Finally

My boss is very clear. There is no diplomatic coating if Heiko Maas, the German Foreign Minister, is calling out Donald Trump’s urging his supporters to vote twice as disturbing and unscrupulous behavior. Which it is.

I am glad we speak the truth, we do it with diplomatic language whereever we can, do not play into the antagonization game whereever possible, use moderate language instead of yelling, call on upholding human values including decency and truthfulness. I am also glad to see that we can be clear, crystal clear, saying “enough is enough”. Which it is.

https://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/heiko-maas-wirft-donald-trump-ruchlosigkeit-im-wahlkampf-vor-a-b110069c-8888-4118-bb1c-f39cee51c59a

Or, for my English speaking friends:

https://www.newsweek.com/germanys-foreign-minister-calls-trump-urging-supporters-vote-twice-disturbing-unscrupulous-1529939

Never ever the Doomsday Clock was closer to twelve. Do not underestimate His Neediness and his minions.

Peace, democracy, safety and security, human rights, humanity, none of these come for free.

We have a responsibility to hold to the power of love that we know to be true, and to not allow the world around us to deaden that in ourselves. LUCAS JOHNSON

Police Reform – Bottom Up and Top Down

If somebody were to tell me that there is a kind of a universal blueprint which must be used for successful reform of police, I would be very suspicious. My experiences, good and bad, relate to addressing corruption and crime in medium size police precincts, warrior mentality in a police station under constant mental siege in a hostile environment, establishing community-oriented policing primacy in a large and diverse, yet national police organization, harmonising a joint understanding of service-oriented and accountable policing in extremely complex and diverse international executive policing environments, and in countless ways assisting jurisdictions ermerging and recovering from conflict in coming to terms with policing allowing to contribute to societal healing, and representing the communities they serve.

Nothing would allow me to refer to experiences how to alter policing in a setup where people estimate that a country has approximately 18.000 agencies responsible for policing. That is the situation in the United States of America, and that is the scope of the challenge over there. But I continue to stress that this is not about “Us and Them”. Rather, a critical examination of reform needs requires to take a self-critical look. It simply is a gargantuan task. Here just one from countless examples.

People take the streets all over the U.S. and globally in large numbers. Polls in the U.S. show that there is majority support for a profound change.

Not undertaking reform is not an option. Compared to the needs to change global bias and selfishness which expresses itself in so many forms, like racism and religious hatred, xenophobia, discriminating minorities, leaving impoverished societies to their own devices, or is depriving women or members of the LGBTQ community from equality in all its aspects, the task of reforming policing appears minuscule, though gargantuan in itself. I don’t want to ramble, but just the other day Greta Thunberg is reminding us, again, about tackling climate change being equal to tackling the Covid-19-pandemic.

We’ve got to shoulder this, otherwise we will be helpless and complicit bystanders: Anger never is a good adviser, but people are angry for many reasons these days, and on a profound level. Some actors follow the principle “If I can make you angry, I have already won over you.” If reactionary forces prevail in “weathering the storm”, muting the discussion and controlling it again, chances are that we may see chaos, rather than evolutionary development from which we collectively benefit. “Us and Them”-thinking will lead to a lot of collateral damage and we may wake up in a world one day which none of us wanted.

To find a meaningful entry point into a contribution, I suggest to look at a recent article “What happened when a city disbanded its Police”:

Two factors came together in Minneapolis which allowed for a sweeping reform of policing:

  1. Top Down: The commitment from highest leadership levels to embark on an undertaking with many risks, including risks for reputation and own job security;
  2. Bottom Up: A deep desire on a grass-root-level for change: Communities were fed up with the way how they were policed.

In my previous articles, I have reiterated where I stand on “how to police”. I have referred to a common denominator of policing: The United Nations’ “Strategic Guidance Framework” is incorporating principles such as the principle of community-orientend policing. I see the same principles at the heart of the re-design of policing which has been the result of a reform effort in Minneapolis.

The question how to design a police organization which is following such principles can lead to an evolutionary development of an existing organization, or, like here, to disbanding an existing police and to build a new one from scratch.

Both scenarios lead to disappointment amongst those who may feel that they have fallen victim to such a reform, like police officers who have lost their jobs, or police chiefs and leaders all the way down to first-line-supervisers who have been reassigned in course of the reform. The higher their numbers, the more difficult it will be to get the dissatisfaction voiced by them being absorbed within the discourse in a larger community, or society. One of the biggest mistakes of the Coalition Provisional Authority following the 2003 invasion of Iraq was “Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 2″: It disbanded the Iraqi military, security, and intelligence infrastructure of President Saddam Hussein. Many of those who lost their jobs ended up becoming members of insurgency groups and terrorist organizations and networks which brought chaos and death over Iraq and the wider region.

Painful decisions which will always leave some feeling being on the side of those who have lost from reform require a thorough process of thinking before springing into “less-than-thought-through-action”. Of course, Iraq is not the U.S., or Europe, and American police is lightyears away from forces which have been instrumental in a brutal dictator’s oppression of his own population, but this is universal psychology and it is a classic example of a toll which can be directly tracked to decisions which have not been based on a carefully synchronised discourse “top down” and “bottom up”. In any large scale reform, antagonization must be mitigated, without loosing sight of the dedication to achieve a fundamental change. Otherwise, reform will be watered down into mediocrity at best, or will lead to cosmetic reform with no chances for sustainability of efforts, or being entirely outrun by reactionary forces resisting change.

