Austin Police Department, my personal experience

In the news we have certainly seen many stories about the police.  The tragic shootings, both from police who shoot citizens and from citizens who shoot police, have all been horrible.  We have seen the effect of simplistic stereotyping, and it is causing massive harm in all of our communities.  Knowing there are great and lousy people at every job, I wanted to share some of my experiences in dealing with the Austin Police Department.

A number of years ago I was asked to create a Spanish language program that would be part of the cadet training for the officers of the Austin Police Department.  The intent was not to make everyone totally bilingual, but to minimize the instances when bilingual officers were to be called in.  That way, for example, if a person was stopped for speeding, the officer would at least have enough Spanish to explain the violation and provide basic information.  I personally taught the course to a number of the cadet classes and I even had the opportunity to ride along with them, in order to observe what it was that “linguistically” the officers needed to do.

The whole experience was fantastic.  I gained a first-hand view of their efforts to provide professional training, to choose quality individuals, to demand integrity, to provide a training that focused on serving the public, and to weed out those who were not qualified.  And all of this was done with a eye towards knowing that all the officers represented the city. I have attended many training sessions from many different professions, but none emphasized quality, honesty, and integrity as much as APD did.  I left with increased admiration for all of the cadets and for the program.

I recall one morning (I taught the class at 6:00am) one of the captains entered the classroom and reprimanded the whole group because one of the cadets had been seen driving above the speed limit while driving to training facility.  It didn’t matter that it was 5:30am, it didn’t matter if the officer was on duty or not, it didn’t matter of police were in uniform or not, the captain reiterated the vital importance that they fully obey the law.  It was an important reminder for the cadets that the were duty bound to obey the same laws that they were hired to enforce.

Another morning I recall an instance when the class representative came up to me during a break time and said, “Dr. Kelm, we have not shown you this morning the courtesy that you deserve. So during the break we are going to run Mt. Majerouses” (I believe there was a hill at the training facility with that name and that is where they ran for punishment.) The cadets took their training seriously, and I hadn’t even noticed any lack of respect in class. Certainly, however, this was an educational experience like no other that I had ever taught.

I was also impressed with the number of APD Cadets who were formal military.  Their sense of duty, following orders, showing respect for authority, and focus on doing their best, all were admirable.

There is a part of me that wishes that everyone could have the opportunity to observe the cadet training of officers at the Austin Police Department.  Watch them struggle to learn some Spanish. Listen to them talk about their experience in being pepper sprayed, just to know what it feels like. Share in their efforts to be physically fit for the service. Appreciate their dedication to the laws and to civic actions.  Observe the emphasis on learning how to deal with people.

No doubt, there are fantastic and lousy employees everywhere.  But my experience with APD years ago gave me first-hand observation of their efforts to weed out the bad and train the good.  My experience with APD was years ago, but to this day, every time I interact with a member of APD, my mind goes back to the cadet training and my respect and admiration for the person in front of me is solidified.

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Lives Matter – The Story of German Chocolate Cake

In recent weeks we have seen an uptick in violent actions. Violence seems to promote more violence. Today I write to say that I reject the premise behind what seems to motivate much of the violence: simplistic single-feature stereotyping. I use an analogy of a German Chocolate Cake to illustrate my point.

It is inaccurate to say that a German Chocolate Cake is just cooked rice. Rice isn’t even an ingredient in German Chocolate Cake. No doubt, flour is one of the ingredients of a German Chocolate Cake, but even flour is combined with sweet chocolate, butter, egg yolks, vanilla and buttermilk.  And all of these ingredients go through a chemical change during the backing process. It is  wrong to say that German Chocolate cake is rice and it is unfair to simply categorize German Chocolate Cake as flour.  And to extend my metaphor a bit more, someone who bakes a German Chocolate Cake is not German.

