giving Back

Most successful people have passion for helping others which is usually how they achieved success in the first place. Amazon is dominating retail because of Jeff Bezos’ commitment to making the company earth’s most customer-eccentric business. Bill Gates of Microsoft spends most of his money on philanthropy. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has committed to give away 99% of his wealth.  Selflessness underlines the success of these innovators.

In his own way, Bamidele is giving back to the writing community by showing writers, among other things, how to charge what they are truly worth and not settle for peanuts. He committed his time and other resources to run the Facebook challenge for free last year and I can tell you that till now, testimonies keep coming on the page from people who have successfully established freelance writing careers because of his guidance during the challenge. So Bamidele has shown by example that we succeed more when we bring others along with us.

I Already Have What It Takes

Sometimes, fear keeps us from getting what we want. We tell ourselves that we need to get that certification, that degree, that connection etc, before we can succeed. Bamidele pursued a freelance writing career without having a university education. (He is getting a higher education now). I imagine there are many of us who have postgraduate degrees who still feel they are not sufficiently equipped to succeed. Bamidele’s example shows us that we are more competent that we realize; that success is more a function of our attitude than our aptitude.

Henry Ford once said, ‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can’tyou‘re right.’
I agree with him.

I hope Bamidele’s story inspires you like it inspired me.