That is why real reformers will be measured by 

  1. Whether, including the top-levels, they mean what they say, and put action to where their mouth is;
  2. Whether they lead an inclusive discourse, from the top down, rather than following the path of antagonization and radicalisation of an “Us-and-Them”-rhethoric;
  3. Whether they listen to communities on the ground, including permanent and more than symbolic engagement by top leaders, and base their reform decisions entirely on including communities on the ground into shaping a joint vision of the future;
  4.  Whether they are ready to rely on the participation of communities on the ground in all aspects of implementing a reform effort, holding themselves accountable to those communities which shape the form of policing which these communities want, for themselves.

 

In following blog entries, I will touch upon two other elements which I see for successful police reform: A reform of insufficient training, and representative policing, which needs to focus on the role of persons and communities of color, on minorities, and the role of women as agents of transformational change.

 

On Defunding the Police – Policing as a Function

Policing refers to a function of governance responsible for the prevention, detection and investigation of crime; protection of persons and property; and the maintenance of public order and safety. Police and law enforcement officials have the obligation to respect and protect human rights, including the right to life, liberty and security of the person, as guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reaffirmed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other relevant instruments.

 

Main argument

In this part I am presenting the argument that it is necessary to identify the core role of policing in a jurisdiction. Funding then needs to prioritize the effective and efficient implementation of that core role, and provide the means to ensure that policing is carried out within the framework of rules which reflect on the values that underpin that implementation of policing.

I also say that it is entirely common to look at which functions a police organization could carry out in addition to their core mandate. Of course, there is funding needed for this as well. However, responsible governance needs to make sure that additional tasks for a police department do not negatively affect the core mandate of that department. Responsible governance also has to question whether police is well-suited for additional tasks that may require specific, or different training. Police training is different from customs training, from military training, from training for correctional services, or from training for social services. Do not use a hammer for screws, or a screwdriver for nails. It destroys hammer, nail, screwdriver, and screws.

It is entirely legitimate to look at whether there would be better ways to implement the additional tasks given to a police organisation, by other means, such as strengthened social services. That, again, would require to re-allocate the necessary funding. Which is a form of defunding the police.

Thirdly, law enforcement needs to be equipped for carrying out its tasks. There is a direct line between the identification of “what” I want to do “how”, and what I decide to use as a technical means of assistance. If a police department decides to procure or to accept military style equipment for carrying out its tasks, that will change the attitude of officers in how they understand the task of policing. If that is leading to problems (which is evident in the United States), then reform efforts may lead to giving up purchase and use of military style equipment. Defunding the purchase of military equipment may allow both for funding core tasks of policing better (such as giving more resources to community-oriented policing), or free funds for support the work of other parts of government, such as social services.

Taken together, all three lines of what is named “defunding” are no reason to believe law enforcement and their staff would be “punished”. Instead, the reform leads to better policing, and more of it, and it leads to better other services of governance, such as social services.


Supporting arguments

It is all too easy to throw out the baby together with the used water in the bathtub if one doesn’t take the necessary time for a careful look.

The current debate about reforming policing has gone way beyond the borders of the United States of America, and it is happening on grounds of both long simmering discontent and because of current justified anger and immense outrage. Crimes such as the murder of George Floyd have triggered it, and the confrontational and at times horribly abusive handling of the protests by the system of governance is escalating it: It proves the case that something is flawed on a fundamental level. This in turn has led to so much growth of the protest movement in size that we may see, for the first time, a real chance for substantial change.

The sheer size of the demand to reform policing in its fundamental aspects is inevitably causing tension between those who advocate reform, and those who hold conservative views. That is good for a constructive democratic discourse.

Comparing how things are done elsewhere can help, as long as those who describe what they do elsewhere, and how they do it, don’t pretend that they have better ideas and solutions. We all cook with water, hypocrisy is poison to the debate.

I see, however, that there is an element in this discussion which goes beyond the constructive exchange of arguments in a reform discussion:

There are those who dig in. Reactionist forces attempt to quell the reform movement by a combination of (1) de-legitimizing reformers’ motivations; (2) de-legitimizing reformers as persons “per se” by demonizing them; and (3) pretending to associate with the cause, in order to take out the energy for change. The longer the successful application of this strategy, chances are that reform runs out of steam. And like events in 2016 allowed reactionists to boldly roll back honest and deep-looking reform efforts, the same threat is looming over 2020.

An example for de-legitimizing reformer’s motivations: Accuse them collectively and with no supporting evidence that they want to abolish the police entirely, or to de-construct the State.

An example for de-legitimizing reformers by demonizing them: Accuse them of anti-constitutional attitude, label them “radical left”, or even “domestic terrorists”, and freely make use of de-humanizing them, talking about “low-lifes”, “loosers”, or even worse.

An example for pretending to associate with the cause: Jump on the band-wagon of talking about how serious the problem is, express sympathies, be a bit emotional if you can, make sure to spread your hollow words of empathy and sympathy widely, say that you fully agree, throw in a “however”, and talk about anything but the core argument that leads to the reform necessity. Make no efforts to turn your pretended sympathies to the cause into any action.

