This is a world none of us thought we’d live—or potentially die—in.
A firey-hellscape of thermonuclear annihilation? Sure. That we could imagine. A world turned against its inhabitants, throwing massive wildfires and hurricanes of unprecedented ferocity and frequency at them? Maybe those calamities occupied the periphery in our collective unconsciousness, but probably not, even though scientists and activists have been trying to warn us about the consequences of climate change for decades. Even a zombie apocalypse seemed more likely for a while.
But a complicated, deadly vascular illness that poses as an easily transmissible respiratory virus? Not on most people’s radar (although in fairness, it was on the minds of Bill Gates and infectious disease specialists at the WHO and the CDC).
The economic upheaval spurred by the virus-caused loss of jobs and businesses? Unemployment numbers unseen since the Great Depression? Social isolation, depression, and displacement? Home schooling and online classes? The schism, always in the background, between rural and urban America? Science versus conspiracy theory suddenly in the foreground? None of these things were on anybody’s to-do list for 2020.
And at the same moment, and seemingly unrelated to the pandemic, a social reckoning occasioned by the killings of unarmed Blacks by police in Minneapolis, Louisville, and Atlanta. Racial injustice has been with us since the beginning of our country. It rises and falls like a barometer of the total stressors we are dealing with at any given moment, but in the wake of global pandemic and economic collapse, the escalation of police use of deadly-force in cases of minor (or no) infractions, hit a popular tipping point, and months of implacable unrest, some of it violent, is not abating.
I walked out of my front door the other day to find myself in the middle of a scene from an action movie, only there were no cameras, technicians, Craft Services table or actors. It was real. There were four Coronado police cruisers, the police pick-up truck, a Coronado EMT van, and a Coronado fire truck.
A lot of police officers surrounded an elderly man in a beat-up old car. What caught my eye was someone who seemed not to belong in the frame. It was as if I was taking one of those “which thing is not like the others” tests.
What stood out, was a woman in the thick of things, but not in a police or fire uniform. She wasn’t armed, or carrying a badge, or a medical bag. She wore a shirt with the initials “PERT” on the back. I was Intrigued as to why this civilian seemed to be calling the shots out there, so, like a real citizen of the early 21st Century, I whipped out my smartphone and looked up the acronym. What a pleasant surprise it was to see that “PERT” stands for “Psychiatric Emergency Response Team.” I had no idea that our little community was so progressive as to be on the cutting edge of police de-escalation tactics. It gladdened my heart to see her on scene.
A month or two ago, (how can one possibly keep track of the days and weeks as they melt into each other in this coronavirus-haze? Hair length is my only indicator of the passage of time. I’m considering adding a braided-bead for each week as a way of knowing what month it is.) Anyway, some indeterminant time ago, I wrote about reforming policing culture, saying: “Activists should be careful when promoting the ‘defund the police’ meme, since it is a simplistic and dangerous description of the work that needs to be done. I quoted John Jay College criminologist, Dr. Phillip Ativa Goff, who makes the compelling and practicable argument that too many 911 calls are answered “with a badge and a gun,” instead of an EMT, a mental health professional, or a social worker.”
I asked my neighbors and a number of friends in the Village if they’d ever heard of PERT, and no one had. After a little more digging, I was again pleasantly surprised—this time to learn that the CPD has had a PERT liaison available for just such incidents since 2008. I presume the impetus was originally our suicide-prone bridge, but whatever the case, news like this at a time like this is especially sweet.
I’m dedicated to learning more about de-escalation tactics that our local police are using. I have a call into the public information officer at the police department, but as of deadline, have not heard back. I know I will, and when I do, I’ll be sure to share.
For the moment, though, I’m just going to bask in this silver-lining on what has been a very dark-cloud kind of year.
Jon Sinton is a serial media entrepreneur, who has consulted for NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, and Fox News. He has owned and operated radio stations, radio networks, and digital media sites. Mr. Sinton, a Coronado resident, is the Immediate Past Chairman of the Georgia chapter of the nonpartisan, nonprofit government watchdog organization, Common Cause.