I suspect you’ve heard about San Jose police officer Phillip White’s comments regarding his commitment to protect and serve the community. He started by tweeting, “Threaten me or my family and I will use my God given and law appointed right and duty to kill you. #CopsLivesMatter.” And he followed it up with the even more charming, “By the way if anyone feels they can’t breathe or their lives matter I’ll be at the movies tonight, off duty, carrying my gun.” Yet he has been known as a supposedly good cop who was profiled in the San Jose Mercury News “for his good work with local schoolchildren.” But these tweets were not just a matter of having a bad night; he has a bit of a history.
BuzzFeed documented weeks of tweets by White ridiculing and attacking protesters. It isn’t hard to know what’s going on here. As long as Officer White feels respected by everyone, he’s fine. But if he feels disrespected, he acts like a spoiled child. In other words, White is entirely typical of law enforcement officers in this country. In fact, you might say he is more generally typical of this country. I continue to marvel at my fellow Americans’ constant inferiority complex — best illustrated by the frat boys chanting “We’re number one!” after Osama bin Laden’s death.
The situation with Officer White is a cause of great concern — but not in the way that most people claim. I’m sure that what he tweeted was entirely typical of what police officers say amongst themselves all the time. He is, in other words, not a “bad apple.” He is an entirely typical example of the apples in our national law enforcement barrel. And it is so rotten that it is emitting methane, which catches fire every few days. So I have a hard time getting excited about White being fired. What is the message that it will send to the law enforcement community? We all “know” the citizenry to be a bunch of subhuman scum, but don’t say that in public!?
This goes right along with Jason Barthel, a police officer in Indiana. He also owns a clothing business, so he started selling the charming shirt that is illustrated on the right, “Breathe Easy: Don’t Break the Law.” Barthel claims to mean no offence, “We’re here to protect the public and we want you to breathe easy knowing that the police are here to be with you and for you and protect you.” Of course, that’s not what the shirt says. To be very clear: the shirt says, “Eric Garner wouldn’t be dead if he hadn’t sold un-taxed cigarettes in the past.”
The sad thing is that I’m sure Barthel actually thinks that his shirts represent a positive message. And certainly there has been no reporting of him getting pressure to stop making money (I assume) off the death of Garner. And that, my friends, is the problem with policing in this nation. It is too insular. Officers see the world as being “us” against “them.”
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had bad experiences with the police. Maybe it is my anti-authoritarian personality. But it still doesn’t make much sense, because I have gone out of my way to get along with the police. They want unearned respect, I give them it. They want unwarranted submissiveness, no problem. They want unconstitutional cooperation, it’s theirs. Yet in 80% of the cases, they still act like complete jerks. It’s because being in the police is more than a job — it’s a lifestyle. And its a lifestyle that provides them with undue power. And the only thing that power craves is more power. So there is never enough respect, never enough submissiveness, never enough cooperation.
So let’s not get too lost in outrage over Phillip White. He’s just a symptom of a far deeper and more pernicious problem — the angry side of Jason Barthel and his “inoffensive” shirts. I suspect we will go on doing as little as possible to address that problem. And people will continue to wrongly die at the hands of the police. And individual officers will ignorantly go around claiming that they are just misunderstood. And also threatening to murder us at the movie theater.