So: What is the core argument?

The core is related to the question what the function of policing is about. No more, no less. A reform discourse needs to look at this one first.

Second comes the discussion about how (aka by which organizational means) the function of policing is implemented. Here, things become complicated, because the way how policing is being implemented is based on historical developments that are entirely localised. America’s culture is different from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Sweden, Tanzania, South-Sudan, Jordan, Egypt. Or any of the 193 countries forming the United Nations. All are different. Because of their history.

But does it mean we can only talk about one country’s policing approach, and does it mean there is no possibility to come to a common denominator which we all agree upon? Do we have to engage in a never ending “My toy is fancier than yours”-debate?

The answer is: It is very much possible to come to a unified minimum understanding, because we have done and achieved exactly that. I have witnessed that, by participating in it. It took us give or take ten years from voicing the dream, through finding support, learning how to do it, until we had written it down and agreed. The result includes what I quoted in my “Statement of Solidarity“.

And this result is not a collection of lofty sentences. As the United Nations, we needed to put a common understanding of what is policing and how it should be done front and center, for purpose of maximum transparency: This is what you get when we help you, this is what we need you to agree upon when we help you, because we have a few red lines which we all must not cross in this partnership. This is what any UN Police officer will understand as her or his function, notwithstanding from where that officer comes. This is how we expect police officers to be trained before they deploy into a United Nations Mission meant to assist in handling a conflict, or recovering from conflict.

If you look up the entire work which began with the document I quoted from, you see that we broke it down into a detailed understanding: We do have a common understanding about how to carry out community-oriented policing. We share detailed understanding about intelligence-led policing. We do know what a tactical group of the Police, such as a company sized “Formed Police Unit” should do when protecting peaceful demonstrations, and how to engage with those who disturb the peace, become violent, carry out crimes. We do know how police should establish functions that ensure accountability towards the law and towards citizens. We do know how police officers should use force as the last resort.

We have written that all down, and much more. And all along the way, the United States of America was part of a truly global support for further development of this framework, stressing the need that it has to be operationalized through training. Which is what we do, all over the world, and including heavy support by the United States of America. For which I am grateful beyond words.

Does, therefore, police have to look the same anywhere? No. But it does mean that one always should look at whether we have gotten the implementation of the core function of policing right. You can assign additional functions of any kind. The discourse about whether this makes sense, or not, usually carries many practical and political arguments with weight in the specific local context. But it should always prioritize the question whether the additional tasks impede core tasks, and whether police departments are suitable and capable to carry out that task. Like any other profession, training and organization of work in the police creates specific mindsets, highly capable of implementing policing. But it does not mean that this mindset, or training, is the right one for the additional tasks that are being expected to be handled.

The way to ensure this is called management. And any reform of something which has taken root is no less than an art.

Sometimes, less tasks for the police will create much more satisfaction with results.

On Defunding the Police – Entry Point

Not everything that can be faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed that is not faced.

JAMES BALDWIN

 

This will only be the first blog entry on this topic. I will go into the substance of how I look at this discussion in following articles. This one is intended to make clear how I look at the entire discussion, as a concerned individual and retired police officer, and a former United Nations Police Adviser. Thus, expect that my statements in subsequent articles will be as rational as I can be, and I reserve the emotional part motivating me for contributing to this discussion to this entry article. So, keep looking for follow-on to this writing, it will come soon. Expect the juice being inside a rational, but passionate debate contribution. I always try to stay away from partisan positions, except when it comes to underpinning values.

On values, I am very clearly partisan: I am United Nations hard-core, including all values on humanity represented by the UN, and developed within the UN-system. Which, by way of reminder, is the community of 193 Member States of the United Nations. We are the UN, as long as we contribute to the spirit of the UN, rather than disengaging from the UN. Like in the narrow context which will follow, engagement requires willingness to listen, rather than to yell. Any discussion which is lead in the spirit of finding consent requires to accept that it is legitimate for others to differ.

A friend of mine (who happens to be a journalist) suggested that I engage in the current discussion on policing and reforming the Police. He reminded me that, in 2014, I participated in a “Black Lives Matter” demonstration when I was living in New York (working as the UN Police Adviser). The picture is from December 13, 2014:

25B8A860-8474-470B-BE49-C1FE4896F235

August 9, 2014, Michael Brown had been shot dead by a Police officer, in Ferguson. Earlier, July 17, 2014, Eric Garner died after being put into a chokehold by a Police officer, in New York City. I am singling out two out of many events that led to renewed calls for reforming policing in the United States. Both in the U.S. and internationally, brutal instances of police abuse of power, including most serious crimes, sparked outrage leading to large and peaceful demonstrations. The “Black Lives Matter” movement stems from there. As a human being, and at that time being a temporary resident in the United States, I joined my fellow American friends in their peaceful call for addressing systemic racism reflected in the Criminal Justice system, and through abuse of power through individual police officers.

Already at that time the reform discussion on policing had much deeper roots, and there is a direct line connecting the history and those days of 2014 with what happens today, 2020. However, today the outrage is amplified, and there are signs that the calls for reforming policing, and the Police, are, finally being heard. Good.

