Most cops are decent people who do their jobs to the best of their ability. Being a police officer is one of the toughest jobs in the world because that officer doesn’t know what they’re going to see on any given day. Police officers are often pegged as enforcers when the truth is some officers have resuscitated people, provided first aid, rescued people from burning buildings, and put their lives on the line during domestic terrorist events. Many of the officers are paid low amounts when one considers that officers have to deal with dangers that most other Americans will never face.
But there is a rising problem with many different beliefs about police brutality. Some believe that almost every instance of police brutality only happens to black people. Some immediately rush to the defense of an officer after claims of police brutality without any consideration that officers are human and can make mistakes. Some people immediately link all people belonging to a racial identity if a person from that racial group makes a claim or even provides a legitimate case of police brutality. Some claim to want to end police brutality but when there is an opportunity for a national conversation those are some of the same people who rush off to their separate camps on a particular issue.
As a response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There have been peaceful protests, rioting, looting, reactions from all sides, and an issue that has become divisive. Some people have attempted to start this story at rioting, looting, and individual cases of abuses of power by law enforcement. However, the story of George Floyd and others doesn’t begin with violent mobs. Some want the story to begin in the middle or end but this story has a beginning.
This is how not to respond to instances of police brutality.
Violence Only Encourages Violence
If in one breath a person is claiming that some police officers are violent towards citizens then how much sense does it make to promote violence thus putting those same citizens in the position to experience violence from those supposedly violent police officers?
Rioting and looting are not only a terrible activity to engage in or support but pretending like these actions are justified will only serve to dehumanize people who may have the best of intentions. Some have suggested that the people who have experienced police brutality have been dehumanized. If the people who are supposedly representing the interests of those who have been harmed by police officers are engaging in acts of mass violence then wouldn’t those people serve as a mascot for those who have suffered that abuse? Wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to be non-violent to give the impression that one’s side shouldn’t be treated as less than human?
One of the best responses to violence enacted by anyone who is a government employee is unity among citizens. A show of force from law enforcement is just a visual deterrent and if it works for police officers then it should, in theory, work for citizens demanding change. Violence isn’t required to present a show of force. Reminding politicians, law enforcement, and judges that citizens outnumber government officials is a good way to promote change in a non-violent way. One way to not present a non-violent show of force is to chant violent slogans and come dressed for battle.
Militarized Police Presence Promotes Anxiety, Distrust of Police
Heavy-handed responses from state governments and the federal government encourage violence. When officers show up to a demonstration dressed like soldiers on the battlefield this could serve to escalate a situation to violence. If a group of citizens sees police officers show up to a peaceful demonstration in a vehicle that is usually reserved for military purposes then those citizens could become paranoid. Anyone who doesn’t understand why American citizens would become paranoid doesn’t understand the underlying nature of the United States of America. There is a natural distrust of governance and authority figures that have served as a pillar for the country’s creation.
There have been police departments who have had very little rioting, looting, and/or mass violence. However, some of the responses from police has almost certainly increased the chance for violence to occur. A militarized presence that appears right from the start can serve to make already agitated demonstrators more agitated. Context is key here. If there is already a demonstration about police brutality the last thing any reasonable officer wants to do is to appear in front of those demonstrators dressed in attire that one would expect from a Call of Duty video game.
In 2018, Professor Johnathan Mummalo of Princeton University published a study about the militarization of police and how that breeds distrust and harms the reputation of law enforcement. Click here for a copy of that study.
The study goes into detail about how many Americans feel about the increasingly well-armed and equipped police units across the U.S. Professor Mummalo demonstrated with numbers and statistics that the presence of a SWAT team doesn’t correlate with a decrease in violence. One of the main reasons why heavily armed and armored police presences have left a bad taste in the mouth of many Americans is because of the spirit of the country. Americans have a long and rich history of distrusting government officials and, by extension, fair or unfair, police officers from the American Hippie movement to the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. It isn’t because these movements hate law enforcement. Instead, many have negative feelings towards law enforcement for simple and practical reasons.
A customer service representative for almost any company would say that there are some nice customers and many rude customers. The reason for this is mostly due to that customer service representative being the first person a customer interacts with. If a customer is upset with a phone company because of a large bill then it isn’t the CEO of that phone company who gets to hear the nasty words. In the same light, police officers are often the first people that citizens encounter during times of trouble. There is a large reliance on police officers while at the same time those officers are exposed to the public. An officer could find themselves being blamed for enforcing a law that officers didn’t create. Therefore, it is even more important to not appear like a G.I. Joe action figure in front of people who may already blame officers for things that the police officers may not be responsible for.
A heavy-handed presence in front of people who already are suspicious, angry, and demonstrating to show that anger will not make the situation any better or safer. The best solution is to present police who are dressed in their regular uniforms with a heavier armed and armored force standing by. Escalate the level of police presence in accordance with the current threat level. It would seem a little silly to present a grenade launcher to an anthill.
Stop With the “But Blacks” Statistics, It Doesn’t Help, It Only Promotes Anger
Have you seen the people saying “well in Chicago there are *insert blank statistic* shootings and nobody cares about that”?