Given that metaphor (knowing that all metaphors have limitations):

  • The police officers are not racist.
  • Muslims are not terrorists.
  • Islam is not radical.
  • Blacks are not hooligans.
  • Hispanics are not drug-dealing rapists.
  • Whites are not supremacists.
  • Immigrants are not law breakers.
  • Americans are not selfish individualists.
  • The media is not out to get you.
  • Mormons are not fanatical zealots.
  • Jews are not money grabbers.
  • Protestants are not naive blind followers.
  • Catholics are not superstitious fools.
  • University students are not drunken party animals.
  • Gays are not sexual perverts.
  • Democrats are not irresponsible socialists.
  • Republicans are not selfish individualists.
  • Those licensed to carry guns are not vigilantes.
  • Hillary Clinton is not an evil lying bitch.
  • Donald Trump is not a violent devil.
  • Barak Obama is not a fear monger.
  • Chinese are not blind godless followers.
  • Germans are not stubborn nazis.

Just as the German Chocolate Cake is composed of a complex mixture of ingredients that have undergone a chemical change, people too are a complex mix that are more than just a blend of many characteristics. We do our society no favors by embolding others with our inflammatory inaccurate stereotypes. Given this, I propose 3 recommendations as follows:

  1. Resolve to never generalize people by forcing their identity into one single category. Even a statement like “black lives matter” although designed with laudable undertones, focuses on a single aspect of who a person is.
  2. Deal with people on a one-on-one basis. I know there is power in a collective voice, but there is also power in personal one-on-one interactions.  Say hello to others, talk to others, invite people to lunch, buy them a drink, focus on the complex mixture of other’s qualities.
  3. For those of you who like me are Christian, if you claim to believe it, incorporate it into your life. “Love your enemies, bless them that cure you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

German Chocolate Cake is not rice!  German Chocolate Cake is not flour!

 

 

 

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Love Wins? How about we try, “Tolerance Wins”

I’ve been thinking about the implication of the phrase “love wins” that has been connected to the recent ruling to allow same-sex marriage. There is an undertone that if a person is opposed to same sex marriage, that this opposition also rejects “love wins.” What this implies is that anyone who is opposed to same sex marriage is hateful, which is easily expanded to accusations of bigotry and racism. In taking a stand, I reject these implications behind the phrase “love wins” and if you are willing to read a bit more, I hope to give a few reasons why.

In my own case, I personally believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. For those who believe otherwise, it is important to understand that I am 100% tolerant of your opposing beliefs. This, in fact, is precisely what makes our society pretty fantastic. We live in an environment where people with extremely diverse ideas and beliefs are welcome to follow their conscience. We are tolerant, even supportive, of the right of others to have strong beliefs that are different from our own. So, you might say, I am a proponent of “tolerance wins” which better describes how we should interact in a society when people have opposing views. (BTW, I write this knowing that historically those who follow a gay lifestyle have not been treated fairly or with respect.)

Myself, at the very core of my LDS religious convictions is the idea that families are eternal, that gender is part of my eternal identity, and that traditional families constitute the foundation of our destiny. Part of God’s plan for his children includes the physical union of a man and a woman who then create an eternal family. For me, marriage is more than a social contract, it is a religious ordinance. In a very literal sense, as a Mormon, I believe that my wife and I continue as husband and wife after this life is over. My concept of family and marriage destiny is simply incongruent with the notion of same-sex marriage. But again, for those who have different convictions and different notions of sexual relations, the beauty of tolerance is that others allow me to hold to my convictions in the same way that they hold on to theirs. There is no demand or expectation that others embrace my convictions. And that is problem I see with the connotation of “love wins” which implies an expectation to embrace (or risk being labeled hateful, bigoted, and racist).

It seems to me that in other areas our society is better at being tolerant in the face of diverse opinions, for example, abortion.  Abortion is legal in the United States.  There are over 1 million abortions performed every year (See Guttmacher Institute for statistics). There are people, both for and against abortion, who have extremely strong opinions about the matter. I personally believe that it is wrong to create life and then terminate it. However, many people have a different opinion. Even in the case of something as extreme as the creation and termination of a living thing, our society (and I include myself) is tolerant when people have different opinions. Some people, of course, are more vocal and even violent in the expression of their opinion, but still society on the whole, accepts that its citizens have differing views about abortion. We can debate and discuss abortion without the implication of being hateful. We simply accept that people have differing opinions. The same applies to our views about the use of alcohol, gun control, religion, political opinions, legalization of marijuana, etc.. There are many areas where we are simply more tolerant of diverse opinions.