Yes, peaceful demonstrations are proving that they are one of the most essential means and an inalienable right for citizens to participate in a democratic discourse about issues that matter.  And the subject matter of discussion is genuinely international: A friend of mine reported about participating in a demonstration in Berlin last weekend, with estimated 15.000 participants. It is one of many current events in Europe and elsewhere. Societies including my own German society have undertaken to conduct a self-critical discourse on the question as to which extent policing over here may also be unduly influenced by racial bias. Good.

Would all of that have happened without large-scale demonstrations? In my view, absolutely not. That is, by the way, why those who do resist these reforms, individually and institutionally, fear the demonstrations and thus attempt to label them with anything that would allow for discrediting intent of the demonstrations, manipulation of the course of the demonstrations and how they unfold, and the malicious labeling of individuals taking part in such demonstrations. These attempts are being conducted through manipulation, establishing and spreading unverified claims, false facts and lies, and using and spreading conspiracy-mongering strategies.

Most respected former U.S. public servants, including retired military officials are voicing their deepest concern about those who have adopted well-honed strategies practiced by systems and autocrats all over the World which have been criticised for exactly doing this by the very same United States of America. Good, because I hope the light can shine again, soon, and credible.

It looks like the peaceful demonstrations are here to stay. Good. Double down.

The range of topics in that discussion leading to these demonstrations is highly complex and beset with an enormous amount of emotions. It is about racial bias. It is about white supremacy. It is about countless cases of individual suffering and fear. It is about wrongful convictions, and a system of biased mass-incarceration, especially targeting communities of color. It is about the question how policing should be carried out, and how to hold police officers and other public officials accountable for their actions, including criminal actions. And much much more.

Within the current context of the United States, the contemporary development also can only be understood if put into the context of a society that is literally devouring itself, unraveled by a political partisan war ripping the fabric of consent into pieces about what is identifying and unifying all Americans, and what is so-called “un-American behavior”. It may well be that both sides blame the other for being un-American. The World is in disbelief. The ripples of instability stemming from this development have long arrived at the shores of Europe, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere. They bounce back from there, hitting the United States’s shores on the Atlantic and Pacific sides. Will that all calm down and settle into a new order, and will this be done with, or without violence?

Certainly, COVID-19 may have been a spark that set many things on fire. Fire? Not good in light of Global Warming. Oh yes, Global Warming is a fact. So, please, let us settle for consentual discussions allowing the young generations of this World to define our and their present, and their future.

These discussions need to be narrowed down. Topics have to be identified which can be taken forward, notwithstanding the complexity of the development as a whole. And in my view, it is extremely critical to take emotions out of these discussions, and to avoid antagonisation as much as possible. At the end of the day, a society needs to find an own consentual way forward in which positions converge into acceptable compromises. For, otherwise, there is no societal peace. And we do know that, without peace, there is no security. With no security, there is more heat. We can’t blame others for our own disengagement. But we always have the choice to engage. That’s why I am quoting James Baldwin.

This includes reforming policing, and the Police. After having settled on what policing is, the question how to implement it, follows second. Third then, one needs to consider how to fund what we want, and to re-allocate funding to where it is needed, and to stop funding of issues which run counter the implementation of what a society wants. So, in this third step, it is about de-funding, being part of a funding, and a reallocation-of-funding debate.

I should be clear: There is no way to establish a society with no self-policing of the rules that this society has given itself.

The violent death of George Floyd is a crime, one police officer is charged for second-degree murder and manslaughter. Three police officers are charged with aiding and abetting murder. George Floyd was subjected to police action after he was alleged to have used a counterfeit 20 USD bill for buying cigarettes. The police action ended in eight minutes and fourty-five seconds of suffering inflicted by some of the most cruel behavior I have seen in a while. And believe me, I have seen a lot.

It started with a counterfeit 20 USD bill. Why was Eric Garner being put into a chokehold, again? Proportionality of enforcement will be a point I will touch upon, later.

But I will say here that the reform discussion is triggered not by these few cases only, but because of the allegation that such behavior is systemic. That, also, makes it understandable why some try to argue that these actions are single cases. Which is not true. Truth matters, so look it up yourselves.

Another point in this first writing, attempting to look at the scope:

200415-michigan-protest-video-tease__415481.focal-760x428This picture was taken April 15, 2020, at Michigan Capitol

Of course I am respecting that the United States hang on to the Second Amendment. I have a personal opinion (horror and disbelief that people protest against the COVID-19 lockdown whilst carrying weapons of war), and I can also assure you that in Germany such an event would have led to as many SWAT-units as are available coming down on what would be considered a violation of strict weapons laws. But, of course, this is legal in America, thus the protest can be considered a peaceful protest.

The question I want to ask: Do you see one Afro-American person in that picture? Take a second and imagine all the individuals being black. And then, honestly, answer the question whether the indifferent action of the Police on occasion of that event would have been the same. Honestly, please!

Chances are the reaction would have been very different. That’s what I was saying in my post “Statement in Solidarity“: “Representative policing aims to ensure that the human rights of all people, without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, are protected, promoted and respected and that police personnel sufficiently reflect the community they serve.” At this moment, an overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens believes that this is not the case. Instead, we are facing a cultural form of racism, different in argument from previous forms of biological racism, but on grounds of the same attitude and thinking of white supremacy.

