This is a tricky question but a necessary one. Most of the systems we operate under are based on the premise that there is someone in charge — and that the someone in charge must be obeyed, treated with respect, and protected in their authority. I have been working to reform disciplinary systems inside of the school district for 4 years now, and I see this all the time. It is tricky because whenever there is a person that is in charge of a group, or who is responsible for keeping order, there needs to be a system of hierarchy in place — or a sense of an ultimate authority. For example, if students don’t acknowledge the teacher as the authority in the room, how will they be compelled to sit through lessons they find boring or pointless? Or if a person committing a crime doesn’t respect the authority of the police, then how will they be compelled to stop or surrender?
I propose that the problem isn’t so much with the notion of authority, but with the purpose of that authority. Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten that the purpose of authority is to lead, support, and protect. As a result, authority has become synonymous with enforcement, or “because I said so.” I’m going to take a look at two systems which rely on authority structures in order to operate effectively: policing and teaching.
A case study: The Rayshard Brooks case
Rayshard Brooks, 27, fell asleep at a Wendy’s drive-through. The police were called and Mr. Brooks was woken and given a sobriety test, which he failed. The police wanted to take him into custody, but Mr. Brooks argued that his home was close and he could just walk home. There was an argument where police insisted on taking him in and Mr. Brooks refused. He stole a taser from an officer and ran. He was shot twice in the back and died at the scene.
Problem one: When the end game is compliance, risk assessment becomes secondary or is ignored.
The conflict was over the compliance to the police request to be remanded to custody. Mr. Brooks refusal, though frustrating, did not pose immediate danger to anyone involved, nor did it pose danger to any other citizen. He was going home on foot with the car left behind in the parking lot. However, when faced…