So, although “tolerance wins” may not sound as cool as “love wins,” I propose that it is a better vantage point to discuss the issue of same-sex marriage. Diversity is important, but funny thing about diversity, it is only a virtue when there is unity behind it. Just look at the name of our country for example, “The United States of America.” Our name implies that what makes us strong is not simply our diversity, it is not that we agree on everything, but it implies that we are a people who are unified despite our disparate opinions on things.

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Iran, to negotiate or not?

In taking a stand, today I offer a few thoughts on the recent negotiations that have been going on with Iran and the nuclear accord. The irony is that at the same time that we are debating the Nuclear Accord with Iran, the United States is also opening embassy offices in Cuba, something that has not existed for over 50 years.  Of course there is a gigantic difference here. In the case of Cuba, the US is moving to normalize relations. In the case of Iran, there is no pretense that relationships are being normalized.

On one side, people say that by negotiating with those who are untrustworthy, we are in a better position to keep tabs on them (basically the opinion of the Democrats). On the other side, people say that by negotiating with those who are untrustworthy, we are simply giving evil people power (basically the opinion of many Republicans).

In considering these two sides, my basic premise has always been that it is easy to vilify people that we do not talk to. We’ve all seen situations where family members stop talking to each other for some bizarre reason, and then as the years go on, it’s easier to justify why we think those relatives are in the wrong. On the other hand, when we actually meet and mingle with people, it gets harder to hate them. This seems to also happen socially and politically too. It was easy to criticize communists during the cold war years. It is easy think that all immigrants are criminals when we can’t talk to any of those different-looking and foreign-talking folks. It’s easy to divide people based on race when we never interact with anyone from another race. It’s easy to think that Mormons are weird if we have never talked to a Mormon. And it’s easy to talk bad about “those” Chinese when you have never been to China or met any Chinese people. If this is the our logic, then I believe it would be better to negotiate with Iran, to keep the dialog going, and to be in a better position to adjust policy down the road. The more contact we have, the better we can share dialog.

However, we cannot ignore the other side. We learn from history that when we negotiate with people who have a different moral compass, we naively believe that they will follow our moral compass. I’m thinking, for example, about how Neville Chamberlain is thought of today, having negotiated with Hitler to secure the Munich Agreement. World leaders tried to negotiate with Hitler, as if somehow he was going to play by the rules. Given our hindsight, it is hard to imagine that world leaders bought into the idea that Czechoslovakia was to appease Germany. Czechoslovakia must have felt abandoned by Europe, similar, in fact, to how Israel must be feeling now too. (In fact, as I think of it, it is also eerie how similar the rhetoric about the current situation between the Ukraine and Russia today mirrors that of Czechoslovakia and Germany back then. That, however, is a topic for another day). Anyway, following this logic, it would be prudent to not sign the nuclear accord with Iran.

So, where to I take my stand? We should sign the accord. My logic: First off, I think it is unfair to criticize the accord for being anything similar to normalizing relations with Iran and the international community. That is simply not the case. The negotiations and the accord have a very limited focus. They are simply designed to reduce the possibility of Iran’s building and using nuclear weapons. There is no illusion that the international community trusts Iran. That trust will have to be built over time, by abiding to the parameters of this accord. If you are opposed to the accord, oppose it for reasons related to its inability to limit the use of nuclear weapons. Don’t oppose it for all of the other instances of things that Iran does.

Second, sign the accord, but bring a greater number of regional nations into the future negotiations. All countries of the Middle East, including Israel, should have a more official voice in future negotiations. Without their involvement, we are simply repeating history, similar to how France and England negotiated without Czechoslovakia. It is time for the nations of the Middle East to step it up in official capacities.

