My Humble Attempt At Fumbling With the Feelings of Sorrow Regarding Current Events
Social unrest has exploded this year along with everything else that’s awful. I have hesitated to even say anything but I’m finding all the noise surrounding the issue increasingly frustrating. It doesn’t have to be so painful to have this discussion so for my own sanity I’m sorting things out for myself here. Maybe it can benefit others. If you feel like listening, hear me out to the end, I’m trying to be even handed here. (I should probably add a disclaimer here. I’m addressing White people. I, as a white person, have no experience or wisdom that could benefit a person of color when it comes to racial issues. I can only listen to their experiences and learn.)
First and foremost in my frustration is that we’re often arguing with faulty rhetoric. You can’t have a discussion without first defining your terms and a big problem I see is how Black Lives Matter (BLM) is repeatedly misrepresented. So let’s get this out of the way. From what I understand, BLM was started to bring attention to and attempt to eliminate unnecessary and excessive violence against Black bodies by Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs), and White Supremacists, as well as address the absence of even handed treatment by the justice system in response to said violence. Don’t take my word for it, just go to their website and read the “about” section.
Think about a time you were the victim of something unjust and your complaints to power were met with indifference. That indifference likely caused you to feel that your needs didn’t matter. Black people have been complaining for the entirety of our country’s existence about the raw deal they’ve gotten from the legal system at all levels. Yes, there are exceptions to this rule just as there are with anything— I’m talking about the general, systemic raw deal. With the proliferation of cell phone cameras, the very violence they’ve been claiming is commonplace is being laid bare for the White public at large. We can see it for our own eyes. The hope of the Black community is that our overwhelming response would be compassionate— something along the lines of “Wow! I had no idea! This is horrible and we need to change this!”. Instead, that desired reaction is often replaced with indifference if not outright hostility, leaving the Black community to continue feeling like they’re in this alone. Hence, feeling like their lives don’t matter.
BLM exists to make sure society at large can’t just look the other way because it’s literally life and death for the Black community and needs to change. When looting happens at BLM protests you’ll find the leadership is quick to condemn it.
Black on Black violence is a separate issue with its own legion of activist groups and community outreach programs which is why it doesn’t fall under BLM’s umbrella.
And since BLM is concerned with Black lives and systemic injustice towards them, they don’t take to the streets when, let’s say, a white child is murdered at the hands of a black man followed by Law Enforcement tracking down, arresting, and charging (with admirable efficiency and speed), the perpetrator of the crime. It doesn’t fall under their umbrella and more importantly, there’s no need to protest when the U.S. Justice System works as it should. A victim receiving swift justice is a victory.
If you find you’re against BLM, you should figure out if it’s really BLM you’re against and not some misrepresentative straw man created to serve an agenda. If you really think there’s a large group of Black people who think their lives are more important than White lives and are out to destroy cities and wish for all out anarchy, you’re likely immersed in the fringes of the debate. Most adults are rational, well-meaning people who just want to exercise their right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. This goes for BLM. This also goes for LEOs.
Having said that, I’m going to be tougher on LEOs because they’re holding the power of life and death in their hands. They have the guns and the legal right to use them. With great power comes great responsibility in a civilized society.
I get annoyed when I hear as a counterargument in regards to police misdoings in the line of duty that it’s just a few bad apples, or 90% of them are good people. Of course they are. The cops I know personally are GREAT people. That’s not the point. Good and great people still do the wrong thing on occasion. Doing the wrong thing and learning why it’s wrong is actually how you get to be a good person, so I’m not one to point fingers. A lot of very good people will do the same wrong thing over and over before it finally clicks that it’s wrong. The point is, when it does finally click, a good person understands that being good or great doesn’t excuse you from consequences.
That’s what this is all about. Time and again there seem to be no consequences when LEOs break the same laws that carry heavy consequences for civilians, particularly Black civilians. If you’re a good person you except that justice doesn’t work unless it applies to everyone, even you. You cease to be a good person when you continuously do the wrong thing without remorse, or deny the effects of your wrong doing on others, making excuses, refusing to accept responsibility in part or in totality. I completely understand the concept of “it’s better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6”. I know every cop’s family takes this heavily to heart and absolutely should. The problem is that the “judged by 12” part all too often doesn’t happen. When you remove accountability from taking a life it devalues life itself.
I’m not going to pretend being a cop isn’t a stressful job. That’s just intellectually lazy and if that’s your stance, you’re being willfully obtuse. Cops are exposed to human beings in their most desperate, depraved, survival-mode moments. They see humanity at its worst. There’s no way it doesn’t affect them. But I can’t help but think that maybe if they received more than six months of training and a few refresher sessions throughout the year that they might be better equipped to deal with what they encounter. Our armed forces are sent into literal combat zones and have to maintain immense control over who they’re firing at even when being fired upon. Just killing one non-combatant, even if it’s an accident, can undo months, even years of trust in the very civilians on whom our soldiers depend for cooperation. They’re trained to take emotion out of it and approach the situation rationally. It requires far more than six months of training to accomplish this.
