Every adult in America probably has a story about an a**hole cop. There’s a cliche that the biggest jerks you knew in school went on to be in law enforcement. Either that, or meter maids. It’s a cliche because it’s true…there is a pattern that everyone sees and everyone knows, even cops. For a certain type of personality, law enforcement satisfies a need to feel powerful, needed, and authoritative. They don’t make up the majority of police officers.
But it’s not just law enforcement. Different jobs attract different types. The Catholic priesthood and other pastoral positions and the teaching profession can attract adults who long to abuse children and seek the type of authority that engenders trust. They don’t make up the majority of pastoral leaders and teachers.
It is a universal truth that every good job attracts a measure of bad people. This world will never be short on awful people trying to worm their way into positions of trust. That doesn’t mean we eliminate those positions. It means we never stop working to make sure those jobs are safer and more accountable.
Calls to defund the police right now are rooted in reactionary rage, an excessive response to a legitimate problem. Anyone who has ever been in a situation in which they needed to call the police knows what a relief it is when they show up. Anyone who has ever been in a situation in which they needed to call the police knows how frustrating and terrifying it is when they don’t show up.
With police brutality being the headlines, our news coverage has now embraced a hyper-sensitive approach to coverage of potential stories of police misconduct. This weekend a black man in Atlanta was shot by police officers. A look at the (disturbing) video shows — at least in my opinion, and I feel strongly that I’m being objective here — that the officers took every opportunity to be professional and gentle. In this case, the suspect became dangerously aggressive.
I only know just the tiniest bit about police work and even I know that the most dangerous scenario an officer can face — and thus trains to prevent — is a suspect grabbing an officer’s sidearm and using it against them. It’s dangerous not only for law enforcement, but for any innocent bystanders that may be around. They shot the man, but it was hard to watch that video and surmise they had any other choice within the context of their profession and that particular confrontation.
So it was extremely disappointing to discover that the Atlanta Police Chief resigned (why? she didn’t shoot anybody) and the Fulton County DA is considering murder charges for the officers involved. Even with a body cam video that is pretty clear, these men may very well have to defend their freedom in court.
That scares me. We can look to incidents like George Floyd and easily see excessive, aggressive policing. We can easily relate that to the historical tension between black Americans and traditional law enforcement. That is one thing.
Putting every cop who ends up having to harm an aggressive subject on trial is quite another.
Right now, we are asking all of America to step into the shoes of the black community at least momentarily and consider our grievances. Whether they make sense to others or not, the discussion is one that has bubbled up from genuine frustration and a lot of history that not one of us were involved in personally but yet affects us all. That is understandable…even right.
But who is willing to step into the shoes of police officers right now? It must be unimaginably terrifying to be in law enforcement at the moment. You are tasked with keeping peace and confronting some of the more dangerous elements in our society, but you are also expected to never hurt anyone. It’s as silly as Batman deciding he wouldn’t purposefully take a life. It leaves out a whole bunch of scenarios and a whole bunch of realities. Are law enforcement officers to go into their daily jobs already hobbled by the second-guessing they need to do in situations that require quick and sure thinking? Sure, we need good training and better mechanisms to weed out the bad officers, but we’re doing ourselves and our neighborhoods a disservice if we make good police officers afraid to do their jobs.
I frankly don’t know why every police officer hasn’t already walked off the job. With mayors across the United States turning their backs on their law enforcement while courting violence and destruction, and the media now in “shark-attack coverage” mode there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of upside to risking one’s life to serve the community. In Los Angeles, the mayor has told weary police officers who have been on duty for nearly two weeks now that the city cannot afford to pay their overtime, even as Mayor Garcetti has already pledged $250 million dollars to Black Lives Matter organizations, funds that will be diverted from the law enforcement budget. Who has their back? As I’ve already established, the bad cops certainly do not represent the majority of cops. If they did, the statistics would bear that out.
*EDIT: “Shark-attack coverage” is when the media reports a fatal shark attack and even though they are statistically rare, the media spends the rest of the summer aggressively pursuing any report of sharks near humans and then it seems like there is a rash of shark attacks when really it’s just a rash of media reports. “Shark-attack coverage.”
They don’t deserve to be treated as enemies of civil society by association. For every bad officer, there are 100 good and self-sacrificing ones. I’m loathe to speak for all black people everywhere, but I think it’s safe to say that almost all of us have no desire to see an end to law enforcement. As one celebrity recently said — we don’t want no police, we just want good police.
I shudder to think about the day these fine men and women in uniform walk off the job for good. It seems like a recipe for more violence, not less. My family has always been armed and I can guarantee you that if I’m left to defend myself and my kids against criminal elements who might try to harm us, I will not put nearly as much thought into blowing that person away as a trained officer would.
Our city and state leaders must show support for the majority of good law enforcement out there who are doing a really good but scary job right now. They need to know they will be supported and they are safe to do the unsafe things. We cannot make them enemies. That would be a disaster for all of us, regardless of what we look like or where we live.