I’ve spent a good part of the last few days ruminating on current events. Black Lives Matter. All Lives Matter. Blue Lives Matter. Don’t take sides, but be defensive and outraged at different viewpoints. What’s behind all this?
Then it came to me. Accountability. Transparency. Consistency.
See, there’s been a problem for a very long time: Convictions of innocent people. It’s been going on for decades, either because of poor representation, poor police work, poor handling of evidence or maybe all of these. There are organizations dedicated to exonerating the innocent and there is a registry as well. Numbers vary depending on who’s doing the research but it happens.
Is that the Police’s fault? No and yes. There are officers who have behaved poorly. Knowing that there are ‘dirty’ cops out there, cops who would not be truthful, would plant evidence, would “lose” evidence exonerating a person creates an element of mistrust. They are not always on your side, and more often than not they don’t get caught.
Is it the victim’s fault? We say we shouldn’t blame the victim, but then we say oh, well he was a felon, a bad guy, look at him, he’s homeless, he’s been arrested a zillion times, to the point that with Phil Castile, having a lot of traffic violations somehow makes him a ‘bad guy’. Well, he was speeding in the past. Driving without a muffler. Really? But we like to find comfort in that the person who was killed was somehow deserving of it due to their character, that they were bad apples and the world was better anyhow.
Now we live in a world of video, where anyone can use their phone to record, even ‘live broadcast’, We’ve watched in sheer horror as people are chased and gunned down. Thrown to the ground. We’ve watched as they, completely incapacitated, have been shot at close range. We’ve watched them say “I can’t breathe” until they died. We watched as a man was chased down and shot in the back, then evidence planted by his corpse, followed by a falsified report that would have been accepted except for that video. On and on, and in more cases than not, exoneration of the officers involved. Innocent. How can that be?
With each finding of innocence, not guilty, there is a sense of empowerment. I did it, I was right, it’s OK to shoot in this situation, we will be found innocent. Society, our community, says this is right and OK, so we will keep on. They are given a certain amount of impunity, indemnity, an exception from the law that others would not get. They are getting away with murder.
This is not good.
More than anything, people want fair treatment. We learn this as toddlers. “That’s not fair!” We learn that rewards and punishments should be based on behavior and should be consistent, transparent and unbiased. You get the gold medal because you’re the fastest. The A because you answered enough questions correctly. When someone is being seen as being treated as ‘favored’ or ‘unfavored’, resentment begins to grow. When things are handled unequally, outrage results. Why did you give him a gold medal when I was faster? That is unjust.
When those who are supposed to restore fairness do not, when they become a big part of the problem, things fall apart. Because if we can’t just those we give our power to use it wisely and come up with just, fair treatment, then we look to take that power back and resolve it ourselves. That is also learned in childhood and carries through life. Revenge, it’s often called. Vigilante justice. Settling the score. Righting a wrong.
It was, sadly, only a matter of time before someone would become unhinged, say here and no farther, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t and it doesn’t matter because the cop can kill in cold blood and be found innocent, so that’s it. They can kill us without reason, we kill them without reason. Dallas was that place, and I fear it may not be the end. Because “Lives Matter” and taking sides creates conditions for combat, for battle. This is how wars start. I fear the end.
The only way to truly end this is to demand transparency and accountability. When you kill someone, whether you are a police officer or not, you must be held responsible for that, and there must not be a different standard no matter how ‘tough’ your job is. Doctors whose patients die to often are charged with malpractice, can go to jail, lose their license. Pilots who make too many errors in flight or who crash an airplane due to error face charges, go to jail, can lose their license. We need the same standards for our police.
People make mistakes. People react badly. People have pre-conceived notions that drive behavior. That does not mean they are not accountable, no matter what their role. Our officers are not military. Their job is not to eliminate combatants. Their job is to protect and to serve. They are supposed to be peacekeepers. Let’s make sure they get back to this role. Require transparency. Require accountability. Think creatively. Stop, please stop choosing sides and shouting. It solves nothing and costs so much more.
** Full disclosure: I have been employed as a dispatcher for a university police department. Police work is not alien to me.