I’ve heard that the best strategy when dealing with the police is to “remain silent and stand still.” That’s the kind of advice you’d give someone to avoid being attacked by a bear. The police aren’t killer sharks or poisonous snakes and we should not have to deal with them as a potential liability or natural hazard to be coped with. If the police aren’t making you feel safer, the public should do something to remedy that. They’re called public servants for a reason and it does not seem unreasonable to expect better from a group of individuals that I believe we all know still has quality members and is capable of a gold standard.
It’s largely understood that the days of chasing around criminals with a whistle and stick are gone. Nobody would expect Constable Ferguson from 1871 to strut his mustachioed ass into the middle of a twentieth century turf war between rival gangs and then limp out victorious saying, “I hate to have had to kick up such a shine but these bad eggs put me through the mill. Yet I toed my mark and gave them all a good thrashing. They’ll not trouble the good people of this town again. Absquatulate, you pathetic coves, before my dander is up once more and I place you all behind bars!”
But we also might not need the Officer Ferguson from today pepper spraying and electrocuting his way through a crowd of non-violent protestors like some kind of dystopian prick. The police are starting to genuinely resemble those oppressive thugs that Kipling, Orwell, Wells, and Bradbury had warned us about in their bleakest works of fiction. Heavily armed SWAT teams are storming more private homes than ever and I’ve been to enough protests to know that it’s usually just a matter of time before demonstrators are sprayed, cuffed and made an example of. Challenging the authority of police is often worse than committing an actual crime.
However it is my opinion that the police are a necessity for society to function smoothly, despite never having a positive interaction with them myself. My direct involvements with officers of the law involve several random searches as a youth and one “get the fuck out of here” as an adult. Even though I am just the sort of antiestablishment crackpot that scowls at most authority figures, I know that most cops are just like the rest of us. They’re average individuals just trying to collect a paycheck. The force is comprised of mid-grade humanoids, a few real standout class acts, and a handful of reprehensible scumbags. So when I see an officer in uniform any disgust I have isn’t focused on the poor bastard inside of it. I can’t read their minds but it’s difficult for me to assume that every single one of them spends the entire day fantasizing about the day they can finally shoot somebody (half at most).
But there has been still a surge of incidents that are beyond worrisome. You might have forgotten about them because they recently released a Star Wars trailer and America has a goldfish-like attention span. Allow me to bring you back up to speed:
This month a grand jury decided not to indict police offers whose actions directly resulted in the unrelated deaths of two unarmed men last summer and people were understandably outraged. In fact, the citizenry was so despondent that many resorted to taking to the streets in both civil protests and violent riots. While some think those reactions were uncalled for, I have already mentioned that I don’t feel that it’s unreasonable to want better service from public servants. Most of us would politely send back a chicken if we thought it was undercooked so it’s probably fine to say something when your taxes contributed toward the death of an innocent man. But these two men were just the frontrunners in a disturbing trend.
Despite the F.B.I. originally claiming fewer, a cursory examination suggests that a reasonable estimate of 400 “justifiable homicides” take place at the hands of the police in an average year. When you consider that at least fifteen of those homicides involved unarmed black citizens based off recent information released by the NAACP, you’ve got a nearly 4% chance of murdering a defenseless person. That’s pretty rough when you consider that figure comes from the NAACP’s short list of only fifteen. That doesn’t include incidents involving victims of other ethnicities or black victims not included in that list, which would likely push that average up quite a bit. While 4% might be an acceptable margin of error in terms of statistical analysis on a random sampling of people who like hotdogs over hamburgers, it’s not the kind of number you want to hear followed up by “that’s the number of people the police accidentally murdered this year.”
So the odds of being unintentionally shot or strangled to death by the police are a little higher in America. So what, right? Crime is down! Why is everyone protesting and all huffy about this seemingly non-problem? Well, it is worth noting that the officers involved in these killing incidents are almost never indicted. Even in the Garner case, which was deemed a homicide by a city medical examiner and included video evidence of the fatal choking, did not yield an indictment of any of the arresting officers. I’ve heard that a lot of people casually attribute Garner’s death to his obesity and asthma, which would be a fair statement if fat asthmatics were choking themselves to death on a more regular basis. As I cannot think of any recent examples, we’ll have to hold the police somewhat responsible. And holding the police responsible is going to be the only thing that will yield some kind of change. The riots were a result of the people’s fear and anger exacerbated by aggressive posturing by the offending parties and a perceived failure in the justice system.
When you couple this with the fact that nearly every town’s law enforcement has been receiving surplus military equipment form the Federal government for the last decade, you can sort of see where all of this fear stems from. Armored vehicles and riot gear make an appearance at most organized protests and rallies across the nation. SWAT teams are better funded, outfitted, and larger than ever. In the late 1970s there were roughy 300 SWAT deployments in the country per year, now there are roughly 4 raids per day in the state of Maryland alone. The ACLU reported that SWAT raids are now commonly used to serve search warrants for minor crimes, often entering the home through force before announcing themselves. As a result bystanders are often injured and some have even been killed. This is a far cry from SWAT’s original purpose to be the last resort in dealing with emergency situations and heavily armed suspects.
Looking back at The Andy Griffith Show and Car 54 Where Are You police almost never shot anyone, especially black people. Although, to be fair, Andy Griffith rarely carried a gun and I do not recall seeing a lot of African-Americans in Mayberry anyway. Regardless, those gentle programs couldn’t have possibly prepared us for the brutal shirtless takedowns of COPS and a future law enforcement that included the war on drugs, military grade hardware, the seizing of property for profit, and taking DNA samples by force. Barney Fife is only funny when he’s goofing and doofing around as a character on TV. It’s not nearly as entertaining when his real life counterpart is doling out tickets for minor infractions, harassing minorities, and accidentally shooting your son at the grocery store. The only thing that kept an insecure blowhard like Fife from causing real damage was a sheriff with enough foresight to keep him in check. But, in the real world, police departments have like six Barney Fifes for every Andy and they’ve both been encouraged to act more aggressively since 2001.
But that’s all going to change, people simply won’t tolerate it for much longer. Cops are safer than they’ve ever been, which is great, but I think people are genuinely starting to wonder if the same can be said for the citizens interacting with them. Maybe these senseless deaths will be the tipping point on the matter. The poor, the downtrodden, and the reasonable people of this country cannot possibly continue to sit idle after years of things getting worse for them. That person you went to high school with who never left home and keeps posting vaguely racist “news articles” from two years ago is fighting a losing battle. Maybe I’m being naive for the first time in my life but I don’t believe America will continue to weather against an overly-aggressive police force and a criminal justice system that has put thousands of the wrong kind of people in for-profit-prisons. Black America should not stand for it neither should any other American.