Comedy Is A Good Bullshit X-Ray & Redefine Policing

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[The following are excerpts (one on strategy/one on an issue) from my new book Don’t Think Of A Republican – How I Won A Republican Primary As A Lefty Progressive And You Can Too, which recounts the rhetoric and game plan of satirical candidate H.F. Valentine’s unprecedented 2022 primary run. See the whole book here.]

On Strategy:

Comedy Is A Good Bullshit X-Ray

Excerpt from H.F. Valentine’s campaign stop at Jack and Jill’s (Comedy Club)

Can I be honest with y’all about something? I really try to make sure I’m listening to all my potential voters, and I’m committed to taking everyone seriously. But I don’t know about these QAnon folks. I’m kind of scared of them. I’m afraid I’m going to contradict one of them and get imagined into the cabal. I don’t want to be a Satan-worshipping cannibal, even if it’s just in somebody’s imagination. 

I got cornered on the campaign trail by a group of QAnon believers. I felt like I was visiting a loved one with Alzheimer’s at the nursing home, and the nursing home had gotten taken hostage – by people who spoke a different language. I didn’t know what anybody was talking about. All I could do was nod and smile. Lot of nodding and smiling. Don’t want to get anybody too upset. 

I guess that’s the way it is now. It’s a brave new world in politics. Now we got Q politicians. I don’t know about that. Call me old-fashioned, but I miss a good, solid bribe taker. At least with Mitt Romney we knew what we were getting. 

Y’all remember when Mitt Romney said that shit about, “Corporations are people, my friend”? That mofo was sincere, wasn’t he? Mitt Romney said, “Corporations are people,” like he was sticking up for an oppressed group of human beings. That shit came from the heart.

It was as if one of Mitt Romney’s sons had come out as a corporation and he wanted everyone to know he wasn’t going to love him any less.

“But, Dad, I’ve always known I was a corporation.”

“Well, Son, I had noticed since you were a child you loved to elevate your own interest above others and treat your disregard for the environment as an externality for taxpayers to clean up after the damage has already been done.” 

Could it be that Mitt Romney is just more accepting than we are? Maybe we’re the intolerant ones, and we all misjudged the man. Maybe Mitt Romney was just being an ally.

I will give Mitt Romney one thing though. At least he’s a family man. I don’t mean personally; I mean politically. In that, you know who Mitt Romney’s political family is.

The Democrats, on the other hand, are like a deadbeat dad. The moment they need you for something, like the election, all the sudden their absentee asses want to come back around, start spending time with you. Then after the election, they go back home to their other family, their real family, the donors.

And what’s worse is that they tell themselves that it was really those big donors that got them all those votes. When the truth is the only thing that big donor money did for their party was make it more fancy. And we all know how awkward it is being at a really fancy party. 

Being a proud Democrat nowadays is like bragging that you got into a really fancy party, when in reality you were just that weird naked motherfucker everybody was eating sushi off of. In other words, you’re not really in the Party. You’re just there for show. 

Now, I can make jokes about all this, and we can have a little fun with it. But, when it comes down to it, we’re laughing not to cry. Because the truth about our political system isn’t funny at all.

And the problem is not that it can’t be fixed, or that no one wants to fix it. The problem is that we keep looking for solutions where we know we’re not going to find them. Because to find the solution, we’d have to admit the problem. Meaning we’d have to actually look in the mirror.

And our politicians don’t want to look in the mirror. They don’t want to look in the mirror because they don’t want to admit that until we get money out of politics, they ain’t never going to be able to represent us the way we deserve.

I said until our politicians decide to once and for all get money out of politics, they’re just ugly people looking for dirty mirrors. You heard me. Ugly people looking for dirty mirrors.

That’s why my opponents can’t stand my campaign. That’s why the Democratic establishment can’t stand my campaign. Because my campaign is about cleaning the mirrors.

Let’s clean all the mirrors and see what it is we really look like.

Let’s get money out of politics. And see what happens. 

H.F.’s Note:

Before I wrote even the first line of the first campaign speech, I went back and watched some old George Carlin stand-up specials. I was reminded that his class analysis was downright radical. I was reminded that his antiwar stance, during the height of the war’s popularity, was to the left of Bernie Sanders. And still, Republicans loved, and ‘til this day love, some damn George Carlin.

If I was going to get my message across, it was obvious I would need humor. But not just any humor.

People don’t remember George Carlin fondly because he was right or left. They remember him fondly because he told the truth.

And making people acknowledge what they know in their hearts to be reality but might otherwise ignore or deny is the kind of truth telling that sometimes only humor can accomplish. 

If there is one thing I believe about comedy, it’s that the value of good comedy is in demonstrating the importance of self-examination and the virtue of being able to laugh at ourselves. Moreover, I believe comedy is a good bullshit x-ray and that it is better to laugh at the absurd than to let it overtake you.

