A while back a friend of my asked me (on myspace) what my thoughts are on law enforcement officers. I thought there is a whole blog in that answer but I wasn’t in a hurry to write it. That was until I found out yesterday that he is on his way to becoming a cop.
It should be noted that the blog where this question was raised I had mentioned that the men in blue had beaten my mother in the intake room. When they left her she was catatonic.
I was raised with a prejudice against L.E.O.s. My parents are hippies and they see cops as the people who send non-violent drug offenders to prison. They are also the people who did nothing to intervene when when I was eight and watching my mother’s boyfriend beat her in our front yard. Another childhood memory is my neighbors being busted for coke. I remember how the police tore up the house for five hours. They ripped open her furniture and confiscated her jewelry while detaining them by putting my neighbors on the ground with their boots on my neighbor’s backs.
So finding out that my friend is becoming a cop is about like telling someone in the KKK that one is converting to Judiaism.
My prejudice against L.E.O.s didn’t decrease with the wisdom of higher education. As an adult, I have seen officers beat non-violent protestors. I have seen them arrest hundreds of people under false pretense. I have stood for hours in front of riot police explaining the reasons for civil disobedience. They stand like statues.
police fire into crowd at FTAA in Miami. All pictures below are from the FTAA protest in Miami, though they are commonplace at large-scale American protests. Think of these as just one example.
I have seen a paddy-wagon accelerate towards street blockades. If anything has radicalized me, it is the memories of my friends with bruises bigger than fists from rubber bullets shot into crowds. If anything has radicalized me, it was seeing tanks riding through Savannah at the G8. Or hearing stories of officers confiscating film or medical equipment. Or talking to locals who were told by the cops that it was Okay to mug the protestors because they are bad people who don’t deserve protection.
The day after this ocurred, police were arresting puppeteers by the hundred at SOA in Fort Benning, GA, just so their protest numbers would be lower for the day of the march.
I have thought a lot about police officers because I believe that all people are essentially good. I believe that humans are compelled to do what they think is right, even if they must lie to themselves to do those things. There is no such thing as evil but misinformation and ignorance are to blame for what is thought of as evil in the world.
So when I see humans behaving like this, it really makes me question how they thought this is the right course of action. And I do have a theory.
protestor overcome by teargas.
Let’s face it, cops have a dangerous job (not the most dangerous government job, which goes to garbage collectors. When is Will Smith going to make a movie about them?). They don’t actually put their lives on the line every day, but the potential is there (when I think about it, this is similar to the daily fear women have of being raped.). When a cop approaches someone, they have to decide right away if this is going to be one of those moments where their life is in danger. In other words, is this person a good guy or a bad guy? If it is a helpless old lady crossing the street, they are going to see this as a moment to protect and serve, with emphasis on the later. Most of the time I approach a police officer they are eager to serve me. I am a white, middle-class educated woman. They are going to be relaxed and not worried I will shoot them in the face.
On the other hand, if I am at a protest I become one of the people that the nice old ladies must be proteced from. I am the bad guy. If they have to be prepared to shoot me if necessary then they must begin by dehumanizing me. Not after I have committed a crime but from moment one.
If it seems like brown people and the poor, especially men, don’t like cops who can blame them? All of their interactions with L.E.O.s begin with dehumanization and at best are viewed suspiciously as criminals. I know very few minorities that haven’t experienced this at least once in their lives.
Yet if I put myself in the position of a police person, I can hardly imagine behaving any other way. One cannot live their entire life in fear of every work-place interaction. But there must be an element of caution when approaching situations where criminal behavior is happening and it is your job to stop it.
Not to mention the fact that the people who are doing the real killing, the polluters and corporate thieves, aren’t likely to ever wind up in a gun fight with a cop. Sure, they may be slowly giving them cancer but all interactions can be civil throughout.
Thus, I do not think cops are bad people simply because bad people don’t exist. But I do believe that the law enforcement field encourages folks to see things in black and white; I believe it is an inevitable by-product of the job.
So, yeah, Officer Chris, I still love ya’. But I’ll be saying agnostic prayers at night that every man who reaches for his wallet doesn’t become the next Amadu Dialo. And that you remain stead-fast in your suspicion of old white ladies crossing the street.