The problem with such injections of statistics in an instance of police shootings or the death of an unarmed black person is that it just isn’t relevant. If a police officer shoots an unarmed black man in Alaska how dumb would it be to mention Chicago gun violence statistics as if it has relevance to Alaska? Are black people interconnected beings who cannot die in any way without statistics from a completely irrelevant place being mentioned? What would those statistics prove exactly? Would it prove that someone like Ahmaud Arbery or George Floyd deserved to die?
If a white man commits suicide in prison but the situation surrounding the suicide is questionable then a reasonable person should ask questions. Yet, when Ahmaud Arbery is gunned down by someone who the world has recently discovered was an actual racist then suddenly gun violence statistics in one part of the United States get mentioned. Some people were concerned that Epstein was taken off of suicide watch and was placed with a roommate who looked like a bodybuilder/assassin with a known violent history. Epstein was a pedophile who got that much concern and scrutiny after his death which wasn’t so much of a concern for his safety but more so a concern to get him into court to testify against others who abused children. However, if that much concern was given to keep a pedophile alive then perhaps the circumstances surrounding Ahmaud Arbery’s death deserved more scrutiny.
Treat the Brutality Victim’s Demographic as Individuals
The other problem with mentioning these statistics is that most Black Americans don’t live in Chicago or neighborhoods that have high instances of gun violence. Contrary to popular belief, most parts of the United States are perfectly safe and that’s even with the current rioting and looting. If an unarmed black person who isn’t involved in the Chicago gang and drug culture is gunned down then that is an injustice. Even if a police officer were to kill an unarmed black person in Chicago that would still be an injustice.
Is the suggestion that if one part of a racial demographic does bad things then someone apart of that demographic who gets abused somehow deserves it? Does a white man deserve to be harassed by police based on what happens in many white-dominant trailer parks or Appalachia? Does a Hispanic person who is unarmed and gunned down by cops somehow the bad person because of what happens in Latino dominant street gangs?
Some people appear to be indifferent about police violence if that violence doesn’t happen to a black person. There are plenty of Americans who have been abused by law enforcement and the time for outrage isn’t when one’s favorite victimhood demographic is affected.
If there are people saying #alllivesmatter in response to #blacklivesmatter then why are some of the same #alllivesmatter people mentioning these Chicago statistics? If the goal is to convince everyone that #alllivesmatter then why aren’t those people in Chicago with #alllivesmatter posters in an attempt to demonstrate against violence?
Don’t Blame All Cops, But All Cops Need Education
This author will fully admit to having anger towards police from years of harassment. So this criticism is directed at this author as well. Emotions need to be controlled. Some people don’t realize that certain segments of the United States may feel targeted by police officers. That targeting by law enforcement could be due to certain neighborhoods, sometimes black-dominant, having more crime than other neighborhoods.
There are situations where police officers and departments are labeled as racist because of circumstances and not necessarily because of anything that was done wrong by law enforcement by law. However, many departments across the country have engaged in practices that demonstrate incompetence and unwillingly to take simple steps to reduce the claims of racism from Black Americans.
One such police department that shows incompetence and corruption that leads to claims of racism is the Chester County Sheriff’s Department in South Carolina. Chester County arrests more people for cannabis-related offenses at a rate that is the highest in the U.S. Most people who are arrested for cannabis-related offenses are disproportionately black people. This sheriff’s department is willingly defying the will of the people of South Carolina and the United States by pursuing people for the mere act of possessing cannabis.
Do you see how Chester County has created a situation where black people are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement and thus those black people see law enforcement as a racist institution because they get targeted for something most people don’t agree is even a crime? This is the same Chester County who had to get a new sheriff recently because the last sheriff was indicted on federal charges. There are a little over 5 million people in the state of South Carolina. Most people in Chester County are not black and yet blacks are still disproportionately arrested for cannabis-related offenses by the same law enforcement that is supposed to protect people. If black people in Chester County see law enforcement as scary people with guns versus protectors then it shouldn’t take much imagination to see why there are so many claims of racism directed towards law enforcement in that area.
Right now, there is a high level of distrust in law enforcement imitating from all over the U.S. Chester County is still arresting people for cannabis-related offenses despite this high level of distrust. If there are police departments that, even during a period of civil unrest that is related to law enforcement, are still enforcing unpopular policies and laws that disproportionately affect the very people who are protesting then is it any wonder why there is a negative view of law enforcement?
It is unfair that other law enforcement officers will be blamed for the actions and corruption of other police departments. Some officers have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help citizens. Heroic people in uniform are tarred and feathered along with those who should not have been or be police officers. There are police departments who pay for community functions like neighborhood barbecues and after school programs for children while many police in Chester County devote much of their time arresting mostly black people for smoking a plant. The biggest contrast between Chester County and other police departments is that other police departments spend time uplifting their neighborhoods instead of appearing like strong-arm enforcers. People tend to respond better to a knight in shining armor than a man in an executioner’s robe.