Once again, America this week was thrown into a moral and legal tension that we’ve proven unable to handle with respect and grace. In Minneapolis, MN, as the trial for one police officer comes to a close, another young man, Daunte Wright, was accidentally shot and killed during a traffic stop (she intended to use her taser). The officer resigned immediately and was charged the next day.
This was days after the country heard about Lt Caron Nazario being pulled over and mistreated by two state police officers in Virginia. Their bodycam footage revealed the officers lied in their report of the incident. Every week brings a new story about a violent altercation between police and a citizen, followed by weeks of protests and rancor. Here’s 26 stories of ones we’ve forgotten or never heard of.
But nothing ever changes, does it?
PEOPLE CAN CHANGE WHEN THEY LISTEN
Two images blew my mind last spring as news of George Floyd’s death rattled America, only weeks after we heard another man was gunned down in GA by a nosy neighbor. I found them stunning.
It speaks for itself.
I don’t agree with kneeling during the anthem. But I understand it. Gimme a minute…
In the illustration, posted by Jamie Foxx, the artist shows the officer (Derek Chauvin) using the flag to obscure his lethal behavior of kneeling on the neck of a black man for nine minutes, as the red stripes of freedom bleed on the ground. Meanwhile, former NFL quarterback Colin Kappernick is also shown kneeling, with one foot on a corner of the same flag, indicating he’s not letting it blow away from him either.
While I refuse to be pulled into one corner or another with any issue, let alone this one, the reality is that truth is usually nuanced, so I try to see both sides. This one certainly is not clear cut.
It’s getting harder and harder as a conservative white man to defend a system that is overwhelmingly filled with a bad culture. A compartmentalized, self-perpetuating culture. A culture that too often reduces an otherwise noble profession into a fraternity that will back their fellow badges, no matter what, sometimes over the ideals those badges were forged to protect. The vast majority of cops do NOT fall into the category of abusing those ideals, but I feel that quite a few have unwittingly contributed to this culture through their silence or passivity, and *many* are quietly aware of this problem.
Those who do violate our expectations or civil liberties too often get away with it. Rather than merely enforcing the laws, they see themselves as the leading hand of justice, executing it as needed to protect public safety. But protection or enforcement is not the same as execution. It doesn’t help when our leaders (including past presidents) joke about casual police brutality, and the rest of us watch TV shows that glorify it. I’m as guilty as anyone. And with any system, when there’s a lack of outward accountability from people like us, there’s a lack of inner responsibility.
As a country, we reduced “black lives matter” into a political pejorative years ago, and since then GOP offices have been filled with thousands of “BACK THE BADGE” yard signs, as though the blue line is a political measuring stick. This has always bothered me a bit, but now it sickens me.
TRUTH IS NUANCED, AND SO IS POLICEWORK
I’m tired of being expected to fall into place when it comes to important issues that political strategists value. I appreciate the police force, and the incredibly dangerous job they have to diminish crime and keep the peace.
This is why I stand with Darren Wilson, whose altercation with Michael Brown led to Brown’s death. Few of us have the guts to walk up to darkened cars at night on a busy highway, or enter run-down homes because a man is beating his wife. But the job of those who do becomes a lot harder when people lose trust and respect. And people lose that trust and respect for them when those same officers behave in ways that range from unbecoming to outright criminal. Fortunately for them, juries have stood by officers when they shouldn’t have, and higher court judges have too often done the same. But this is changing. I know the job of an officer is hard. But it should be. They’re not victims here.
WE HAVE SYSTEMIC INEQUITIES
Is this about racism? Sometimes, yes. But more often, I think it’s about power. How many white men and women have been gassed, thrown to the ground, trampled or fired at by cops standing with black brothers and sisters this week? Or how many remember that scene in the John Singleton movie, “Boyz n the Hood” where officer Coffey, a black cop, was more hostile and abusive than his white partner? Power corrupts. Unaccountable power kills. And when poverty has dragged the majority of a particular minority race down the ladder, that power gap is often seen as a racial one. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like it or agree with it, it’s a reality for tens of millions of people we share a country with. And with several centuries of slavery behind us, it’s not a leap to connect the two. We should seek peace and understanding in more ways than just moving further away from the problems.
Good cops can’t make up for a failed structure. I think our system needs to focus more on the root of the problems, rather than the results of it, especially when it comes to police forces and the criminal justice system. I support the 8CantWait proposals, among others, to reform our law enforcement systems. Beyond that, we have even more work to do reforming the criminal justice system.
Black lives do matter (I once refused to say those words, and was offended by it). But I listened, then I changed. I’m not worried about white lives. We’ll be ok for now. Look at the shutdown protests filled with gun-toting activists from the suburbs if you don’t believe me. Or the Capitol riot January 6. Completely different responses show a societal difference in understanding.
I’m still a rock-ribbed conservative, but I have higher standards for my government leaders and neighbors than I did before. Until black and brown lives matter in the criminal justice system as much as white lives do, I can’t say all lives matter. We’re not there yet. But I’m at least trying to get there, even if my fellow conservatives move a little slowly.
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