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Sunday, July 21, 2024

Reimagining public safety: Alternatives to policing, also in crisis response

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My name is Danny Park and I’m an organizer with JYYPC, Justice for Yong Yang People’s Committee. I run a community grocery store in the heart of Skid Row. Since we’ve opened, our guiding principles have been (1) a safe space for Skid Row community to heal our spirits and develop healthy identities (2) Food is medicine not only for the body but also for the soul and the spiritual connection to history, ancestors, and the land.

As one of the few food outlets in the area (commonly known as a food desert/food apartheid), we have around 750 customer exchanges and transactions a day. This brings about a myriad of incidents regularly from physical altercations sometimes with objects, overdoses, arguments, hunger, suicide, defecation, and urination.

As a Korean American, I’m intentional in remembering times like Sa-I-Gu, honoring and learning from the struggles and challenges/conflicts of our predecessors, and looking and leaning towards our strengths to discover the wisdom of our people and traditions.

Danny Park moderates a rally held on June 2 at the Wilshire Lawn Plaza in Koreatown, LA (3700 Wilshire Blvd.) to condemn excessive police violence in response to the fatal police shooting of Yong Yang. [Mooyoung Lee, The Korea Daily]

There has been many challenges along the way and far more blessings than I could ever imagined. Our workplace is intergenerational and interracial with dedicated workers who are more like family, including our customers.

I’ve learned trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship, family, and community. And it’s something that developed over time. It’s when one knows that another person/people have their best interest in mind. It’s when a person/people wants the best for another. It does not mean that there isn’t conflict. In fact, conflict is part of any relationship and without it, change/transformation is not possible.

In our community, there are elders and adults who share their wisdom and skills with the younger people and keep a protective eye over everyone, particularly the most vulnerable, to ensure the community is safe and secure. There are councils of community leaders whom people can ask for guidance when there is a conflict with another person and a transgression has been committed. Most often we find that the reason behind a person/people’s volatile behavior is linked to basic needs not being met like poor diet, lack of rest, overwhelming and chronic stress, trauma, and discrimination.

During my life, I have seen a sharp increase in gun violence from mass shootings to school shootings. Around a quarter of teenagers in America have either attempted or seriously considered suicide. Nearly 70% of Americans are on at least one prescription drug and more than half take two. And “there are millions of North American children and youth who are being medicated with stimulants, anti-depressants, and even antipsychotic drugs whose long-term effects are yet to be established” (Gabor Maté, The Myth of Normal).

During COVID and the recent wake in 2020 following the death of George Floyd from asphyxiation by the Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin (who similarly was involved in numerous officer-involved shootings), new thoughts and approaches to public safety and health began to enter mainstream political and cultural discourse. While some feel that more policing, surveillance, use of force, and firearms lead to safety and collective well-being, many begin to see that investing in the physical, mental, and social needs of our people and environment can over time reduce social ills and health and safety will naturally give rise.

One can learn a lot from people who experience multiple or alternate realities. Some mental and spiritual health practitioners prefer these terms rather than psychosis or psychotic episodes. As they respect and see these realities as legitimate. In Yong’s tribute video, his mother, Myung Sook Yang, displays this understanding as she expresses deep appreciation for her son, who through their life together, taught each other so much about the value of life, the capacity to love, and the depth and potential of the human spirit.

This degree of understanding requires humility and genuine concern toward those whom law enforcement too quickly and often eagerly identifies as suspects and criminals. Such is the tragic consequence of policing as an institution, as the disregard and denial of compassion and reverence towards life undermine and dehumanize us all – Yong, Yong’s family and friends, even LAPD officer Andres Lopez and his family. One-third of people who LAPD shot are the most vulnerable, those experiencing mental and psychological distress.

During these moments we remember how we’re all in relation to one another- as people and species. There’s a shared grief and rage right now, and there will be an explosion of anger. This reminded me of Chinese American social activist and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs. During her life, the events in her city shaped her thinking and she began to wonder about what’s the difference between rebellion and revolution. She realized that rebellion is mainly an explosion of anger and revolution was a tremendous leap forward, a tremendous evolution in consciousness and responsibility, and a new way of thinking.

Danny Park

By Danny Park
The author is an organizer with Justice for Yong Yang People’s Committee.