I may be wrong, but I believe that a cop in America today would have the power to go into a low income community and get away with anything, including murder, if he carefully selected victims with criminal records.
Granted, most cops are great people who signed up for their job out of a desire, if not a duty, to protect and serve. The idea of ever abusing their power would never cross their minds. For many, all they want to do is help and they would be offended by the very insinuation that they would ever abuse their power. I have great respect for them for that and hope that they will not take my criticism of the system as a criticism of them, because it is not.
American government is based on the ideas of checks and balances, separation of powers, and nobody being above the law. Even the president is not above the law and the Constitution goes through great lengths to make sure of that. We would never dream of saying “oh, but this president is a really good person, so let’s go ahead and remove the checks and balances.” No, even if he is a great person, we would never give him the power to be above the law.
With police in America, however, our culture has held them up to such an exalted place and put very few checks on their power. At the same time, we have disregarded the needs of poor people, we have discounted the intelligence of less educated people, we often distrust the word of minorities, and we have dehumanized people with criminal records. This has created a perfect situation where a bad individual who happens to be a police officer would have an unlimited amount of power in a low income community.
Again, this is not to say that all, or even many, police officers would ever take advantage of this power. I am simply pointing out that the power is there and that we need reforms to make sure that the small number of bad cops are never able to take advantage of it. It is possible to believe that black lives matter, to believe that police brutality is bad, and also to believe that police officers should be safe and respected as individuals.
What we cannot do, however, is act like police officers are infallible, allow them to be above the law, and defend bad cops when they do bad things. By protecting bad cops and opposing even the discussion of checks on police power, we force people in low income communities into a desperate situation where they are powerless even when it comes to protecting their own lives and their own families.
This problem has gone on far too long. It always gets swept under the rug and mired in controversy because there are more people who love police officers than people who have been victims of police brutality. It is difficult for us to really put ourselves in another person’s shoes and understand how they feel, so when we see a person talking about police brutality, instead of hearing their fear and desperation, we think about the good police officer who we know and love and completely disregard, if not attack, the person for their criticism.
After years of being totally ignored, victims of police brutality, and the people who know and love them, have become desperate and use whatever form of protest may get attention.
I don’t watch football, but this past week a football player took a big risk by using his position to create a controversy that would force people to hear the cries of these powerless communities. I hope we can use this as an opportunity to look at possible solutions to this problem.