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Monday, December 19, 2016

Trust the Police?

There is a narrative we have in our culture worth examination. The narrative that a police officer should be trusted unless there is a powerful reason not to. That trust should be the default position, and that failing to immediately trust law enforcement indicates not only a moral and social failing, but probably a criminal motive.

This narrative is flawed though.

The idea of a universal respect for ALL police officers (that can only ever be lost by some sort of demonstrable, provable, and deeply corrupt action) can only be reasonable when predicated on the idea that they are held to a higher standard of measured response to provocation, impeccable professionalism, and a dedication to civic service. A vital premise of this respect is that they would never abuse their position of authority while on a power trip.

But mostly it's an idea is based on the image of a cop in the line of fire.

The cop that risks their life.

The cop who has an unbelievably difficult job going out to make the world safe by endangering themselves.

("Their job is hard!")

It's based on our cultural narrative that a cop is endangering themselves and putting their very life on the line every time they put on the uniform. It's based on the idea that a cop will endanger themselves to protect civilians.

However, what is blatantly obvious now that everyone has a camera on their cell phones, is that far from being a rare and horrific exception that–being held to a higher standard–is immediately called out by those with the highest regard for the citizens they protect, police culture and the "thin blue line" regularly defend and protect fellow officers who harass and brutalize innocent, unarmed, and even incapacitated people, increase their militarization and abuses of poer, extrajudicially murder unarmed suspects, shoot people in the back for carrying BB guns in open carry states, or shoot twelve year olds playing with toy guns (also in open carry states) within seconds of arriving at a scene, and disproportionately do these things to non-whites and black folk in particular. They defend and protect officers who shoot immediately....without any attempt at non-lethal deescalation. And they blacklist any officers who get it in their head to turn on their fellow cops for the sake of the truth. And who in report after report after report (often revealed to be falsified when new proof emerges) say the same thing:

They felt "threatened."

Think about that for a second. How little does it take for someone to simply feel threatened. Not to recognize a clear and present danger to their life or the lives of others, but simply to FEEL threatened.

That's not being held to a higher standard anymore. That's a lower standard. Civilians are held to a higher standard. They are expected never to engage in lethal force and can be charged and even convicted if they do. Even though civilians lack the supposed rigorous training and professionalism to deal with the emotions of a provocative situation and deescalate without overreacting, unerringly, these same civilians are more expected to disengage and deescalate when they are provoked and have fewer legal protections if they fail to do so.

That's not having one's mistakes and derelictions held to an impeccable standard of scrutiny. Civilians who screw up in their job far, far, far less are much much much more likely to be fired. Certainly if someone dies, they probably need to update their resume.  Most of the officers who who extrajudicially execute civilians aren't ever even indicted (to say nothing of convicted), and end up on paid vacation at worst, making the consequence of their behaviors something they literally have to think about less than a civilian in an identical, threatening situation.

That's not police putting themselves in danger to protect civilians. That's police putting civilians in danger to protect themselves.

And as long as these values are prominent in police culture it is perfectly reasonable to distrust police until and unless they have earned respect instead of vice versa.