Third, sign it, but involve Congress earlier in future negotiations. Our Congress seems to have lost the ability to give and take. The all or nothing attitude results in stalemate. It is unfair to reject the nuclear accord without offering any type of alternate solution. But when you are not involved in the process, what other choice do you have?

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Immigration Reform

In taking a stand, I start with a pretty strong bias about immigration because technically I am an immigrant to this country. Of course, all of the credit goes to my German father and my Canadian mother who brought us here, but we can count our family among those who legally immigrated to the USA. So, I am pro-immigration. Our family is the classic story where immigrant parents come to the US, begin from the disadvantage of never having completed even high school, worked hard to make things better for their children, and then a generation later see the results of their efforts.

Also, since I have lived in Utah, California, and Texas, and because I speak Spanish and Portuguese, over the years I have met hundreds, literally hundreds, of immigrants who are in the United States, looking to do the same thing that my parents did, that is, make a better life for themselves and for their families. Some may say, “Yes, but your parents came here legally and nowadays there are too many immigrants who come here illegally.” I simply cannot subdivide people into the two categories of “good guys who come here legally” and “bad guys who come here illegally.” The immigration system is simply too broken, ineffective, unfair, and cumbersome to make such a division.  The vast majority of those who come to our country are simply looking to make their lot in life better, and that includes those who come here, technically illegally.

At the same time, I do realize that we live in a time where evil people secretly plan to commit violence against American citizens. And some of those also enter our country as immigrants or guest visitors, both legally and illegally.  I also realize that our country incurs actual monetary expenses related to non-citizens, and this is a burden for those who are citizens. But it is unfair to lump all immigrants into the same category.

As to reform, the first and most essential element to begin with is that we need to identify everyone who comes into our country.  My basic premise is that it should be extremely easy for all to enter our country, for whatever reason, but to do so, we need to know who you are. Come to our country as invited guests. You may come as tourists, as guest workers, with or without intent to be a citizen, come for whatever reason you want to, but when you come, we need to know who you are.

Make it easy to enter, but also make it easy to identify who comes in.  To do so, we need to look at how credit card companies work.  I am amazed at how easy it is to apply for a new credit card, and then in the instant that I am approved, I can use that card anywhere, anytime. The credit card company knows exactly how much money I have charged and how much money I have paid, instantly. And if I lose my card, instantly I can contact them to take care of issues.  And this, by the way, applies to millions of people who have the credit card.  Additionally, if somebody proves to be a credit risk, who doesn’t pay his or her bill, the credit card company can revoke privileges.  And remember, credit card companies can do this for millions and millions of people. It seems to me that similar technologies could be applied to how we approach immigration and visitors who come to our country.

Second, if this smart-card-like concept were instigated, if a visitor to our country proved to be a lousy guest (didn’t pay bills, required special care, committed crimes, broke the law, doesn’t have an ID smart-card, etc.) that information could be added to the profile. We could then, based on certain standards, send violators home, and reentry would be more difficult because the profile would contain this information.

I realize that there are lots of other details and that this only scratches the surface (e.g., education, taxes, insurance, health care, etc.). However, I take a stand that if we could begin our immigration reform with the premise that we are happy to invite guests to our country, that it is easy to enter, and that it is essential to identify all visitors, this would be a great start.  Looks like our government should be hiring some of those credit card company geniuses!

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Where sexuality fits in

I would like to take a stand about sexual relations: Society would be better off if everyone believed in chastity before marriage and complete fidelity after marriage. Shocking, isn’t it? Chances are that I have lost most readers even before completing my first paragraph. I know, “self restraint” seems to lose out to “you have a right to indulge in your desires.” However, for those who are willing to read a little more, hear me out.

