Thursday, April 23, 2015 9:12 AM
I saw a video of cops confusing a spinal injury with reluctance, manhandling a disabled suspect into a van—the suspect later died of a severed spinal cord. I saw a video of a US Marshal taking some lady’s camera-phone and smashing it on the ground in an excess of self-consciousness that may have had something to do with his not wanting to be filmed breaking the law. Too bad there was more than one camera-phone on the scene. I saw a video of a cop shooting a man in the back eight times and then running around, rearranging the evidence.
I see these videos and I try to tell myself, “There are good cops. There are good cops.” Maybe we don’t see videos of them because the news won’t show them—too boring. Whatever. All the good cops in the world don’t undo what these video-stars are doing to their reputations. But just like Neo-Cons and their homophobic fringe, or like Muslims and their violent-extremist fringe—good cops may not be responsible for bad cops, but they are very close by, and their actions don’t display any great disfavor of such unprofessionalism.
I’m also reminded of the dismaying frequency of rape in our armed services. Isn’t there some training where recruits hear it explained how bad an idea it is to rape someone, when you might need them to watch your back in a fight? Aren’t there officers who disapprove of rapists? Aren’t there some men in the service who have it together enough to reprimand their buddies for mistreating soldiers who happen to be female? Or is it all just accepted as part of making a killing-machine out of a human being?
There is something sick about the military culture—and there is sickness in police culture, in political culture, and in our business culture. All of them try to combine a ‘dog-eat-dog’ approach with humanism—and they all fail miserably. Police can’t handle the complexity of a job where they have authority, but that authority only extends to maintaining everyone’s rights equally. Instead, they invariably choose a ‘side’, and operate as if the other ‘side’ deserves only the appearance of civil rights.
We aren’t comfortable unless we can simplify our difficulties, distilling them down to a fight between us-and-them. We all agree loudly that the real answer is not to create divisions of us-and-them—but in practice, we always ignore that and go for the conflict—it’s just easier. And, according to tradition, you can’t ask a person to go in harm’s way and to think about what they’re doing—that’s just too much to ask.
Bullies run the world—and whenever someone rises up to change things, they find that they must become bullies themselves to conquer the existing bullies. It’s a paradox. We all want good people to be our leaders—but cruelty is so much more powerful that any who refute cruelty make themselves too weak to win. Thus we have the myth of the leader who is both cruel and kind. Our presidents are an example—drone-strikes and jailing privacy-advocates are both forgotten while our president reads a story to kids on the White House lawn. He’s not really a killer—he’s just the Commander-in-Chief—his hands are clean.
So we are left with a conundrum. Are all these videos of police criminality indicative of a broken police system, or are they simply examples of human nature? How many of us could be trusted to wander the neighborhood with a gun and a beat-stick—and how long could we do it without deciding that we need to use those ‘tools’? And is it even possible to become familiar with a neighborhood’s people and not let the job become personal rather than professional? Of course, racism doesn’t help—I don’t think it’s the cause of police violence, but with an ‘us-and-them’ mindset, it certainly makes the decision of who ‘them’ is a lot easier.