When I was a kid, we lived next door to a cop. The man was a monster, and he raised his kids to be bullies. He and his children terrorized my neighborhood, destroying property, threatening people, keeping people up at night with noise. He owned a fishing boat and used to roll over our lawn to park it in his driveway, leaving the edge of our lawn a muddy mess. My parents asked him to be more considerate, he told them to fuck off. They put up a fence. He literally tore it down and threw it in our yard. At various times he threatened to beat up my grandfather or kill my dog. When my parents called the cops to file a report, the police that showed up were all his buddies from work. We watched them stand around outside, laughing and joking and pointing at us.
This is an article that I put off writing for about a year now. Why bother? I told myself. An incident of police brutality would happen, a day or two would pass, the cops responsible faced no punishment, and life would go on. I would argue with myself that by the time my article went up whatever I was talking about would be old news. What finally changed my mind was the now infamous McKinney pool party incident, because even though that story has already been covered by a million other people and is ‘old news’ in our 24 hour news world, I’m sure that tomorrow there will be a new incident just like it and this article will be relevant again.
We’ve got a problem in this country, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is. Maybe our cops have always been this brutal and it’s just that they’re getting caught more thanks to cell phone footage and YouTube. Doesn’t feel that way to me. We’re not seeing these videos of unarmed people being shot, beaten, or brutalized by police every now and again. We’re seeing them on an almost daily basis now, sometimes multiple videos per day. These cops do not look like they’re here to serve and protect, they look like they’re at war.
In my opinion denying the racial component to these stories makes you naive, but I will say that the problem isn’t just race. Many women are brutalized in police custody. I don’t know how many videos I’ve seen of women in handcuffs being slammed, face first, into pavement by some tough guy cop. I’ve lived in poor neighborhoods, and I’ve been harassed by the police. For the crime of walking home from work at night I’ve been handcuffed and put in the back of squad cars on multiple occasions by bored cops who had no cause to so much as look at me sideways. Do I believe black men are unfairly targeted by the police? Without a doubt. Do I believe that cops are also targeting the poor and powerless of every walk of life? Yes I do.
Inevitably Fox News will chime in on the subject when every new video comes out. ‘Thugs,’ they call the victims. “Did they have pot in their system?” “They were mouthing off.” “The cop had to shoot, look how big that guy was!” In regards to the McKinney incident, Megan Kelly said of the unarmed, bikini clad teenage girl who was slammed into the ground, “She was no saint.” When black people get fed up, when they march and protest, conservatives label them “a mob.” When Cliven Bundy and his militia friends point guns at the cops, they’re good Americans standing up for their rights.
I don’t know how this is all going to end, but it must. The protests aren’t going to stop, nor should they. I don’t condone rioting, but I understand it. People are angry. I once had a therapist tell me that the root of anger is always hurt. These people, these Americans, are tired of being pushed around. They’re tired of being harassed, beaten, and killed. African Americans in this country have to teach their kids not to trust the cops. They have to worry that when they are pulled over, even if they’ve done nothing wrong, that they might meet the wrong end of a billy club. Black kids at a pool party, who are harassed and assaulted by white adults, have insult added to injury when the cops show up and exclusively target them and let the ones who actually started the altercation walk away without so much as a finger wagged in their direction.
For those of you out there who might say that not all cops are racists, that not all cops are thugs, that not all cops are trigger happy, I agree. But the good cops need to start standing up and speaking out. Instead of closing ranks, or disrespectfully turning their back on a mayor who calls them on their nonsense, maybe the good cops need to point out the “few bad apples.” Instead of worrying about being thought of as a rat, maybe they should be worried about the people they are paid to serve and protect. Maybe instead of putting on military grade body armor and driving through crowds of protestors in a tank they should join the protest in solidarity with those who have been wronged. Maybe then these wounds would begin to heal, and trust and honor would be restored to the profession of law enforcement.
Not every cop is a jerk like the one I grew up next door to, but I learned long ago to walk on the other side of the street when a boy in blue is coming my way. That’s not the feeling I, and so many others, are supposed to have for a police officer.