Statement in Solidarity

Floyd

With the “Report of the Secretary General on United Nations policing” to the United Nations Security Council as of 10 November 2016 (S2016/952), the United Nations adopted, for the first time ever, a common understanding of the function of policing, and how it must be carried out by police and law enforcement officials. This understanding can be found in https://police.un.org/en/policy-united-nations-police-peacekeeping-operations-and-special-political-missions-2014, Sections 14 to 19.

Policing refers to a function of governance responsible for the prevention, detection and investigation of crime; protection of persons and property; and the maintenance of public order and safety. Police and law enforcement officials have the obligation to respect and protect human rights, including the right to life, liberty and security of the person, as guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reaffirmed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other relevant instruments.

Pursuant to the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, police and other law enforcement officials are required, at all times, to fulfil the duty imposed upon them by law, by serving the community and by protecting all persons against illegal acts consistent with the high degree of responsibility required by their profession.

For the United Nations, the function of domestic policing must be entrusted to civil servants who are members of police or other law enforcement agencies of a national, regional or local government, within a legal framework that is based on the rule of law.

In accordance with United Nations standards, every police or other law enforcement agency should be representative of and responsive and accountable to the community it serves.

Representative policing aims to ensure that the human rights of all people, without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, are protected, promoted and respected and that police personnel sufficiently reflect the community they serve. Fair and non-discriminatory recruitment and retention policies are expected to encourage, among other goals, an adequate participation of women and minority groups.

Responsive policing ensures that police respond to existing and emerging public needs and expectations, especially in preventing and detecting crime and maintaining public order and safety. Policing objectives are informed by the public safety concerns of the communities they serve and are attained lawfully, efficiently and effectively and in accordance with international norms and standards in crime prevention, criminal justice and human rights law.

Accountable policing means that police are accountable to the law, as are all individuals and institutions in States; that police are answerable to the public through the democratic and political institutions of the state, as well as through civilian democratic oversight bodies and mechanisms to improve community-police relations; that police are accountable for the way they use the resources allocated to them and that effective mechanisms are established for accountability over police conduct, including any allegations or established human rights violations committed by the police.

For the United Nations, the rule of law refers to a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.

 

As one of the chief architects of this United Nations policy, I stand in solidarity with the countless citizens, in the United States of America and all over the World, who exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully. I join them in expressing utter outrage in the face of widespread racism, white supremacy, and a systemic and horrifying abuse of power including most serious and heinous crimes by police officials against communities and individuals of color, and minorities.

I call on my fellow police colleagues to stand in humility and in support of the communities they serve, to walk with them, and to protect them. The streets belong to citizens peacefully exercising their rights and enjoying their freedom. They are neither a battle-ground to be dominated, nor a place for curfews preventing peaceful citizens to exercise their most basic human and citizen’s rights, including the freedom of opinion and speech. Curfews can only be possible under most serious and temporary circumstances.

No public official shall use his or her power for violently pushing peaceful citizens aside.

I call on my fellow police leaders to exercise a strict no-tolerance-policy towards acts of violence and the systemic disrespect of police officials towards the communities they are obliged to serve. No zero-tolerance-policy against violence and criminal conduct is legitimate in a democratic society if those who are mandated to serve and to protect peaceful citizens show no respect to the law, to the values underpinning the laws, and to fellow citizens, themselves.

I commend those police officers who apologize to victims of police violence and abuse of power, but I also say: You must work long and hard to earn back the respect of those citizens who have lost faith in you. You are meant to protect, rather than to be an instrument of “law & order”.

My heart goes with all victims of police abuse of power and horrible crimes including murder, conducted by individual police officers, supported by a cruel and self-serving, selfish and dividing attitude by those who believe they can exercise unrestrained power, rather than fulfilling an obligation to serve all citizens who have democratically elected them.

I am saddened, ashamed, and deeply sorry. I hope we can all breathe together.

 

Stefan Feller, Former United Nations Police Adviser and Director of the Police Division (2013 – 2017).

Berlin and Belgrade, June 06, 2020

Obituary – James Le Mesurier – † 11. November 2019

Einsame Nacht

Die ihr meine Brüder seid,
Arme Menschen nah und ferne,
Die ihr im Bezirk der Sterne
Tröstung träumet eurem Leid,
Die ihr wortelos gefaltet
In die blass gestirnte Nacht
Schmale Dulderhände haltet,
Die ihr leidet, die ihr wacht,
Arme, irrende Gemeinde,
Schiffer ohne Stern und Glück –
Fremde, dennoch mir Vereinte,
Gebt mir meinen Gruss zurück.

Hermann Hesse, 1902

I have looked up quite a few translations of this poem into English. I have found none which would carry the same powerful emotional language this poem possesses in its native version. It is one of my timeless favorites since more than 45 years. Its subtle meaning makes me deciding to use it for this obituary.

Last year saw the untimely death of James Le Mesurier. November 11, he was found dead on a street in Istanbul. A link in German language: https://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/james-le-mesurier-fragen-und-antworten-zum-tod-des-weisshelme-gruenders-a-1296105.html. A link in English language: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/13/james-le-mesurier-obituary.

Like many, including closest friends of mine, I was devastated learning about his death. I met James during my time as the Police Commissioner of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, in 2002.

I worked closely with him. We shared a strong desire to contribute to ending the conflict there, working against the cycle of violence which still was a part of the reality back then, and for years ahead.

