The Path and Means to Police Accountability
A lot of my pieces often deal with creating more understanding for the ‘other side’ of things. In previous pieces I have called for more empathy and understanding concerning young black males, police officers, and even murderers like Theodore Wafer. I do these pieces because empathy is my own personal ethic, I believe it has the power to change the world. When we can see, even glimpse a certain ‘knowing’ of others as full human beings with imperfections and talents and skills just like yourself, I think it becomes harder to simply label, stereotype, and treat others with disrespect. And to be clear, we all do it unfortunately. We all pre-judge at some point in time without having enough information to make a knowledgeable, unbiased opinion. With that said, this grand vision of universal empathy hasn’t come to pass yet, but a societal situation that I believe is in dire need of heavy doses of empathy: police officers need a great deal more empathy training and not just the ‘sensitivity training’ that gets tossed out by police department spokespersons.
In a recent video (it is hard to watch if you haven’t seen it yet, so be warned it’s graphic and brings up a ton of emotions, none of them good) a state trooper is seen quite literally beating the hell out of a black woman, while she is on the ground trying to protect her face and head the best she can. And almost it goes without saying that this cop was white. And as simply another piece on the poor state of race relations in this country, I leave that commentary to others. My aim, as always, is to get past the most obvious wrongness of a situation to understand its roots, its causes, its core. Now in another video, a white man is assaulted in a Walmart, also repeatedly punched in the head by a cop. I put these videos together to show – and if you look up ‘officer harassment’ on Youtube, hundreds of videos are available – that cops mess with everybody regardless of class or race. There are clear statistics to show that other groups get harassed more than others, but the wealth of diversity in these videos shows just how pervasive that harassment and abuse of power really is.
And yet police officers today are actually better trained than their predecessors; from conflict descalation, to not assigning judgment to a situation before you’ve ascertained who is the victim and who is the aggressor, to sensitivity training regarding race, gender, sexuality, and mental health. And yet it is clearly not enough. Seeing the videos I’ve mentioned made me feel angry, helpless, and had me reeling from the fact that in both videos the way these cops hit the suspects is illegal in most of our major sports. You can’t elbow or beat an opponent in to the back of the head in basketball, football, soccer, or even boxing and MMA (mixed martial arts), and the last two are sanctioned fighting sports. But officers are trained to use brutal force the minute they feel and believe that a situation is devolving into a harmful, chaotic mess because for years they’ve been caught unawares by sly criminals where the police officer’s only choice is overwhelming force to gain the upper hand. Their training has been increasingly militarized, from training with terrorist experts in the middle east to getting military equipment surpluses when we’re winding down wars like in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And like those combating insurgents in war torn countries, police officers seem to display a sense of separation and apartness from the civilians they’re sworn to protect. They have their own bars, standards of conduct and cultural expectations, and even their own groupies. And all of this separation leads to only one place: mutual disregard on both sides of the fence with police officers and civilians. Colonists looked down on immigrants, whites looked down on blacks, Israelis look down on Palestinians and on it goes; but the point is that when a group of people with more social, political, economic, and fighting strength deem others separate and beneath them, decency flies out of the window. So mutual disregard is an untenable situation in this country, when one group, police officers, are generally physically stronger than your average citizen, have a gun, and the support of federal and state government; you do not want them feeling ‘separate’ and ‘othered’ from those they protect. But for every horror story about police brutality, there many others about cops rising to the occasion and being a true hero. Which means the behavior of problematic police officers isn’t universal. Some police officers, potentially many, do not fall for the lure of absolute power and what brutal violence accomplishes; intimidation, fear, and obedience. Why do some cops abuse their authority and position and not others? What cultural experiences do cops universally have? And what are the differences that leads some to abuse and corruption and not others? I don’t have the answers to those questions, but it’s high time to ask. And some of the best ways to do that is through data analysis and commencing studies that specifically address these questions. Some already exist, but like most social policy that evolves to a ‘truth’, we need significant, valid, and compelling evidence to make informed decisions about how to proceed in the future. But this process takes time, patience, and plenty of greenbacks.
And unfortunately when our public trust is violated once again we get upset, we share, we protest, we might even loot, but the vast majority of us don’t do too much to help mitigate these problems, from citizen Joe to the average politician. Actions largely consist of a political band-aid until elections, but no major social surgery is occurring. And truthfully it’s not something we should expect. We work, we raise children, we manage relationships with family and community, we juggle hurdles in our daily lives, we frequently have others looking to us for support, answers, and solutions to a host of problems, from the personal and local, to the international and universal; we mostly just keep our heads above water. And we hope, even cynically and skeptically, that there are always others doing the necessary work to make this a better society. And indeed there are thousands of politicians with a real commitment to public service all across this country, non-profit workers also numbering in the thousands from organizations like the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) to NPAP (National Police Accountability Project) to IP (The Innocence Project). These are groups that lobby politicians, hire lawyers for when forcible confessions occur, harass mayors and heads of police departments about their policing policies. These organizations are our arbiters of justice. They have the resources, human and material, to instigate studies, interviews, and the data processing to suss out the problems and the recommendations to fix them.
These groups need our help. We may not be able to take time off from our lives to march, volunteer, send letters, make phone calls, or in a general sense being a thorn in the hide of the political elite, but there are activists out there doing the work, fighting the good fight. But we’re not going to get very far with out cooperation and understanding. Activists gets frustrated with the publics apathy for their causes, the public gets upset at politicians and their enforcers of law, the police, for violating our trust, and police get upset that the public castigates them without really knowing what their job actually entails. Everyone has their place, their power, their sphere of influence to make a difference. As for the general publics place, we decide the fates of those in power. We have that power. But we absolutely need to support and help grow the people and organizations with the skills, talents, and courage to make a better society. Our non-profiters are our warriors. And some warriors to support in our fight against law enforcement corruption are here. And here. And here. And here. Let’s give, and generously.