A disproportionate response

What does this mean you may be asking? It has a couple of contexts. When I first think of it, I usually think of well-meaning people who want to help someone in need. A church or employer group may adopt a family who is going without. This is not uncommon around the holidays. Unfortunately, what happens is the family is over-provided for stripping them of any dignity that remains. Plus, neighbors who are in a similar boat, may ask why them? This is one reason I do not care for the “move that bus” show where they over provide for a family.

This may sound callous, but it is an example of what is called “Toxic Charity” as defined by Robert Lupton. In his view, charity should be reserved for emergencies. We should be transacting with those in need to help them climb a ladder. If we over do, then the family’s dignity suffers. He likes to ask churches, “Is what you are doing more for you or the people you are helping? If it is the former, then you may want to rethink your outreach.”

A former executive director of a family homeless agency calls these exercises a “disproportionate response” to a crisis. He said we need to help people in a sustainable way. The goal is for you to help them stand on their own. That is the premise of the family homeless services agency I have the privilege to serve with on their Board. We do not want to do for our clients what they can do for themselves.

The other context is when controlling a hostile situation. We are beginning a discussion where police officers have on occasion used force when it was not needed or when the crime they were apprehending the suspect for was not that serious. Recognizing the tough job they have, police officers need to be trained and retrained on the art of handling delicate and difficult situations. The predisposition to act with violence needs to be managed, so that it is not used as often as it is with men of color or in less strenuous situations.

Yet, part of the issue is using an aggressive manner to apprehend a suspect of a petty crime. There is a disproportionate response when a violent apprehension is deployed with someone over a petty crime. This is akin to chasing a runaway vehicle through traffic endangering others drivers and pedestrians for running a stop sign. The safest response for the community would be to forego the chase. This has to be part of the new paradigm where training can keep officers alert, but not predisposed to act with violence. There should be a difference when apprehending someone suspected of a burglary or murder versus someone selling illegal contraband like cigarettes.

We need to approach situations with an appropriate response. Some folks will say that a suspect who is gunned down is justified if they committed any crime. I find fault with that. Someone should not be killed for stealing candy.  Further, a child with a pellet gun should not be gunned down in less than ten seconds, when a man with a rifle threatening violence is talked out of it, as he is white and the child was black. The other key question is should someone shoot to kill every one? What happened to shooting to wound? I know in the movies they do this to keep a clean end to a story and to punish very bad people that we can see as bad through our omnipotent viewing. Yet, this should not be the case in real life as much as it is.

I recognize these contexts are very different, but I believe we should be thinking and planning how we should respond to various issues, whether they be someone in need or someone who needs to be apprehended. We need to be more proportionate in our responses. More people may be saved as a result.

5 thoughts on “A disproportionate response

  1. Good post! I do think many people give to those in need t make themselves feel better. But that’s not a bad thing in itself. After all, it helps someone else out and is better than spending it on a new car that one really doesn’t need. No? It’s a matter of proportion, knowing what’s appropriate. In a word, it’s a matter of common sense, I would say. The same is true in your second case. But common sense isn’t something we seem to have in abundance, sad to say.

    • Thanks Hugh. On your first point, if the giving aligns someone’s passion to help those in need, that is overall good. If we over do, then that is bad. Lupton speaks of clothes donations versus thrift stores. On the former, people will fight over the clothes and have a sense of entitlement, but if they buy the clothes at a deep discount, they feel they are providing for their kids. He is also big on food co-ops rather than pantries. I cannot argue with you on the common sense part in your second case.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. I am part of a Quaker Meeting and one of our members often speaks on the disproportionate response to charity. She runs a food bank that is always pounded with donations at the holidays, yet left empty during the summer months. As she says “people need to eat all year.” A clear sign that people are donating to feed their ego, not the mouths of a hungry family.
    It seems that our society has become a group of reactors, not thinkers and this change is becoming very evident on so many levels.
    We have lost our patience, it’s that simple.
    Good read!

    • Thanks. Good point on the need for food year round. We have a lot of benevolent Band-Aids in our non-profit agencies. They are helping Band-Aid a wound, but not helping prevent it. The prevention part is where the hard work and planning is. Happy anniversary again.

  3. Note to Readers: I saw a neat news report which is a national initiative paid for by the DOJ called “Coffee with Cops.” It invites the community in to meet with police officers in a coffee shop and just discuss issues. It is picking up some momentum and looks to be a cool program. In my home town, the police chief is doing something similar with Barber Shops and community meetings. These are important steps.

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