Police Shootings and Black Lives Matter
I respect police officers. I know they keep us safe and enforce the laws that ensure our “civilized” society runs smoothly. I even root for them. There have been many times while driving when I’ve seen a particularly reckless person speed by me and I’ve said “I hope the cops get them”. It should come as no surprise, then, that I am happy cops exist and are willing to put their lives on the line every single day they are on duty. It is true that I respect the police. But….
I do not worship them.
I do not put them on a pedestal above other professions.
I do not trust them indiscriminately.
I do not think they are saviors.
The truth is I respect the police and I respect garbage men, teachers, fire fighters, postal workers, soldiers, public defenders, judges, forest rangers, research scientists, engineers, inventors, etc. I respect almost all professions.
Being a police officer is a job. It may be a dangerous job but so is construction, crab fishing, and logging. Just because a job is dangerous doesn’t mean the people doing it are better than the rest of the populace and deserve some great honor. All it really means is that that profession deserves a good salary and great benefits.
On July 8, 2016 five white police officers in Dallas Texas were murdered by a sniper seeking revenge for the recent murders of unarmed black men by police. Those officers did not deserve to die. They were innocent. Police should not be murdered for any reason, least of all simply because they are police, just as a black person should not be murdered simply for being black. There is a difference between the two, though. Being a cop is a choice. A person goes into that profession knowing that the streets are dangerous and that they could be killed by a perp at any time. Like a soldier they are willing risk their lives when they put on the uniform. Being black is not a choice. We don’t put on our skin color in the morning. This skin color that makes us more of a target. This skin color that makes many view us as a threat. This skin color with 2 and a half centuries of slavery followed by over a century of institutionalized racism behind it. No. No-one chooses that. Being a cop is a job. When they take that blue uniform off, they are just a civilian. Black people can’t take off our skin.
It's About Race and Race is Stupid
Growing up I never liked the term “Black” to describe people of African descent. Black was simply the darkest color to me. It was something no human being could be (similarly I wasn’t a fan of white to describe people of European descent). I guess I wasn’t a fan of using color to describe a group. I liked the term African American. It actually tells you something: my ancestors were from Africa but I live in America. If I was going to use a color it was ‘Brown’, much to the amusement of my former classmates. People were quick to point out that Indians and Arabs are brown. “But I’m as brown as they are” I would say.
In time I came to accept the term Black and regularly use it. I conformed to society’s understanding of race. An understanding that I always understood on a fundamental level but never fully agreed with. Let’s face it, race as something incredibly stupid. Skin color, eye shape, hair texture and color, nose shape, etc. There all good for describing a person so you can recognize them but they tell you nothing about the inner person. Who they are. What’s actually important about them. Not all blacks are athletic, not all Asians are good at math, and I assure you plenty of white people can jump.
We treat race like it is the most important part of a person’s identity. We act like if we know a person’s race we have their story. When in fact all race gives you is a vague idea of what the person looks like. If you want to know a person, culture is what you need to look at: the combination of their beliefs, diet, arts, and customs that shaped them into who they are. But that would be too hard. It’s easier to assume all members of a race share the same culture even though one race can cross a dozen cultures and one culture a dozen races.
Despite the fact that race is pointless it seems that the actions of the police are indeed tied to race. Civilians can stereotype people all day to little ill-effect. They don’t normally make life and death decisions. I really don’t care if I’m followed in an upscale store because someone thinks I’ll steal something. All that person is doing is wasting their time. No loss for me. But when a cop makes assumptions about a person based on race, and they overreact, and kill someone then I have a problem. They should be more level headed. Yet time and time again they shoot unarmed black men in the line of duty (or arrest them unnecessarily) while only tasing or ruffing up white criminals. I think I know why this is.
Cops know a certain culture within the black community is known for criminal activity: the urban gang culture. Yes, that is a culture. They have their own art, entertainment, way of dressing, and talking. Cops would come across members of this culture regularly and in time come to associate all blacks with this group even though the majority of Blacks aren’t a part of it. Many white kids copy this culture. It’s cool to them. While the police may call them punks or some other name they won’t treat them as harsh as the Black kids because if they aren’t black then they must not be the real deal. Thus, a white kid in baggy clothes and a hoodie will not be as threatening as a Trayvon Martin.
Race is stupid.
