This commentary can be heard in audio as part of the Thinkwing Radio with Mike Honig show from July 11, 2016.
Let me get this out of the way early: I respect cops. Being a cop is hard. It’s dangerous work. In Dallas, we’ve seen exactly how dangerous. It can be like fighting in a war zone. And I can understand how constantly being in a world of bad actors – thieves, gangbangers, killers, liars, petty criminals – can be emotionally and even morally exhausting. I have no doubt that cynicism eventually comes with the job.
I have personally, as a white guy, interacted with many police in many circumstances, some of which were emotionally loaded. Most cops are good people, and have treated me fairly; even compassionately. Some are real jerks. That’s life, isn’t it?
But to come to the point of this commentary, I don’t recognize my country anymore. It feels like I’ve been kicked back in time 50 years.
I don’t see fire hoses and police dogs being turned on peaceful civil rights protesters like in the 1950s and 60s, but things are beginning to feel creepily familiar nonetheless.
Some of the images we’ve seen of police massing against protesters … We have to remember that those tactics aren’t a decision by individual cops. Those decisions are made higher up, and there’s a problem there in civilian policing that needs to be looked at. Hard.
Peaceful protests are being confronted by cops in camo gear and body armor.
Really, guys? Camo gear in the streets of a city like Ferguson? Do you think that green or brown camo is going to help you blend in with the brick or the asphalt? It would be funny, if it wasn’t so frightening.
But each of the cops in those mass confrontations with demonstrators have some individual latitude in how they handle themselves in those situations. And quality and humanity of leadership matters a lot.
I follow a lot of information sources, from mainstream network news to international news. I follow some smaller news sources and blogs with writing styles showing varying degrees of polish and professionalism. Some can veer toward the hyperbolic. But I value truth and valid information, and sometimes truth and valid information comes with excitement or anger that degrades the writing style of untrained-but-talented amateurs. But writing style doesn’t determine truth. Facts do.
Up until about 15 years ago, I thought that this country was coming along pretty well in outgrowing its racist past, but increasingly over the past few years, I’ve been feeling like America has been suffering from a racist relapse.
I‘m not a lawyer, and my specific knowledge of these things is strictly nonprofessional, but as I understand it, there are two different standards for adjudicating responsibility in a defendant. In criminal law, the standard is “beyond a reasonable doubt”. That’s a very serious standard in law, perhaps belying the simplicity of the words. People are put to death for being judged guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
There’s another standard that’s typically used in civil – i.e., non-criminal – law. That standard is “by a preponderance of the evidence”. This standard is used when life and limb of the accused are not in jeopardy, or when judging cases where life and limb were not put in jeopardy by the accused.
Even by the lesser standard of a preponderance of the evidence gleaned from major and minor information sources, this country has a newly-exposed racist cop problem.
At least, it’s newly-exposed to old white folks like me.
I know that some white folks are offended by “Black Lives Matter”. Some white folks infer that it means that Black Lives Matter MORE.
I get it.
Rest assured, you white folks out there. What they actually mean is that Black Lives Should NOT Matter LESS.
ALL LIVES SHOULD MATTER EQUALLY. But provably, both on video and statistically, black and brown lives don’t matter equally.
We all have our biases, and I’ve always assumed that there are a few racist cops. There are always a few racists, everywhere. That’s life. But we’re supposed to be a country that judges on actions, not thoughts or feelings. If you can be professional on the job while being racist, but keeping your racism between yourself and your friends and family, that’s okay by me. This country doesn’t have thought police.
But when your racism affects how you DO your job and you’re a cop, you need to find another line of work. A best-case scenario: Do the right thing and ask for an administrative duty where your racism doesn’t damage lives or kill.
Here’s another consideration. If you’re a racist cop and your racism is affecting your policing, maybe it’s not all your fault. Maybe your training wasn’t effective enough to over-rule your racist emotions when the going gets tough. Maybe with better training and a will on your part to be a better cop, maybe you can stay a cop – even be a GOOD cop – and still be a racist at heart.
After all, even racists have to earn a living.
It’s just that you can’t be a cop and live your racism on the job.
In individual policing, the video images over the past couple of years have grown increasingly alarming, not only in kind but in frequency. Black men and women being assaulted or killed as a result of interactions that were initially for petty crimes or traffic violations, or even over no crime at all.
Over the years, we’ve all seen and heard stories of black men shot or beaten by cops. Of the homes of people of color raided by law enforcement in the middle of the night, or even in broad daylight, only to find that there was nothing criminal to be found. Of people of color killed on their front porch. Of people of color being arrested or killed after calling the police for help!
Now we’ve seen it on video with sound. We know that there are cops who lie about what happened during citizen interactions, and what the truth actually is.
This isn’t just bad policing. It’s existentially bad for our country. Every citizen’s trust in, and respect for, law and order – government authority – boils down to every interaction they have with every cop – and yes, every and judge – in the system.
Now, I want to direct this to any cops who are listening: There’s an old saying in business: 90% of your complaints come from 10% of your customers. So let’s be generous. Let’s say that 90% of bad police actions come from 10% of your blue brothers and sisters.
You, as a good cop – a cop who is diligent, calm under pressure, respectful of all citizens, and knows how to de-escalate dangerous situations in ways that they end peacefully – YOU don’t deserve to be lumped in with the 10% of your blue brothers and sisters who cause 90% of the complaints. Especially when those complaints aren’t about trivial things like defective TVs, or can openers that don’t work right.
A complaint against a cop can be for something life-effecting; or even life-ending.
Look, no one wants to rat on a family member or friend. But if your brother or sister stole stuff or bullied people, what would it take to turn them in to the law?
It would take a lot. It’s hard, Really hard. Like being a cop is hard.
But here’s the thing: “… you can’t be [a] good Cop if you are not turning in bad Cops”. ~ Darryl Sullivan (by way of @Brasilmagic)