To begin, imagine what our world would be like if everyone followed in chastity before marriage and complete fidelity after marriage.  Here is a little list of some of the potential effects:

  • There would almost no unwanted pregnancies.
  • The number of teenage pregnancies would decrease significantly.
  • There would be a significant decrease in the number of single parent homes, including all of the social, economic, and educational difficulties that arise because of that.
  • There would be almost no deadbeat fathers who ignore kids and avoid paying child support.
  • There would be no divorce that comes about by a cheating spouse, including the effects that this has on children.
  • There would be no sexual abuse, neither of spouse nor of children. Imagine the scars that would not have to be healed!
  • There would be no date rape, and people could feel safe in a relationship.
  • The catalyst for a sexual relationship would not begin with a selfish focus on satisfying our own desires and our own personal conquests, but would instead begin with the feelings of another.
  • There would be no market for prostitution, and there would be no market for sex slaves, the statistics of which, by the way, are shocking.
  • There would be a gigantic shift in our attitudes about pornography and child pornography.
  • There would be almost no abortions, including the emotional trauma that accompanies abortions.
  • There would be almost no sexually transmitted diseases, and our concept of safe sex would be radically different.
  • We could better combat insidious views from those who try to justify the mutilation of women’s genitalia. What a sad distorted view about sexuality.
  • We could do more to stop the offensive objectification of women.
  • There would be little discussion about what rights we have to do what we want to with our body.

I realize that most would say that my list is simply a product of fanciful fiction, stemming from my naive or prudish thinking about sex.  Still, here are some reasons why I take the stand that we should live with chastity before marriage and total fidelity to spouse after marriage.

1. There is an imbalance in how sexuality is promoted for self gratification.  Does anybody really want to have a sexual relationship with someone whose only motivation for sex is to appease their own self-centered, self-gratifying, self-absorbed, egotistical, and selfish appetites? Yet, that is how sexuality is talked about. Everything seems to be focused on self gratification. If so, that is a cheap brand of intimacy, and a sad commentary on relationship building.  We can do better than that.

2. It is deceiving to say that there are no consequences to our sexual actions. It is easy to promote the idea that if two consenting adults decide to have sex, that is their prerogative and it doesn’t affect anybody else. And yet, that approach denies that actions have any consequences.  In actuality, it is difficult to create a scenario where our behavior doesn’t, in some way, affect other people somehow, somewhere. It is deceiving to promote sex without consequences. We can do better than that.

3.  An intimate relationship implies that I am willing to share who I am.  I never hear people talk about this, but if a relationship implies the sharing of who we are, we need to know something about who we are. If we don’t know who we are, if we don’t know what our own values are, if we don’t know what we believe, how can we share who we are with another? We have to have an identity, and without that knowledge, there is no “me” to share with another.  Without that, our ability to build a relationship is limited, and a sexual relationship will be shallow. If we are not grounded in who we are, we are not ready for a sexual relationship. This concept should be part of the discussion about sexuality.

4. An intimate relationship implies a risk. If we expect to build a relationship that is more than casual, it implies that we open up and reveal personal thoughts, feelings, and emotions. This is not a casual thing, true intimacy only grows with another person as we feel safe enough to share more of us.  This is true emotionally and physically. When we tell another person about our private and personal thoughts or desires, we do so believing that this other person will respect the context (the the privacy) of those thoughts.  It is incorrect to pretend that a relationship, sexual or otherwise, can grow without involving our emotions at a deep level. Relationship building comes at a cost, and this should be part of the discussion about sexuality. There is a gigantic upside to the benefits from taking the risk, but it is important to know that risk is part of the process.

5. An intimate relationship implies long-term commitment. Eroticism and arousal have their place in a sexual relationship, but they are only a small piece of intimacy. A true, long lasting relationship requires that we commit to building that relationship over the long haul. If the only stimulation of our sexual relationship is eroticism and arousal, then we are simply focusing on the most base form of human desires.  I have been married for over 35 years, and there are some pretty spectacular emotions that come from years and years of sharing life together.  In many ways there is no substitute for the feelings that have developed over time. If our only focus on sex is the here and the now, we miss the greater point of what can be developed over time.

