Stephanie Wudarski (PA): ‘Protests Are Aimed at Changing the Societal Contract Between Citizen and Law Enforcement’

By | Jun 10, 2020
Stephanie Wudarski

Stephani Wudarski (30), a Democrat from Pittsburgh, PA, does not belong to a synagogue but attends High Holy Day services with her family and went to Israel on Birthright. She works for a managed Medicaid company and has a background treating substance use disorders. She was a passionate supporter of Kamala Harris and volunteered for her campaign until Harris dropped out of the race in December.

We are providing the unfiltered opinions of voters interviewed for this project. Those views are based on their understanding and perception of facts and information from a range of sources. In some cases, that information may be misleading or incorrect.

What are your reactions to the protests occurring across the country? I find the protests to be inspiring due to both size and length of time they have been sustained. I am worried about the impact the protests will have on the public health crisis from coronavirus both directly and indirectly. I am aware that my white privilege is a barrier to truly understanding how so many people are taking risks by going out to the streets, but health care is kind of my thing, so I feel like I can’t help but be worried. Furthermore, I think the images of thousands, if not millions, of Americans protesting at once is, unfortunately, going to be received by a certain sector of the population that they have a right to not practice social distancing or wear masks in public. 

What are your reactions to the looting, curfews and the police response of pepper spray, rubber bullets and arrests? I have had somewhat of an internal struggle regarding the looting; and here is where I think I could benefit from listening to more black folks. For so long, peaceful protests have unfortunately not moved the needle on significant reform. And so, I think it is not for me to judge how those oppressed responds. However, setting fires does not sit well with me, as even if these acts are initially targeted, fires are way too unpredictable. Regarding the curfews, I think it is entirely counterproductive and I feel some elected officials could really benefit from psychology courses! The protests are aimed at changing the societal contract between citizen and law enforcement. A curfew is naturally going to lead to citizens feeling a bit “oppositional”, for lack of a better term, when law enforcement are the ones responsible for enforcing the curfew. Additionally, it appears to give police some sense of justification in their use of excessive force.  For other protests in which law enforcement is not the direct target, I think it makes sense. For example, if people were protesting Wall Street, then yes, having a curfew is probably a good thing for public safety as nighttime is more likely to lead to opportunistic crime. As for the pepper spray, rubber bullets, and tear-gas; I literally have no words here. It is completely unnecessary and the opposite of how to restore “law and order”. All evidence suggests that these methods completely backfire and lead to more unrest (though, I do think that is sometimes the point, specifically in the case of the Trump administration).

What do you think about the call to “defund” police departments? I am not entirely sure what I think about this. I think it may make sense in “targeted” incidents, like demilitarizing police departments and not funding weapons that should never be necessary. But I am not ready to say let’s start from scratch as a society and not have police officers. I’m concerned about the defunding efforts backfiring such as departments choosing to cut out de-escalation or Narcan training as opposed to cutting down on weapons and nice buildings. So, these efforts would have to be well thought-out as well as having a mechanism for accountability.

Have you participated in any demonstrations? On my nightly walk, I was able to witness the protest and was present when police started firing rubber bullets and tear-gas into the crowd, which from my view looked completely unnecessary. It was an hour before curfew, and I did not see any violence or provocation take place. With the first shots, there was no warning, though the second round consisted of numerous warnings. I had stayed far back in the crowd because I am concerned about the public health aspect of this. Also, if someone was with me and I was not by myself, I likely would have been more actively engaged in the demonstration while still practicing social distancing as much as possible.

How do you think the president has handled this crisis? How has Joe Biden handled this crisis? Donald Trump has handled this crisis exactly as one could expect. His narcissism, in conjunction with a complete lack of ability to feel empathy, is so pervasive and persistent; it rules every “decision” he makes. I put in quotations the word decision because almost all his behavior and choices are impulsive and compulsive. Joe Biden has risen to the occasion. He has found a way to remain positive, yet also not naïve to the reality of institutionalized racism and police brutality. He is also better than I realized or gave him credit for portraying empathy, specifically in the context of grief and loss. He sounds like a leader.

Have the events that have taken place over the last week changed your views on the upcoming Presidential election? No, it has only reinforced what I already know—the stakes could not be higher. It is literally life and death for people, specifically people of color. It is also life and death of the American experiment of democracy.

Do you think recent events will push people to one candidate or the other? I was initially very concerned that the events would lead voters who tend to be “indifferent” or at least pretend to be, more inclined to vocalize support and vote for Trump with the justification of “we need law and order” and “look at those blue cities burning down due to incompetence”.  But I think this is probably a small sliver of the voting population who was always going to vote for Trump and are looking for some justification/rationalization to do so.  It looks like from the data I have seen thus far, there is some hope that the chaos and dangerousness are finally breaking through to voters that just don’t typically pay attention and do not have strong feelings one way or the other.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us? I am appalled at the scale that excessive force is being utilized by law enforcement.  I am also genuinely concerned about the country further slipping into authoritarianism, though it does appear there has been some push back internally to Trump’s erratic behavior and impulse to order physical harm to others.

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