Defunding the police has been a popular solution, and again, we need to have our terms straight here. Defunding is not the same as abolishing the police, which any rational person should be able to see is absurd. It simply means taking some of the responsibilities that we heap upon police that they lack adequate training/experience to deal with and channelling them into other organizations. That means moving funding out of the police budget to these other organizations. Things like dealing with the mentally ill and victims of addiction would fall under this umbrella.
But what if we went in the other direction and spent more on training? What might happen if being a cop required a college degree? What if police academy was a four year education onto itself? What if there were extensive periods of re-training throughout a policeman’s career? What if they were even taken out of the field to do this training, giving them a break from the grind? Might it result in less burnout/demoralization? Might the challenge that all of this work promises weed out some of the people who clearly lack the disposition to be in charge of life and death over civilians?
They’re human beings doing a job. I see them as such. Having said that, a big part of the problem is that their victims often don’t receive the same courtesy.
I’m going to talk abut Rayshard Brooks as an example, mainly because the whole impetus for writing this came out of an argument I had about the social unrest around the incident when Rayshard Brooks was killed. I didn’t fair well in the argument and I’m going to re-litigate my case here. For review, Brooks was the man who was drunk in a fast food drive thru. The officers who came to the scene eventually tried to arrest him, he resisted, got one of their tasers and in the process of running away, fired it at one of the officers who then shot and killed him. Some look at this and feel this is justified. Some look at it as a man being killed over a DUI. Some bring up that he had a criminal record and therefore had it coming somehow. Once a criminal, always a criminal, right?
I’ll start by pointing out, Rayshard Brooks was a human being. He had a wife and kids that now miss him. The fact that he’s an ex-con has nothing to do with this particular incident. He was judged and sentenced for those crimes. He served his time, he paid his debt to society for those crimes. That’s how our justice system works. If he was in his car in a fast food drive thru, drunk enough that he was falling asleep, he was obviously driving while intoxicated. I’m not going to defend that, it’s a completely preventable, selfish crime. Worse, he was on probation for DUI. He absolutely should’ve faced the consequence for that. But death is not a legal punishment for DUI in our society. And let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. A second DUI while on probation is a pretty good sign of addiction issues. Alcoholism is a disease and needs to be treated. He wasn’t in a good place. What brought on the excessive drinking? I don’t know. But with a little empathy I can imagine maybe the stigmas of being an ex-con in our society and the challenges of reacclimating were getting to him. Some of those challenges are how it limits employment opportunities, how it limits access to affordable housing, how it creates difficulties obtaining a loan, how it leads to difficulty obtaining health insurance, how it’s brought up to justify police ex-judicially killing you. Then go down the rabbit hole of our privatized, for-profit prison system that depends on people being locked up to turn those profits. There’s a reason it’s called a trap. It’s meant to keep you in the system.
Again, I’m not going to pretend being a cop isn’t stressful. Officer Bronson sustained injuries in the struggle after his taser was wrestled away from him and used on him. I’ve never had to deal with stressors like that in my job so I won’t sit here and tell you I’d be able to control my emotions in this situation. But I also feel like that’s a big reason I wouldn’t choose policing as a profession. The bottom line for me, at a bare minimum in a functioning society, two properly trained police officers should be able to subdue one unarmed man with a blood alcohol level well over the legal limit without killing him. You say he became armed when he grabbed Officer Bronson’s taser? The whole point of a taser is that it’s designed to be non-lethal but more importantly— Officer Rolfe shot Brooks in the back as he was running away. Yes, he had just fired the taser at Rolfe but he missed and like I said, a taser is non-lethal. Unless you’re caught up the moment and looking for payback, there is no need to use lethal force. He’s nearly black out drunk so he’s not going to get very far and the officers had his vehicle.
This is a specific incident but every one of these incidents has its own specifics. If you examined them all you’ll find mistakes made, failures in procedure, of de-escalation, of maintaining control of oneself.
And at the core of this problem is implicit bias. That’s basically when you perceive a group of people a certain way without even knowing it. If you look at any of these black victims and your first reaction is to assume they did something to deserve it, that’s an implicit bias at work. I see it all the time in Twitter threads, Facebook comments, etc. I’ll repeatedly see these victims described as thugs, criminals, junkies, lacking in education, lazy…None of these actually apply to the real Breonna Taylor. Or Philando Castile, or Sandra Bland or Tamir Rice… If you’ve never had cause to challenge those views, do you even realize you hold these prejudices? If you see white people who have trouble with the law as a bug in their personality or just youthful mistakes but that same trouble as a feature when it comes to Black people, I’d implore you to examine why that’s your conclusion. If it’s wrong to judge all police by the actions of a few, why is so easy to paint people of color with a such a brush?
This is what seeing each other as human beings looks like.