Beyond work, I got to know James as a compassionate human being, a humble person, never  making himself important, always being part of a team. I lost contact to him after I left Kosovo, in 2004.

Around 2013, James co-founded the White Helmets, together with AKUT, a Turkish disaster relief organisation. Today, there may be around 3000 White Helmets. Please watch the trailer of the award winning 2017 Netflix documentary about them: White Helmets. If you are interested in the full movie, head over to Netflix. But even if you just watch the trailer, it will already give you a sense of the incredible humanitarian work in which James engaged. I am working in the German Foreign Office. I am proud to say that my government is supporting the work of the White Helmets by political and financial means, and that we were shocked and saddened by his untimely death.

Much speculation sat around the circumstances of his passing away. I won’t engage in this. What I do note, however, is that James and his colleagues were subject to harassment and hate, because of their humanitarian engagement. When coming across evidence of chemical warfare against civilians, this evidence and video documentation was used in an investigation conducted by the United Nations. Governments in Damascus and Moscow subsequently launched a propaganda campaign including allegations that the video documentation was faked, and that the organisation would have ties to terrorist groups. According to Der Spiegel (see link above), the Syrian president threatened the White Helmets with comparing their fate with that of every terrorist: Either they lay down their weapons, or they will be liquidated. Which weapons was he talking about? Shovels, being used to rescue victims from the rubble, in the name of humanity? Bare hands?

James must be remembered as one example of how a person decides to stand up for values, and then taking action. Discrediting adversaries is one thing. Refusing accountability for attacks against the own population (link is an example of a UN investigative report following an attack with chemical weapons in Syria) and threatening those who help survivors to rescue other survivors belongs to the darkest chapters of inhumanity.

I miss James dearly.

2020

The link to this article, an opinion piece written by Madeleine Albright, has been sitting in my draft folder for this blog since April 2018. I am using it now, twenty months later. It has lost nothing of it’s relevance. The stakkato of hate, bigotry, white supremacy, disregard for the rule of law, bullying and forceful coercion, and shameless lies being thrown at 68 million followers on Twitter, and the rest of the World, has reached unimaginable levels.

Given the fatigue of many who have not found any other answer to what we are experiencing since 2017 (and before) than to say “What can we do?“, or “I am sick and tired of this, I do not want to hear from it any more!“, it has become ever more important to stay the course of standing up for truth and justice, humility, humanity, and caring for other beings.

One of the reasons why I was not writing on this opinion piece was that I felt that I ought to be careful with voicing a political opinion. Being a public servant in my home country, Germany, comes with obligations. Serving as an official grants me the protection against being fired for any other reason than severe misconduct, and it obliges me to conduct myself becoming in all my affairs. So, at that time, I decided not to write about the current incumbent of the office of the President of the United States.

Another reason was that my partner at that time, a well educated and liberal U.S. citizen, had told me that she did not want to even read about this person anymore, nor wasting her time discussing what was unfolding. This unsettled me. Because I felt that she wasn’t alone with this attitude, that many have given up raising their voice. I felt strongly that this is wrong, because it just leaves more space for those who vomit messages of hate and division. Yet, I accepted it.

I was living in the United States at that time. In August 2018, I returned to Germany, where I have been living since. And I am spending the last day of the year 2019 outside Berlin, escaping the fireworks and the noisy drunkenness, enjoying my RV, as they say in English, my little apartment on four wheels.

I am trying to make sense of all this development that I have been witnessing, and I have no formula explaining all this. It is way too complex for one convincing simple explanation. Because, of course, this is not about the U.S., or Germany, for that matter. Or Hungary. Or Italy. Or so many other places where nationalism is on the rise, and fascism is thriving ever so openly and without neither shame nor tolerance. There is absolutely no clear cut answer, it will take legions of historians decades from now to reduce the complexity of our current situation in hindsight and to come up with some big patterns about what happened, and why. If we survive until then.

Yet, it appears to me that exactly this overwhelming complexity, combined with instilling fear, is being used by the Great Simplifiers and Manipulators of this World to come up with easy and highly emotionalised messages of division, xenophobia, and rage.

It also is not about one of the most predictable persons I have ever witnessed. Nothing in the character of Donald Trump can surprise if one combines basic knowledge about narcissism, sociopathy in its most extreme form, and the fundamental personal insecurity which is so visible in what he says, how he says it, how his body language is telling the story he wants to hide. There is no reasoning, nor compromise. There is only rage and escalation. There are no friends, but only pawns, useful idiots, people in position of power to get along with, and foes. There is no point where this person will say: “I give in.” A person with this severe mental disorder is literally not capable to compromise. Rather than giving up, such a person will attempt to destroy everything. Such a person is unable to relate to other beings. That person’s only way of interaction is manipulation and coercion. I am feeling sorry for such people.

But what scares me is the silence of the lambs, combined with the willingness of many who claim to be part of the bedrock of democracy to subject themselves to the most severe form of self-mutilation: The removal of the spine. Shared principles stand in the way of selfishness, and this it seems: The unleashing of pure selfishness.