The question for my campaign was how far we could go, or even should go, and still remain both effective and true to our principles. 

On Issues:

Redefine Policing

Excerpt from H.F. Valentine speech given at Handlin Auditorium

Although I agree we often get sidetracked with semantics, I do believe that words matter. That’s why I don’t use the slogans “defund the police” or “abolish the police.” Not because I haven’t read and listened enough to understand the demands, but because I know that too many people will hear either of those two slogans and will assume enough to not look into what they really mean. Moreover, I think these approaches may be too limited in scope.

That’s why I prefer to use the slogan “Redefine Policing.” If we can redefine policing in a manner that both narrows and improves the interactions we expect police officers to address, not just for us civilians but also for the men and women we expect to respond to such calls, policy implementation would be far less contentious.

In short, the goal of Redefine Policing is really just to make sure our police interactions don’t suck, for anyone. 

And one of the first ways we can ensure that is to eliminate all the situations that we currently send police to but don’t really need to send police to. Police are not mental health professionals. Police are not medical professionals. Police are not required for parking violations, traffic accidents, welfare checks, missing persons, animal complaints, or the myriad of other calls we send armed officers out to address. 

And it’s not just about sending other people to do the work. I think we have to address why we send anybody out at all. Why in the fuck do police have to bother with what a free person wants to put into their body? End the drug war completely. Tax drugs like every other product we consume and treat addiction as what it is, a health issue. Furthermore, can we please take a look at what good it really does society to handle misdemeanor level offenses the way we do? Not only could we handle these violations in a way that doesn’t disrupt or alter people’s lives, we could quit wasting the time and energy of officers we need to handle far more serious issues.

Because, yes, even if we checked off every box on the “defund police” list, or hell even the “abolish police” list, you’re still going to need highly trained and possibly well-armed men and women to answer calls concerning potential homicide, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery in progress. And whether you want to call them police or do away with the word altogether and make up a new word, we’re still going to need someone to answer those calls.

Luckily, in the average precinct, violent crime makes up about 4 to 5 percent of 911 calls. Now, I’m not saying that’s the only thing we would use our newly redefined police for, but I am saying that if we narrow the circumstances in which we expect to deploy such training, it would afford us adequate time and resources to maintain that training. Training that is ongoing and guided by the number one principle of De-escalation. Not to mention, it would afford us the resources to provide proper mental health and therapy for the PTSD these officers might acquire in the harshest of calls.

Because again, Redefine Policing is about protecting both civilians and the men and women we ask to fill these roles.

And yet, when I say Redefine Policing, it goes far beyond policing. We can’t just treat this as a response to police brutality. If this is going to work, it has to be a response to society’s brutality.

Part of the discussion over Redefine Policing has to be a discussion about the societal factors that contribute to the types of situations for which police officers get a call from dispatch. Many of said factors being political matters within our sphere of influence. 

If you have an economy that leaves people economically vulnerable or desperate, an economy that then promotes an every man for himself mentality, you’re going to see people act without regard for the interests of others.

If you have an educational system that leaves people without the critical thinking skills to make good decisions at the most critical times, you can expect them to fail themselves and the ones they love.

If you have a population without strong media literacy, they’re going to be susceptible to the accumulation of negative images and messaging within certain news, entertainment, and social media.

If you have a private sector and a public sector that views mental health and/or addiction as a break within the villager and not the village, that village is going to break down.

If you have a society without community, a society that offers more opportunities for isolation than connection, you’re going to have a society without the solidarity needed to survive with any sense of dignity.

Law enforcement can’t be just a matter of insurance against the worst of our nature; it has to be an investment in the best of our nature. 

But what are we investing in?

Don’t we want a society with less 911 calls?

If so, then what are we investing in?

We have to be proactive in preventing 911 calls, rather than just preparing to be reactive to 911 calls.

Obviously, we want better law enforcement interactions. But this isn’t just about that moment. It’s about every moment that led up to that moment. And those moments are the yield of our societal investment. We get out what we put in. And anyone who doesn’t believe that needs only observe the various models of societal investment around the world and the very different outcomes they yield. 

However, until we can get to that place, we do have to focus on that moment of police interaction. A friend of mine who was a cop told me one time that he had to constantly remind himself that he only saw people when they were at their lowest moments. 

Meaning, any other time, his perception of that person’s potential would be completely different. 

We don’t need the people who respond to the lowest moments of our brothers and sisters to mirror them in that situation. We need someone who can bring them back from that lowest moment. Someone whose every motive is to de-escalate the situation and ensure no one gets hurt any more than they already are. 

We need someone who will not isolate our brother or sister any more than they are already isolated in that moment, but rather to begin in that moment to build back the connection they’ve lost. We need someone who will do this, who will de-escalate at every turn, because they see that stranger as their own brother or sister.

I’m not claiming that’s easy. I’m claiming the opposite. That’s difficult. It’s very difficult. But that’s why the bulk of officer training has to be de-escalation. Of all the duties they’re expected to perform, they must see their supreme role as de-escalation. 

