Op-Ed by C J Oakes
To hear some in the media tell it, California would love to kill faith in America. Now, it seems that at least one police officer in Bakersfield misread the memo. On December 13, 2016, Bakersfield Police Officer Reagan Selman fired seven shots into an elderly man of faith with dementia. Why?
What Happened to 73-Year Old Francisco Serna?
- Loss of memory
- Difficulty communicating
- Inability to focus/pay attention
- Visual impairments
- Loss of good judgement and reasoning
Now consider that you are the age of Mr. Serna. You have lived a full life, watched children and grandchildren grow, and retired. You have been a man of faith your entire life, attending Mass and supporting the church. But your mind no longer works. So you wander about, lost and often lonely for no reason you can identify.
Your family tries to keep you home, but you have always been the head of the family. No one is going to stop you from walking the streets of your town. So you go for walks. However, sometimes these walks are frightening. Sometimes you are not sure who is who, what is what. But you have faith that God will be with you. To be sure, you keep a crucifix in your pocket, holding it tight in the faith that your divine protector will be with you.
But when police, ignorant of the facts arrive, faith means little.
The Forces of Force Care Not for Faith
Sadly, divine protection matters little when it comes to confrontations with police today. Sadly too, all it takes for a confrontation with police today is to be in their general vicinity. Police are far too often ignorant of the plight of the mentally ill. Mr. Serna is a striking example of this.
However, Francisco Serna was doing far more. He was wandering aimlessly and disturbing other ignorant citizens. He looked into the window of a car and frightened a woman–poor thing. She saw his hand gripping something in his pocket and assumed it to be a gun. She called the police and reported it so.
When Bakersfield Police Officer Reagan Selman arrived with several other officers, he was already stoked into believing there was going to be trouble. He was expecting a gun, not a crucifix. The stage was set for tragedy.
But was there something more at play?
Police Kill Because of FEAR/Lack of Faith in Fellow Citizens
911 changed America. On that day, American’s became afraid of everything. With the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, America granted police wide and ranging powers while in essence crying “Protect us.”
That is what happened in Bakersfield with Mr. Serna. His fellow citizen “felt” threatened, though no real threat was present. The police who arrived “felt” threatened without just cause (though this will likely be justified by their leadership). This lack of faith is known as FEAR, which means…
It is ironic that Mr. Serna was holding a crucifix. He is in the trusting hands of his maker now, put there because of those who lack faith in their fellow man.
Police Kill Because of FEAR/Lack of Faith in Self
Another reason police kill is because of FEAR (remember the Acronym)-lack of faith in themselves. When anyone strikes out with violence against another, regardless of the circumstances, it is an act of cowardice.
Violence always stems from fear. The most common fear is fear for and of oneself. Some fear for their lives; others fear their own failings. We cannot say what form of internal fear-lack of faith motivated Officer Selman, but we can hope that this tragedy at his hand may motivate him to look inward and become a better man, a better law enforcement officer.
Mr. Serna is dead; Officer Selman must live with that. The next weeks and months are sure to be difficult on him. Certainly, he did not intend to respond as he did. Prayers should go out, not only for the family of Francisco Serna, but also Officer Selman.
Police Kill Because of FEAR/Lack of Faith in the Criminal Justice System
Both police and the citizens today seem to lack faith in the Criminal Justice System. This results in irrational, cowardly acts.
Hollywood often sensationalizes criminals “getting away” with crime because of the presumed failings of the system. This does happen. But it seems that just as often, the innocent are paying for non-crimes or the crimes committed by others.
This is equally bad.
Until both police and the public regain faith in the U.S. Criminal Justice System, tragic deaths of mentally-ill persons such as Francisco Serna are certain.
FEAR/Lack of Faith is Cowardice…Lack of Leadership
This all boils down to a lack of leadership.
If those in charge cannot have faith in the system; if those in charge are not held accountable for their own criminal acts; if those in charge resort to violence as a first option; if those in charge choose to ignore basic human rights; if those in charge do not lead by example; if those in charge do not take a firm stand on corruption…FEAR will rule America.
We have just spent a couple of decades being afraid of Terrorism. We have allowed our leaders to “kill ’em all and let god sort them out.” Pre-emptive strikes send the message that it is OK to let FEAR motivate actions.
By failing to curb corruption in police departments nationwide,
By permitting racial profiling,
By prosecuting children as adults,
By letting FEAR control the law,
…leaders have sent the clear message that the law is only for the public, not the official who serve the public.
By declaring that all a police officer needs is FEAR to justify use of deadly force, it will remain permissable to use deadly force on the public in any situation–including against defenseless, mentally-ill senior citizens.
The simple reality is that FEAR False Evidence Appearing Real, is the cowards way. Until American Leadership re-grows a set of balls, FEAR will rule and the faithless will kill. If we learn anything from Francisco Serna, it should be that faith is far superior to fear.