On Friday I was too stunned, dizzy, and filled with emotion over last week’s violence from, and toward the police, to properly articulate my feelings. I’ve now had a couple of days to process things, and also watch the commentary and blame batted around by various parties. A lot of the commentary has revealed how polarizing the events have been, but what strikes me is the stark difference between the cultures of the police and activist groups such as Black Lives Matter. I want to make it crystal clear that I’m anti-violence, not anti-police, but I’m vehemently pro-justice. In my opinion, the activist groups are seeking justice and NEVER justifying violence. I watched a TV interview with the co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza, in which she denounced the violence in Dallas but stated that “we can grieve for Dallas police but still demand police accountability. On the other hand, police culture frequently justifies violence and discourages officers from speaking out to criticize the actions of fellow officers, even when those police officers have committed murder documented on video. I’ve read several remarks by police who say they feel that protest groups make them all feel hated and painted with the same brush because of the bad behavior of a minority of cops. I understand that frustration, but the widespread mistrust of the police stems from a pervasive unwillingness on the part of police to punish, or even acknowledge, bad behavior by police. If the police want to be trusted, they need to make moves to cut out their own cancer and demonstrate forward movement to minimize racial bias and unnecessary uses of violence. Instead, a lot of politicians and police spokespeople are blaming Black Lives Matter for the violence in Dallas, an act committed by a lone gunman in no way affiliated with the movement, rather than acknowledging that there are systemic issues and biases in policing. I read that some in law enforcement were infuriated by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton asking “Would this have happened if the driver and passengers were white?… I don’t think it would’ve,” a question that I believe was meant to promote soul-searching, not anger. In a television interview, the executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations blamed President Obama for “waging a war on cops.” In Texas, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick claimed that Black Lives Matter was to blame for the Dallas shootings. All of the blame-placing on Black Lives Matter and refusal to acknowledge bad police behavior, further indicts police culture as having the attitude that police are infallible, their actions are always justified, and they are the victims of wrongful vilification. Blaming those in search of justice, like Black Lives Matter, who stand up for the victims of police violence, rather than punishing the police guilty of unwarranted violence, will only further undermine the public’s trust in the police.
The other issue to address is the police hypocrisy toward guns. The officer who shot Philando Castile claims he responded to “the presence of a gun.” There was no argument stating that the gun was pointed at the officer in a threatening way, but its mere presence was reason enough to shoot Castile several times. This pseudo-rationale brings up the troubling hypocrisy with police: police are traditionally one of the most vocal groups opposing any gun restriction legislation, yet we’re all experiencing these firsthand recordings of seemingly trigger-happy police when encountering armed members of the public even when those members of the public have permits to carry firearms. In Dallas the police hastily and erroneously presented Mark Hughes, a member of the protest who was carrying a rifle with an open carry permit, as a suspect in the police shootings. Apparently, the police considered Hughes’ possession of a gun as reason to publicize him as the number one suspect without realizing that he had turned his gun into police the moment shooting began. Hughes’ face was all over the national media, making him potentially vulnerable to police or trigger-happy vigilantes. The police however, did not release photos of the officers involved in the Baton Rouge or Minnesota shootings for fear of reprisals against those officers. Law enforcement doesn’t get to have it both ways on guns or judgment before the facts are in. It is a statistical fact that fewer guns would make the public AND police safer.
Lastly, I don’t think all cops are bad. I have a very close friend who is a great cop and an amazing human being. All of his police friends I’ve met seem like great people as well. However, I have to honestly relate my first-hand experiences with the police, all for low-level crimes including skateboarding and street art. My experiences have not been positive the vast majority of the time. I’m always polite to the police when they have arrested me because I know that provoking the police with belligerence will not be helpful for me. Despite being polite, non-threatening, and my infractions being non-violent, most of my police encounters have been negative. That negativity ranges from simple sadistic disrespect for my basic humanity like putting the handcuffs on excessively tight or refusing to provide a blanket in a freezing cold cell, to more serious sadism like being beaten up or being banged around in the back of a cop car. The most despicable thing that has happened to me four times while in jail, is that the police have refused to give me my insulin. I’m a type one diabetic, and I will die without insulin, yet even after many polite pleadings, the police did nothing to administer my insulin. I became so sick during two of my longer stays in jail that I had to be hospitalized. I only have one tattoo, and it reads “Diabetic” on my left bicep, a precaution insisted upon by my wife who knows that all tattoos are documented by the police during booking. In other words, my wife wanted the police to have to admit that they knew I was diabetic if I ever died in jail from not having my insulin. The complete lack of regard for human life by the police that I’ve experienced first hand is astonishing. We all know that absolute power corrupts which is why the police especially need transparency and accountability. If there were accountability in policing, the public would be far less likely to question the judgment of all those good cops who do serve and protect.
(Image – Photograph by Jonathan Bachman / Reuters, stylized by Shepard Fairey)