So, what do I have to say at the end of 2019? What can be said when many, if not all beacons of what we came to believe being the great achievements post World War II seem to fall apart, seem to be torn down, ripped into pieces? What can be the guiding principles which will allow us to navigate through the next decade, with 2019 filled to the brim with the ringing of alarm bells about a planet being on fire, and humankind seeming to be willing to accept inhumanity, and ever more so-called leaders unwilling to share this world amongst all, and displaying unwillingness to act responsible towards future generations?

I gave this answer to a group of students at a German university, a few weeks ago: If we do not know much about how the world is looking like tomorrow, and if we wonder about what is important, and what is less important, if we wonder about how we should engage, we must think deeply about the most fundamental values which we would like to preserve for the sake of our children, in any unknown scenario. And then, we must act according to these values. We do not need to be sages, university professors, people in powerful positions. We can carry out any function, take any role. We just have to live according to the principles we have wrestled from deep thinking. Just apply one basic rule: Do think for togetherness.

My eleven year old daughter wrote a letter to the King of Saudi Arabia. I am not posting it here. Just saying: She made me incredibly proud. In simple words, she made her values clear. And she turned them into action.

May 2020 be a year where we find ourselves discussing values, peacefully, and with willingness and ability to listen to the other, with love and compassion and the desire to understand the other being. And may we be guided by what we learn. Together.

Happy New Year.

 

Ending a leave of absence

So, I left the blog mostly unattended for a long while now. When my time with the United Nations ended and I arrived in Germany, many things took surprising, and to quite some extent, unwanted turns. I needed time to process. A lot of time. That’s how life is, isn’t it? I embraced my inward journey, embraced my fears, embraced my pain, embraced my mourning. It did not leave me much energy for more, and it was good that way, because that is normal. Everything in life is a source of learning, every development, every person is a teacher to me.

There always is a connection between my personal development and my professional path. So, for me my experience with how much time is needed to go through a healthy mourning process also serves a deepening understanding about how much time is needed to coping with similar processes on the level of a community, and a society. It runs counter the impatience of fast-paced political processes in an ever more fragile world. We always need a reminder that a quick fix here, and a quick fix there is merely having the same effect than a small firepatch has on a bushfire. And in a firestorm we are, for sure.

Back to my personal process, there is not much I am sharing at this moment in time. But at some point recently I finally knew which shape my book that I am going to write will take. It will include all personal aspects, and professional aspects, weaved together into the story it is: My story. From time to time, I will post parts of it here. I will give up the restraint talking about personal developments, and attempting to focus only on the lessons I learned in relation to my professional work. I am ready for this. Because, I believe, there is a lot of hope in it. Experience, strength, and hope will be the elements of this book.

I will retire from my work as an active police officer after 43 years and six months at the end of January 2020. Some freedom of expressing myself comes with it. Not that I will do the usual “memoir thing”: Settling scores, or telling secrets, or going sensational or boasting. Not at all. But as a highly visible individual at the interface between technical issues of helping, and the political side of it, I also decided to be a little more muted. No need for this any more.

Retirement will not mean I will sit at the fireside. I am looking forward to an exciting new opportunity to contribute to peace and security for the next many years, and I will spend a considerable time of it in my beloved Balkans. I will live in Belgrade, and will travel my second home town Sarajevo, will be in Pristina, Skopje, Tirana, and Podgorica. I will be in Berlin. And I will enjoy a new form of working and being with friends at the same time.

I will start my new phase of writing with posting a speech I gave on the topic of Protection of Civilians, on occasion of a workshop here in Berlin in the Ministry of Defense, just recently. It drew quite some attention, and some colleagues advised me to share it more widely. So, that I will do, herewith.

The Rule of Law

In what can be considered an unprecedented opinion-piece in the New York Times, former deputy attorney general Sally Yates raises a most serious concern: That the President of the United States is attempting to dismantle the rule of law. I don't know whether such an accusation against a sitting President has ever been raised before, nor it is my place to engage in this discussion.

However, being substantiated, or not, allegations of, and attempts to, undermine the rule of law have also been raised against other Heads of States of countries with a longstanding democratic tradition. Democratic governance serves the people who have decided to subject themselves to a system of elected political leaders, and institutions that hold everyone and themselves accountable to the law and the citizens. Any such system must be able to defend itself against external and internal threats. Both the rule of law and the freedom of press are indispensable for this. Eroding either, or both, has always ended in catastrophes.

If a former deputy attorney general publicly accuses the President of the United States of attempting to dismantle the rule of law, one can not prima facie assume it's fake news, or part of a witch hunt. As Sally Yates herself indicates, serious discussions about such concerns are risking to be drowned in "a daily barrage of alarming news". Moreover, the sheer intensity of distracting sensational noise, be it on social media such as Twitter, or elsewhere, numbs all of us. It is purposely meant to incapacitate, to suffocate, any responsible and accountable discussion. The "next thing" is meant to not allow focusing on "this thing", and checking on whether there is a "next thing" becomes obsessive, and addictive. Sensationalism becoming a weapon of warfare, politics become a soap opera filled with obscenities.

Democratic values, a rule of law applying equally to All, dignity, a culture of unemotional and fact-based discourse, all that and more can easily become a casualty in a firestorm of noise and emotional manipulation: Suggestions to rough up suspects in due course of an arrest, or to label criminals as "animals", serve only one purpose: De-humanization. What would you, mother or father, say if the police would bang your son's or daughter's head bloody against the roof of the police car, after an arrest following a, say, false allegation, and if the police would refer to being encouraged doing this by the President of your country? Where would you seek justice?

