By Mike Newhouse
In the days after Brendon Glenn was killed May 5 in the heart of Venice, I was starkly reminded of one of our community’s biggest challenges. But, my perspective may surprise you. What first came to mind was not how we police. It was not about racism or homelessness. It was not about mental illness, or the insidious nature of drug or alcohol abuse. Instead, I was reminded that too often we all can have the instinct to chastise, blame, and vilify, rather than, discuss, listen, and connect.
The most visible example of this was what happened at the Town Hall meeting last Thursday following Brendon’s death. What was a right headed effort to bring Venice together – and to discuss what can and must be done to avoid such future tragedies – quickly deteriorated into anger and divisiveness.
To be sure, Brendon’s friends and family were rightfully angry and heartbroken. And to be sure, many in the crowd who may not have known Brendon, but have for too long felt disrespected – or empathize and sympathize with others who have – felt a lifetime of indignities boil to the surface. Of course, on the other side of things, dozens of police officers, elected officials, and social service volunteers and professionals, uninvolved in Brendon’s death and working to avoid such future tragedies, were made to feel responsible for deeply engrained and longstanding community wounds that they did not create.
To be clear, I do not point this out to assign blame for the tenor last Thursday night, or since then. From my perspective, perception and emotion are reality… for all of us. Everyone’s voice, on all sides of this issue, should be heard, listened to and respected. For those who demand to see the surveillance tape of the shooting, they feel it is their right, and I understand their perspective. For the police officers, investigators, and elected officials who explained that they simply could not taint witness testimony by releasing the tape, their points, and the points of those who agree with them, are also understandable. And, we should not forget the realities for Brendon or the officer involved in the shooting. At the end of the day, whatever the investigation concludes, a young man is dead, and the officer’s life will never be the same.
Time will tell what happened on May 5. But, justice will only be served if we fight the urge to blame, fight the urge to preach and fight the urge to vilify. Instead, we must encourage a discussion on why Brendon died, and steps we can take together to ensure that this situation never happens again. We need to put our minds together to continue to strengthen relationships between our police officers and our citizens. We need to ask what new resources do the police and social service providers need to help get folks off the street and into shelters, transitional housing, and ultimately permanent supportive housing. We need to ask what we can continue to do to break down old stereotypes, and replace them with the realities of individual personal relationships. We need to ask how we can help those who are mentally ill, or suffering from addiction. We need to ask how we can create more jobs, so that those able to work have real opportunities. All of these dialogues already exist in Venice, but they cannot survive, and they cannot grow, if we choose to tear each other down.
I can only speak for myself, but I tend to see human nature, and the world, as inherently good. Let’s not let Brendon’s death compromise that nature. Instead, let’s make his memory a legacy of constructive dialogue, and an opportunity to bring us all together to solve the challenges that divide us.
Mike Newhouse is a 19-year Venice Resident, an Attorney, and President of the Venice Neighborhood Council (for identification purposes only).