Originally published December 29th, 2014 on the Nation of Change
In Oakland, California, where I live, an elevated BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) line runs directly above one of the busy streets on which I travel frequently. During the recent nation-wide demonstrations against police brutality, a particular bit of graffiti that was sprayed prominently on one of the major pillars that supports the elevated BART tracks caught my attention. Since the pillar was exactly at a stoplight where I had to wait, I couldn’t help notice the crudely written message, “All cops are bastards.”
I don’t dispute the fact that there are racist cops. But in my experience in working with police, the number of cops who are overtly racists is small. Nonetheless, given their power, one racist cop is one too many
I also don’t dispute the fact that there is a “culture of policing” that often views the members of the communities that police are sworn to protect through jaundiced eyes. Many police departments are aware of this and are working hard and honestly to correct it. But, more are needed to do so.
Furthermore, I agree strongly that police in general need an aroused public to push them to adopt even greater reforms.
Nonetheless, I wish to argue for the need for increased respect for police and the dangerous jobs they do. Police live daily in abject fear of their lives. In a nation with roughly 300 million guns, police have no choice but to approach every situation with the ever-present and all-too-real possibility that they can be killed at any moment.
Constantly living in fear of one’s life subjects one’s body and mind to unbearable stress. It rewires the mind such that one is literally always on edge. This is not to excuse for one second those situations where lives are wrongly taken.
In short, by any measure, the deaths of unarmed black men are unjustifiable! The deaths of any unarmed citizens are a terrible tragedy. If this isn’t a clear wakeup call for police, then it will only get even worse before it gets better.
However, if I had to lay primary blame for the predicament in which we collectively find ourselves, it would be with those individuals and organizations that seriously undermine reasonable gun laws.
We are living in a dangerous and deluded fantasy world if we think we can have the large numbers of guns that we have and yet remain safe from gun violence, whether by the police or anyone else.
Even if by some miracle we fixed overnight what’s currently wrong with the police, we’d be just as vulnerable to a gun culture that is completely out of control.