To Protect and Serve

I stand by what I wrote yesterday, but it seems that I left out some people in my scathing rant about civility: the people directly responsible for these protests. When it is your job to safeguard the populace, and yet nobody seems to trust you, then you’re doing something wrong. Too many people are winding up dead, and the use of lethal force has gone from a measure of last resort to the first line of defense. And local police departments are stocking up on military toys, excited at the chance to play soldier like they did when they were kids. It leads me to wonder exactly who they think that they’re protecting and what noble cause it is that they might be serving.

I get it though, we’re all afraid. If I was convinced that someone posed a clear and present danger, I would want to eliminate the threat which they might present. And who seems to be enraged toward law enforcement more than the specifically targeted, determinedly profiled (by said law enforcement) populace of African Americans? I mean, especially in areas of extreme poverty, who knows if they will be packing heat because they have committed to a life of crime? So the cops shoot first, and fail to ask a single question, or they beat someone past the point of no return, and then leave them alone to die. I mean, they’re terrified, right? And instead of trying to figure out why exactly that the citizenry might be (justifiably) upset, they do their best to tear them down, dehumanize them, so that they might not feel so foolish when they sprint from shadows. It’s easier to believe that you are slaying dragons than committing crimes against the people you are sworn to protect.

And before I get torn down for suggesting that police are animals, let me be clear: not all officers of the law are guilty of these crimes. In my life, I have met several decent men and women of various police departments who genuinely seem to care about those in their jurisdiction. But theirs is a profession of high stress and higher risk, where their lives are on the line in any given moment, and that tends to foster a protective group mentality. Like soldiers, or firefighters, the team is what you’re loyal to, as it is the team which is primarily responsible for making sure you stay alive. Unfortunately, this means that even good and decent people tend to overlook the heinous actions of a few, in the name of fraternal unity, until those actions become institutionalized. The vast majority of law enforcement will not turn upon their fellow cops, and even when it happens, the punishment is oft-times muted, or reflected back upon the accuser.

Well, that’s not good enough anymore, if it ever was. The police are afraid of the people that they are sworn to protect, and those same people live in constant terror of those sworn to protect them. The deck is stacked against each and every one of us (though more against the majority of minorities), with legislation regulating more and more of our private lives. We are becoming, the lot of us, outlaws in our homeland. It is not a crime to be born Black. It is not a crime to be born poor. It is not a crime to not speak English. It is not a crime to love another person (who has attained the age of majority and is capable of and willing to give consent). I was told that the United States of America was the greatest country in the world, a land of indomitable people of vision and tenacity, a leader in the world, last of the great superpowers. And yet we lock away our citizens by the millions, and bleed others dry to pay the bills. We tell them what they can and cannot do in the privacy of their own homes. We are a nation of hypocrisy, and maybe we always were.

It’s not enough to blame the bad cops who go out and hunt their prey. It’s not enough to blame the rioters for having endured more than they should ever have had to. While there are cops who go above and beyond the call of regulations to go out and “make the world a safer place,” the root of the problem does not lie with them alone. For over a decade we have mutely witnessed a stripping of our rights away, all in the name of “keeping our nation safe.” That’s not to say they weren’t being eroded long before, just that about thirteen years ago, there was no longer a need to keep it hidden from public view. Our representatives have taken it upon themselves to try to criminalize that which they do not understand. Add in an aversion to scientific fact, and a tendency to view the world in black and white (and the everflowing holy shade of green), and you get a situation like the one which we wound up with.

On a more local level, disgusting initiatives have been placed before the voters, appealing to the fear within them so that the politicians’ hands might not get dirty. It is easier to divide us than to bring us all together. We have no universal commonality between us, other than our most basic shared humanity (and history has shown that not to be enough). It’s the Blacks who are ruining everything! No, wait! It’s the Mexicans! Now why are the those women getting so damned uppity? It’s the Muslims! It’s the Atheists! War On Christmas! Gay people are trying to destroy marriage! We are constantly set upon one another so that we’ll be too busy to see what’s really going on. And there will always be the perfect spot to poke between any of the many groups with which we identify to make us turn upon each other.

There is a deeper problem here, one which we’re only just beginning to acknowledge. It’s not just cops, though they need to get their shit together. I am not the type of guy who is easily convinced to move to a philosophy of violence, but I have generally had a pretty privileged life. Maybe it’s time that we all stand up and take this country back. We will never all agree on everything, and there will always be those who seek to emphasize our differences for their own ill-gotten gain. To paraphrase Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Blacks, and I did not speak out-

Because I was not Black.

Then they came for the Gays, and I did not speak out-

Because I was not Gay.

Then they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out-

Because I was not a Muslim.

Then they came for me-  and there was no one left to speak for me.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

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