Monitoring the Police, Monitoring Ourselves
Police brutality and the abuse of power that comes with the badge has been an issue in American society and other societies around the world for centuries. Currently, in the United States, we are experiencing a stalemate between social justice warriors and our law enforcement communities. Groups like Black Lives Matter, Color of Change and the American Association for Affirmative Action are pushing forward into every crevasse of American life to ensure that minorities are acknowledged and equally included in many of the assets that other groups may take for granted. At the same time, groups like Blue Lives Matter, Americans in Support of Law Enforcement and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, work to provide police officers the support they need and to educate the public on the, often unrecognized, strains of police work. While I aim to examine both sides of this coin, I will not be debating the existence of racial oppression. The displacement and enslavement of blacks in world history was the catalyst, and economic segregation has been the result. In between is the harsh reality of a black life in western culture. In between is the blood, sweat and tears of millions of oppressed souls navigating in a world that is eighty percent non-black. Although I’m tempted to delve into what I think the innate psychology might be regarding the color black and the assumptions when it’s viewed on a human body, I might skip forward as I’m only curious about the potential link between primitive fear and all things dark. In my opinion, and in a more ethereal sense, the color black (especially on skin) is pure and mysterious and very beautiful to look at. In an attempt to uncover the basic cause of racial discrimination, my opponents might redirect to the blacks in the various countries of Africa; eluding to the violence, genocide and oppression of groups within various communities. A good example would be females and genital mutilation as a cultural practice. This, too, is a separate discussion. However, I gently allude to an invisible line connecting international oppression of the group and survival tactics that are misplaced and sometimes fatal, often among themselves. My counter is that violence, genocide and oppression has been documented within every culture and race, but featuring these atrocities tends to be an easier target for translation and discussion when the focus group is black and requires little to no learning curve for the broader global audience, possibly because of the aforementioned primal fear.
I’m now at that crossroads where angry people defy one another in the streets with signs and screams, and threats that often materialize; where people suspiciously eye one another in public places in whispered contempt; where workplace etiquette is denied to many; where the shouts of two million blacks fall on cement floors and iron bars with only echoes of their own malcontent to pacify them. I’m now at that crossroads where humans have shut out the possibilities and sterilized their viewpoints; where ideology has become cemented into their foundation; where facial expressions resemble lock and key formations of dogged righteousness; where curiosity is reserved for nothing other than local gossip. We are all at a crossroads; a locked grid of relentless bravado that keeps us in a seething, face-to-face battle of endurance. Who has boots on the ground in all this? Police.
The complex political world we currently live in dictates blind allegiance to prescribed ideology, usually within a political party that seeks influence and power. Another subject, indeed. However, for any and all thinking people, how is it that we don’t jump the chasm and take the viewpoint of the opposing side, if only for a moment? Would doing this not possibly allow for the finger-pointing to be redirected; possibly at ourselves? Or, is that the fear of doing so. In my thinking and in my quest for solutions in all things, I tend to reverse engineer every dilemma to locate (potentially) the root cause. I then follow it forward until I find the kink. Sometimes, I’ve reversed the system incorrectly and the kink doesn’t appear. Back to the drawing board. In many cases, I do this quickly (my dog is lethargic — rabies vaccine yesterday — side effects vs. timetable — etc.); and in other cases, it can take days upon months upon years to find something’s life-giving root. As you might guess, it was once a seed, so we could go back even further. Not to mention, the factors in place that fostered this seedling into a tree. But, I tend to digress and this writing would be null and void before a conclusion is met. Might we consider primarily the tree, as it is the enormity and result of the system?
I am profoundly disturbed by the lack of public and common discussion surrounding economic disparities between people. I imagine this is due to the loud and powerful voices that repeatedly convince us of the correlation between laziness and poverty. It slips out of people’s mouths like muddy little streams on their way to nowhere, “I WORKED for what I have!” It’s repeated like a childhood prayer, “If only they’d help themselves.” It’s poured like cement into general conversation, “Why should I give away what I’ve RIGHTFULLY EARNED?!” Even some of you reading this will say out loud, “DAMN STRAIGHT!!” Have you ever asked yourself where you learned this? Have you ever questioned the system within which we all live. If you’d behaved this way during elementary education, you most likely would’ve been scolded. Factual information (yes, facts) emerging via economic studies suggest that equality helps everyone, including the rich, due to a more expansive buying power within the general public. It is human nature for everyone to want to advance and to wish for a better life for their children. With increased income comes improved education, health, and reduced crime. To clarify, I don’t suggest you tear apart your current domicile and give everything to charity. I also don’t suggest that you cut your bank account in half and hand out the money to the homeless in your community (although, that would be intensely kind of you), because these aren’t permanent solutions. I suggest that, in learning the statistics on poverty, the culture factors, the politics of greed, that the mere macro psychology involved in a higher understanding of an enormous issue as this, might (and, in my estimation, WILL) lead our species to a far more enlightened and balanced existence.