In fact, I would suggest as we redefine the role, we change the title to what it is we need in the role. I don’t want to send police out to a volatile situation. I want to send de-escalators to that situation, just like the people who call 911 want to see people show up who can de-escalate the hell out of any situation.

If we already plan on narrowing the calls we have to send these men and women to, then why not transform their particular division of our societal response teams into an elite De-escalation Unit. Highly trained mitigators of potentially harmful situations. That’s what we should want. Because what we should want is for everybody to be able to move forward from that situation with the absolute least harm done.

And for all those who feel like I’m avoiding or skating around the original issue that brought us to this place, let me dispel you of that notion. Part of this transformation, part of this new regiment of ongoing training, will be a theory and practice immersion into the psychological and sociological elements that shape our feelings, attitudes, and actions regarding race. A discernment informed by the context of A) historical oppression, B) our own implicit biases, and C) our varying degrees of institutional hierarchy.

We want to train and retrain and retrain the racism, if not fully out of the individual, at least out of their interactions with the public. And the same goes for sexism, classism, homophobia, and/or every other manifestation of macho bullshit.

And for anybody who thinks that cops won’t go for that, I think you’re wrong. And the ones who won’t go for it are the ones we don’t need anyway. Because as we narrow the size of these highly trained De-escalation Units, we can afford salaries that will have qualified and desirable candidates lining up around the block.

“Redefine Policing” is not just about how to better address mine or your lowest moments; it’s about addressing those same places inside the ones sent out to help us. 

And just as our response teams must be prepared to intercept an individual’s descent before that descent goes too far, “Redefine Policing” must be about a nation of people who look out for each other and prepare each other so we may avoid falling in the first place. 

H.F.’s Note:

We should always be striving to make our world a better world, and at times part of that may be to rethink and redefine what we thought we had figured out. As we redefine the role of policing, we have to focus on the de-escalation of so many different types of situations. And if we are thinking big picture, that concept of de-escalation must also apply to the societal circumstances and institutional momentum that lend to eventual 911 worthy situations. 

Though without getting too holistic and missing the more immediate task at hand, we have to acknowledge that our goal of Redefine Policing is really about redefining police culture. And since, policy-wise, training may be the greatest influence we have to exert on these men and women, we have to first view the culture of this new De-escalation Unit through the lens of training.

And I don’t mean some certificate of achievement you can throw in a desk or a closet and never have to think about again. I’m talking about the kind of training you would do in a jujitsu class, where you train, and train constantly, for every possible scenario. And in that training you rehearse your de-escalation moves, so before long those moves become a part of your muscle memory. And de-escalation becomes second nature. That’s the type of culture we want.

But it’s not just the moves; it’s why you’re doing the moves. Skills don’t mean shit if the attitude and motivation isn’t there to deploy them. Part of creating a culture of de-escalation is to maintain the gravity of why a 911 call has been placed. That somewhere somehow something has broken down, and you are there to make sure it doesn’t break down any further. For a society, it is a role that is both regrettable and hopeful. Regrettable that our community was not able to catch our brother, our sister, before they fell. Hopeful that we can still be there to help them get back up. 

In addition to training, there’s different incentive and reward structures that can be put in place to help along this reshaping of culture. And when we’re deciding upon which structures to employ, we have to look around at what has been tried and what has been successful. We have to be evidence-based and committed to the most desirable outcome.

This, of course, doesn’t mean we won’t experiment. It means that our experiments have to be both efficiency and justice minded. If we’re going to arm our De-escalation Units with devices designed to potentially subdue someone, we need to think in the same terms that doctors think. First, do no harm. And I don’t care if that means using a goddamn human sized butterfly net; we have to foresee and design these situations with the best end result in mind. And the best end result is the least harm done.

It ain’t always gonna be that easy. But it’s achievable. And there are entire countries that have proven they can go 365 days of emergency calls and not have their police kill one person. 

It’s not just on the person being called out to an emergency location. It’s on the training and the culture we give the one we trust to de-escalate the situation.

But more than that, it’s on the environmental, economic, and societal scenario we place our neighbors, our loved ones, our brothers and sisters in. We can make the misuse of drugs the justification for help and care. We don’t have to make the use of drugs the justification for war. We can treat the absence of mental health as an opportunity to reestablish connection. We don’t have to treat it as an opportunity to police people in crisis. We can teach our children empathy and critical thinking skills, not just in our homes, but in our schools, every year their brains continue to develop. Or we can roll the dice on whatever else is being shoveled into their brains. 

Each non-accident 911 call is a failing, not just of an individual, but of society. If we expect men and women to sign on to become de-escalators, it’s our responsibility as a society to try and minimize the amount of calls they will have to answer. We can’t be reactive. We have to be proactive. And that means redefining a whole lot more than just policing.

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