For those that don’t know me, I like doing two things: officiating basketball (at least in the pre-COVID era) and making analogies between sports and the world around it. Last night I had a train of thought regarding these two things. I imagined a referee crew on a really big game messing up a call so badly that it undoubtedly and objectively cost a team the game. Now what usually happens after that?
Most likely, that play would be the topic of conversation at every referee meeting, the subject of repeated memos by the coordinator or assignor of not just that conference but multiple others; it would be discussed ad nauseam at training clinics; it would be touched upon during every pregame for the rest of the season and beyond. Why? Because no referee would want to duplicate such a mistake, it having already happened once. Officials would arrive at every game ready for that same play and knowing exactly how they would adjudicate it correctly going forward. That’s how seriously professional (and most collegiate) officials take their jobs.
Given the events of the past week, I have to wonder: do police officers not share the same stringent level of self-assessment? Since Breonna Taylor got murdered and George Floyd got choked out, and Rayshard Brooks got shot in the back, is it not discussed at all — through police memos, at roll call, or even in the squad car — that perhaps going forward, officers should exhibit more restraint on applying lethal force against suspects that do not pose any type of threat. Do police not worry at all about becoming the next Officer Chauvin or Cosgrove? It sure doesn’t seem like it. It seems like the events of the last year had already rolled off their backs.
Duante Wright tried to escape police. There is no doubt about that. Not to speak ill of the dead but Mr. Wright’s judgment was not the most astute. But the fact that he got shot dead — mistakenly or not — leads one to believe that there has been almost no progress in how most police units educate their officers on acceptable levels of force. This was not just demonstrated in Mr. Wright’s situation but also in Virginia this same weekend when Army Lt. Caron Nazario was pepper-sprayed out of his SUV and threatened that he would “ride the lightning” by an officer with a quick temper and an obvious chip on his shoulder. The same way I’ve heard fans and coaches ask me numerous times (as an assignor), I thought to myself, “where the heck do you find some of these guys?”
I want my stance to be clear: I am not about “defunding the police.” That continues to be one of the dumbest slogans I have ever heard in my life. I want police to have all the tools they need to do their dangerous jobs and a salary that rewards them for going out there and doing it. However, I am also for holding police accountable as professionals and as regular citizens. Their training should be rigorous and continuous, especially in conflict resolution. We may even have to go back to the basics. For a 20-year veteran of the force not to realize that she is aiming a gun instead of a taser is a “mistake” that blows my mind on how it could ever happen. It would be like if a basketball referee mistakenly brought a volleyball to center court for the tip-off, despite its different color, size, and weight. How is such a thing ever possible?
To the protestors of these shootings and of the violence that minorities endure at the hands of law enforcement, you have every right to be angry. It is an embarrassment to America that these same “mistakes” and these same tragedies keep repeating themselves over and over. I share your frustration. I share your bewilderment. I just hope that you be safe in voicing your outrage. Don’t take it out on your neighbors and community through violence or chaos.
Chris Balasinski Ref Union Head Representative Candidate for #CA48