Peppering it up with sentences such as that criminal gangs have “transformed peaceful parks and beautiful quiet neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields” is using mass-psychology in order to manipulate an already angry and emotionalized electorate. Goethe's Faust comes to mind: The ghosts that we called, now they won't go away and they will be haunting us: The divides between an angry electorate and increasingly frustrated opponents become greater day by day. Fueling it is playing with fire, the erosion of a common base may lead to waking up one day and wondering how we all got there.

Thus, it is heart-warming seeing the leadership of the law enforcement community standing up for values such as policing following the rule of law, and respecting human rights.

Ceterum censeo, Carthaginem delendam esse", so said a Cato the Elder, a senator of ancient Rome, in closing any speech in front of the Senate: "By the way, I am of the opinion that Carthage must be destroyed." It is a synonym for standing up for own convictions, no matter what.

Thus, I repeat the United Nation's definition of the rule of law below, and I congratulate, in my personal capacity, the courage of judges, prosecutors, and police chiefs, in affirming the public that the police and justice will stand up for the rule of law, and human rights, no matter what. Ceterum censeo: Torture does not work, and it is one of the most horrific atrocities of mankind.

For the United Nations, the rule of law refers to a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.”

 

The Moment of Truth

This is a blog in which I express my personal opinion.  At the end of the day, I am used to a restraint coming from being a public servant since fourty years, but there are things that need to be said.

I have watched the development on occasion of the upcoming U.S. Presidential Elections with an increasing amount of worry. I guess I am kind of witnessing what many did: First, I did not take the loudness, the bombastic self representation, the simplified language for four-year-olds, serious. I was kind of laughing at it, like many. Reading the blogs, the increasing amount of stories got amusing. Then annoying. Then worrying. Then scary. Yet, like all, I was devouring these stories, with disgust.

In December, late December, there was a climax in these stories and in the hate and xenophobia being expressed, something that appeared to go over the top, people were shocked, other people ranted and showed raw emotions of hate for everything alien, everything black, everything Mexican, everything Muslim. Then, for a few weeks, there was a sort of silence. It was like sobering up from getting drunk on all these stories we had gotten used to read, with mad fascination. 

Some said that perhaps they had enough, that the Republican Party might have had enough. For a few days, there was silence, and some believed that somebody had silently taken the gloves offs, saying “Shut up, now”.

I was skeptical. I saw everything from a perspective of a calculated rant undertaken by a demagogue, that we see somebody exploiting democracy and its weaknesses in plain sight. I guess I was very right. We see what is happening in the primaries. We see a terrible, horrible, disgusting, hate- and spiteful demagogy rising. We see somebody rising to becoming the nominee of his Party for the Office of the President of the United States who has no hesitation to top it all out. People realize this is getting real. There is this strange acceptance: “Well, so be it. Then Hillary has to beat him.” But what if she does not? Then, silence, like sheepish acceptance: At the end, it’s democracy in the works. 

Yesterday, I was remembering what I have read about how his political rallies are: We all have seen black Americans and Muslim Americans opposing his stances in these events, with democratic means. Wonderful people, true Americans. We all have seen that the climate of these events is of a kind that people with opposing opinions will not be tolerated, will be sent back by security if identified, or being thrown out in case of their expression of opposing opinion. Sometimes they will be handled roughly, with thinly veiled triumph from the podium, if veiled at all.

I remembered what happened in Weimar. They used these security guards as well. Later on then, after Hitler won, they changed the color of their uniforms from brown to black. Those who did beat people up during the campaigns, they became members of Armageddon’s hellish armies.  All of a sudden, all my memory of how things went in the Weimar Republic, when it was taken over in the open by a demagogue who did not withhold any of his intentions, all that came up. There is a reason in post-war Germany why we use the term “wehrhafte Demokratie” for a form of constitutional setup which enables our democracy to act against demagogues who try to undermine it, to destroy it: The reason is that the Weimar Republic got destroyed this way. We woke up after the Holocaust.

And then I read this article below. Read it! Please. Read it! It is one of the best articles I have read in a long while, and I could not agree more. I was almost relieved that somebody with a U.S. passport said what I felt, with a great unease.

The moment of truth: We must stop Trump https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/moment-of-truth-we-must-stop-trump/2016/02/21/0172e788-d8a7-11e5-925f-1d10062cc82d_story.html

It is time, really time, to stand up and to say “No”. And to say it loudly. 

Already in December I said that the damage done even if this candidate won’t make it is already too much. Now, towards end of February and in the middle of the primaries, the divisions in this country go deeper than ever. The moderate and reasonable people need to speak up, now, and loudly. There needs to be a debate. It needs to be inclusive. All those who have begun to follow this demagogue, they need to be able to reconcile. It will be hard for them to admit they were following a demagogue. It’s typical for conservative minds that they will not admit a mistake of this kind. It’s typical for many other people, too. It’s basic human psychology. But reconciliation of this division will require being gentle with each other, Democrats and Republicans. Otherwise the divisions will persist.

Just dreaming. In case this nightmare would end. It’s up to us All to end it. I really hope it does. This man is young enough to try it again, in four or eight years, if he does not succeed now.