Of course, people dying unjustly is nothing new. It didn’t just start happening. Humans have been killing each other intentionally and unintentionally since the dawn of our species. People love to say that all human lives are precious. That they “matter”, if you will. What they really mean is all human lives like their own matter. The lives of other groups never seem to matter enough. There’s a reason why mostly black people say “Black lives matters” and mostly cops and people with law enforcement family members say “Blue lives matter”. And if you are loath to take a side you say “All lives matter.”
If human history has taught us anything, it’s that people rarely treat lives like they matter. It’s no wonder why. We are sentient clusters of cells that live and die on a small rocky planet orbiting an average star in a barred spiral galaxy of some 200 billion stars in a Universe so vast we don’t even know if it has an end. In that context all lives are insignificant. If any of us die tomorrow in time no one will even remember our names and the world will go on. If we’re lucky we’ll get a page in the history books and school kids will be forced to read about us. Human lives matter because we are human, but to use ‘…lives matter’ as a slogan is ineffective. To me it is problematic because it immediately makes the other side defensive. They say “I never said your lives didn’t matter. I believe all lives matter.” The slogans should be a call for justice. It’s justice that matters.
We all live on this planet together and until it is time to return to the dirt we need to make it a safe, happy place to live. To do that we need a fully functioning society and a functioning society requires the rule of law. If justice is not held to the highest of standards, then people lose faith in society, and you have a breakdown in the rule of law. No system can persist if people don’t believe in it and sadly, with the growing protests, that’s where we are heading.
Our justice system has many problems in how cases are judged and sentences levied. How prisoners are treated and prisons are managed. But it starts at the street level with the police. They are the face of the justice system that people see every day. If the actions of the police are not just, then what happens after they’ve done their job matters little. A functioning society requires a police force that is committed to justice.
Most cops are just, however. They do their jobs well and have respect for the communities they police, but you know the old saying: one bad apple spoils the bunch. Good cops do not serve a just society if they don’t speak out against the bad ones. All the cops on the force know who the asshole(s) is (are). These bad cops should be shunned by their fellow officers, reprimanded by their superiors, and ultimately driven out of the force if need be. Truly good cops don’t let bad cops get away with murder. If they want to police us. They should first police themselves.
What Needs to Happen
1) First people need to admit racism still exists in this country and then then they need to agree that the idea of judging a person by race is stupid. It may seem simple but many people believe that racism is a thing of the past and it’s all in our heads or its some great conspiracy designed to divide us. There are still many more that believe race is useful information to know about a person, as the practice of asking “what race do you identify with?” persisting, shows. They’d learn more asking what my or my parent’s income bracket was.
2) The police need to realize that resisting arrest, possessing weed, selling music/cigarettes on the street, driving with a busted tail light and many more minor offenses are not crimes punishable by death. If you cannot handle these situations without shooting someone you probably shouldn’t have been a police officer. I firmly believe that if a perp pulls a gun on a police officer, the police have the right to use swift and lethal force. If all the person has is a knife, a blunt object or their fists then Tasers and Billy clubs will do. (Some people might ask what if a cop can’t handle the situation alone? It’s always been my view that police should work together. There should always be at least two to handle a situation.)
3) People need to realize that police are not judge, jury, and executioner. Anytime a police officer fires their weapon and kills someone there should be an independent investigation to ensure that it was a just kill. Too many people automatically assume the officer was in the right. Police cannot execute someone because they believe them to be guilty of some crime and they certainly can’t use “well it looked like a gun” or “he was reaching for something” as an excuse. Until you see a gun there is no gun! You must understand that I believe police have the right to use lethal force in self-defense only because I believe all people should have that right. Beyond that, I don’t believe they should have any special powers. Save that for the military. It’s protect and serve, not locate and destroy.
4) The blue wall of silence needs to end. We are always told if you see something say something. The same should apply for the police. If an officer knows that one of their blue brothers overstepped and abused his power, then they should be the first to alert their superiors. How can they expect the people they police to trust and respect them if they cover up for each other?
5) A dialogue between the police and their communities, especially those of color, needs to be opened. I’m sure small towns still have it, but larger communities need it as well. I love seeing videos of police interacting with people and I want more of it. I want people to say hello to their local police and smile at them. I want more police visiting schools. I want more trust from both sides. I want healing of the wounds bought on by violence. I want justice.
I’m sure there are many more things that can be done, and obviously any steps taken to heal the rift between police and communities of color will be difficult one, but steps need to be taken in the right direction.