6. An intimate relationship requires that partners accept and share the whole person. What I mean by this is that when you love another person, you love the whole person.  If however, your relationship is limited to just part of that person, the relationship is incomplete.  For example, if I am only attracted to a woman because of her long dark hair, what happens when she cuts her hair?  If I am only attracted to a woman because of her eyes, what happens when someone else has prettier eyes? It sounds petty, I know, but too often people try to build relationships on a tiny part. My experience is that whenever people fragment on a part, instead of a whole, the tendency is to start comparing your partner with others.  When we compare a part of someone to others, that someone always loses. This is because, for example, someone else is going to have prettier hair, more shapely hips, nicer lips, more patient demeanor, a funnier laugh, better cooking skills, or any other “part” of the whole. True intimate relationships, however, require that we love the whole person. Again, this aspect of our sexuality seems absent in our world of immediate self-gratification.

I am not anti-sexuality, quite the opposite, I hope that everyone has the opportunity to build a long-lasting sexual relationship with a partner that he or she loves. But in terms of taking a stand, I believe that our best opportunity for building this truly intimate relationship is by adhering to chastity before marriage and complete fidelity after marriage. All I can really ask for is that in the discussion of sexuality that this side of the story be given a little credence, as opposed to being brushed aside as some old-fashioned, out-of-date, and out-of-touch attitude about sex. Remember the old song by Eric Carmen, All by myself,  “When I was young, I never needed anyone, and making love was just for fun, those days are gone.” Indeed, making love is much more that “just for fun.”

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Combating Symbols of Hatred and Racism

Why would somebody enter a church and then violently murder innocent people, simply to make a statement about hate and racism? Last week the shock of this reality ripped our hearts when 9 congregants of the Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina were killed. Thanks to a quick arrest and apprehension of the killer, our attention swiftly turned to the victims and their families. More than lip service, the very first words to come from the families, “Those that were killed believed that love is stronger than hate, we will not react with hate.” Despite the deepest sense of sorrow and loss, from that moment on, no news media, no group and no individual was able to stand on a soapbox to shout for vengeance and hate. A sense of love for fellowman and forgiveness of haters tempered the rhetoric.

Interestingly enough, the rhetoric switched to symbols of hate and racism, which fell on the Confederate flag, precisely the one that flies in South Carolina, and it isn’t even part of the official state flag. Now I do not believe in rewriting history. In general I believe it is unfair to judge past actions using just today’s sense of morality. I am willing to honor soldiers from the civil war for their valor and bravery, independent of whatever side they fought on. And it may very well be that this is what the Confederate flag used to symbolize. However, racist, separatist and hateful bigots have stolen, distorted, changed and taken over the symbol of the Confederate flag. It is extremely sad that a few distorted bigots have been able to do so, but the damage is done, and the Confederate flag no long can symbolize the valor of confederate soldiers. It’s an easy decision, the flag in South Carolina should be removed. However, in doing so, very little is actually done to reduce actual racism and hatred in our society.  The symbol is removed, but that is about it.  (I might also add that the decision for South Carolina is easier than it is in other states, where the Confederate flag is a part of the actual state flag.)

Let the flag come down, I believe it should. But to combate racist sentiment, the family victims and members of the Emanuel A.M.E congregation have given us a more lasting solution, love is stronger than hate.

Incidentally, at the same time that the events in South Carolina were going on, as part of the “Juneteenth” celebration, a news conference at the California National Museum of African American History and Culture announced the indexing of all the records in the Freedmen’s Bureau. This act of love and cooperation will result in the release and access of around 4 million names.  Talk about a new symbol, imagine the powerful links to family and heritage that will come when African Americans are able to identify with their ancestors from the Civil War era. The Freedmen’s Bureau Project is to be conducted with joint sponsorship from the National Archives and Records Administration of the our government, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, and FamilySearch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Here is a link to a YouTube clip of the press conference:

Freedmen’s Bureau Project Press Conference

Where do I stand? Yes to the removal of the Confederate flag, but do so knowing that the actual impact to reduce racism will be small compared to what could happen if we follow the example of the families of the victims from last week’s massacre and the example of those that are involved in the Freedmen’s Bureau Project.

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