American Police in Action
Not too long ago, when I heard reports of police brutality, unjustified killings etc. as a conservative, my impulse was to be dismissive. I can't speak for all conservatives but I think most of them would fall in the same proverbial boat I did: the government is completely untrustworthy, but this country itself is above criticism. Any claims that racism is still widespread and/or that police systematically abuse their power must be rejected or explained away at all costs. If the police incarcerate or murder a disproportionate number of black people, it's not because of racism, it's because black people are raised in bad environments. Police rarely do anything wrong and if they do, it's just a few of them and shouldn't be blown out of proportion, and anyway, who are you to judge them when you don't know how hard and stressful it is to be a police officer? Government authority is bad but police authority is good. Even though the police are actually useless which is why you need to own a gun.
I figured out a while ago that I was wrong to think that way, and if I've never made that clear before I am now. Probably the biggest turning point was a class discussion about police brutality a couple years ago which can be summed up with one exchange. The most obviously and consistently conservative guy in the class was like, "Maybe they just had a hard day..." and he almost seemed convincing until someone else was like, "If I have a hard day at work and I'm rude to a customer, I'll get fired!" Yeah, good point. The teacher capped off that exchange with something like, "Can we agree that some people just shouldn't be cops?" Yeah, that seems reasonable. I know I shouldn't.
Alas, by now I'm hopelessly biased in the opposite direction because of my own experience with Officers Hansen and Nelson of the Logan City Police, which traumatized the hell out of me and irreversibly destroyed most of my respect for law enforcement. I now see most police officers as narcissistic asshats who think they're gods because someone gave them a badge and a gun. That probably isn't a fair, charitable or accurate view and I probably shouldn't talk about this subject. Nonetheless, some do fit that description and because the consequences they face for their abuse of power range from laughable to nonexistent, crap keeps happening. I'm not sure if it's a mostly American phenomenon like mass shootings - I mean, the frequent racial aspect obviously is, since no other country has had such an impossible time getting over its leg-humping obsession with skin color, but I don't know what cops in general are like elsewhere. It's possible that the Australian police are even worse and it just doesn't make the news here. But I doubt it.
Until the recent national outrage, one police department in Georgia declined to take any action whatsoever against Ahmaud Arbery's murderers because one of them is a former member of it. Elsewhere, a group of officers in Kentucky murdered Breonna Taylor while executing a "no-knock" search warrant (which shouldn't be a thing) at the wrong apartment in the middle of the night. She was black, but I don't think the police were necessarily racist this time because it sounds like they just barged in and shot at anything that moved. Here in Utah, Officer Miguel Deras is in trouble because the public found out that he downloaded and shared explicit photograpraphs submitted as evidence by Lauren McCluskey - days before she was murdered because the police did nothing when she begged them for help, but that part is old news. I'm really pissed off and yet at the same time I feel a selfish schadenfreude every time the reputation of American law enforcement justifiably suffers. Lord forgive me. In fairness, I should note that by now even my conservative friends are pissed off. That's how bad it's gotten.
I am somewhat familiar with the police's side of things from reading a compilation of newspaper columns that Robert Kirby wrote as a cop in the early nineties (under the pseudonym John "Blitz" Krieg). He mostly wrote about what a crappy job it is and how stupid most citizens are. No argument here. He once wrote something to the effect of "Excessive compassion is why we have rapists and serial killers getting fat on macaroni and cheese and daytime TV instead of hanging from lampposts where they obviously belong." I completely agree in theory but there is the small matter of all the wrongful convictions that don't get overturned for decades. He wrote about the Rodney King riots and suggested that maybe the police beat the crap out of him not because of his skin color, but because he was low-life criminal trash. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I'm curious if and how any of his opinions have changed, as he's long since left police work and now writes humorous pieces about the LDS Church for the Salt Lake Tribune, and generally seems more liberal nowadays.
His book, in any case, gave me a sympathy and respect for the police that I'm trying to remember now as a counterbalance to my current hatred. But as far as I'm concerned the actual percentage of police officers abusing their power, or whether these instances are representative, is hardly relevant. Pointing to the majority of good cops and non-incidents to downplay or rationalize away the others is just a way of pretending the problem doesn't exist. The police officers who got into law enforcement to make a positive difference in their communities should keep doing things the way they're doing things, and the police officers who are massive dicks in uniforms they don't deserve should be held accountable and put in their place. That won't happen as long as a substantial number of people want to pretend nothing is wrong with their behavior. It's true, I don't really know what it's like to be in their shoes, but I know the difference between right and wrong, even if it took me a while to figure out.
ADDENDUM: Of course it comes to no surprise to me or anyone that two days after I posted this, yet another black man in the United States was murdered by white police officers. In Minnesota, George Floyd was handcuffed and pinned to the ground - in other words, not an active threat by any stretch of the imagination - when a grim-faced fascist in a blue uniform slowly crushed his windpipe as he begged for relief. The part that does come as a surprise is that all four cops involved, the murderer and the accomplices who stood by and did nothing, were fired shortly after instead of the usual "paid leave" bullshit. So maybe this country is making a modicum of progress that makes glaciers look speedy.
Alas, I fell into my old habits and argued with a Cro-Magnon on the internet who insisted that the video didn't show us the whole story and we didn't see whatever George Floyd obviously did to deserve what happened to him. (One guess as to his political leanings.) I struggled to explain to this waste of skin that literally no possible context could justify what the police did to him. Even if he raped a baby, shot his own grandmother and listened to Nickelback, the police had him safely in custody and he was entitled to a fair trial under the laws of this country, not a lynch mob. But if he didn't want to die, said this boil on the anus of humanity, he should have been more cooperative. Good hell. Police officers are not above the law and they do not have a right to kill harmless people for not showing them the respect they think they deserve, full stop. I know Nazi comparisons are passé, but I can't escape the thought that if a similar regime were to arise here, this poor excuse for a sapient being would be one of the guys enthusiastically torturing people to prove his blind worship of authority. I pray that day never comes but it wouldn't come as a surprise.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.