Why We Don’t Reform American Policing

Freddie GrayOn Friday, I was really struck by something that Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, “We know that the vast majority of the men and the women in the Baltimore City Police Department serve our city with pride, with courage, with honor, and with distinction. But to those of you, who wish to engage in brutality, misconduct, racism and corruption, let me be clear, there is no place in the Baltimore City Police Department for you.” Most people have focused on the second sentence. To me it is just political boilerplate — the sort of thing that we hear from every mayor everywhere regardless of what their actual policies are. I’m interested in the first sentence.

Of course, the first sentence is no less boilerplate. It’s required in a nation where the police forces are a bunch of pussies who need to use deadly force rather risk a slight abrasion and yet still demand that the people treat them as though their jobs were very dangerous and that they performed them with great professionalism. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I don’t think highly of policing in this country. In addition to maintaining a low level of professionalism, police officers tend to have huge chips on their soldiers — demanding rather than earning respect.

A good example of this is found in the way that many people respond to my writing about the police. The blame is placed on me. Supposedly, the problem is that I don’t know just what great chaps our men in blue are. So the solution is for me to run out and learn how great they are. This is because we can’t expect the police to actually show themselves to be good guys. Despite the torrent of information indicating that there are major systemic problems with all of our police forces, I’m supposed to start a goodwill tour to ferret out the good guys. It’s nonsense.

But what Bawlings-Blake did is exactly the same thing. The police are so sensitive that we can’t even talk about the heinous acts of six police officers without starting with, “While most police spend their time rescuing kittens and feeding the poor…” Note that it is not de rigueur to start a discussion of pediophile priests with, “While most priests serve their congragations with pride, with courage, with honor, and with distinction…” And I think this is because most priests actually do. When the mayors of major cities say these same things about police, they mean it aspirationally: they hope someday that this is actually true.

But if there is anywhere that most police officers do not serve the city with pride, courage, honor, and distinction, it is Baltimore. What the officers did to Freddie Gray was not just out of control officers; it was part of systemic brutality. Read Conor Friedersdorf excellent article at The Atlantic, The Brutality of Police Culture in Baltimore. The reason that this thing is allowed to go on is because everyone gives the benefit of the doubt to the police. People like Michael Slager are just bad apples. Darren Wilson was just a pussy. Eric Garner only died because he was fat. We never do anything to change the system because, “We know that the vast majority of the men and the women in the [Whatever] City Police Department serve our city with pride, with courage, with honor, and with distinction.”

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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