Which brings me to the issue at hand. The rest of us out here in the “real world,” you know, the ones who maybe aren’t impoverished or maybe haven’t chosen the duty to protect and serve. The rest of us just working our jobs, paying our bills, watching TV, buying things, using things, and throwing things in the garbage when we no longer need them. The rest of us who go to happy hour and take vacation and enjoy the electronics you might be reading this on right now. WE are the senseless peanut gallery screaming and yelling for “our” side to win. Liberals scream, “BLACK LIVES MATTER!” Conservatives scream, “BLUE LIVES MATTER!” We sit in our comfort zones rooting for our team while spilling crumbs on the keyboard and spewing hate as fast as our fingers will take us. Here’s the facts as I see them — and now I’m starting to feel tremendous anger. We, as a democracy, a national community, a jeering crowd of onlookers and soapboxing fools, have taken away the original duties of law enforcement; the duty to protect and serve. We, as a righteous group of small-minded Neanderthals, have taken away the innate human rights of minority groups, specifically blacks, to live without fear of discrimination and subjugation. Through a perverse value system that puts money at the top and charity/empathy at the bottom, we have thrust these two communities into the ring for them to duke it out so we can be clean of the chaos and mess. If blue lives really matter to you, then recognize the stress they endure every single day of life when they can’t do the job they envisioned at the beginning of their careers. Recognize that when they move through impoverished communities (which is the majority of their work), they risk their lives. They risk whatever ego they may have left as a human being. They get spat at, threatened and attacked by people who see them as oppressors, even if they’re not. If black lives really matter to you, then truly understand the oppression they experience every single day of life when their choices are to pander in subtle subservience to the outside world or to stand up and demand respect. Recognize what it might feel like to tell your children how to act around white people, or working multiple jobs making minimum wage to pay for an apartment that’s too dangerous to leave from at night. Understand that the issue might be so deeply rooted in economic disparity that your fight should not be with the officers who patrol these communities every single day, or with blacks who can no longer breathe the foul air of domination, but with the institutions that create these communities in the first place. Our institutions.
In closing, I cannot rest, I cannot fully enjoy my life, knowing that the root is poverty and that it turns people into liars and bigots; violent, power-mongering, hateful human beings who never intended to be people who abuse their power or become violent and feared. This problem is OURS. We, as a society, have built and cultivated a system based on continual pressure to be righteous and successful, while ignoring the marginalized populations that stand before us in plain sight. We, as a society, have given our officers a failed system to correct. WE did it. We did it through lack of empathy for our impoverished brothers and sisters. We did it through blissful ignorance. We did it through blind ambition for ourselves. We did it through narcissism. It is now OUR duty, as a society, to first accept the historical truth and the resulting disparity, then move in a different direction. Evolution is impossible without action. Action is impossible without inquisition. Inquisition is impossible without curiosity. Curiosity is impossible without humility. We lack humility because it’s viewed as weak instead of intuitive; it’s been taught out of us. So, maybe we start with that. Let us find our humility.
STATISTICS AND ADDITIONAL READING:
Police officers make up .3% of the population while our DEEPLY impoverished population make up 14% (up to 50% of the population live within 200% of the federal poverty line). While crime is certainly not limited to poor communities, poverty has a solid link to crime. Police are outnumbered and the impoverished are neglected.
A more progressive perspective (but shouldn’t be) by the Institute for Policy Studies: https://ips-dc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/IPS-The-Poor-Get-Prison-Final.pdf
A more conservative perspective (but shouldn’t be) by Texas Monthly: https://www.texasmonthly.com/the-daily-post/culture-values-blue-lives-look-like/