One of the issues that always comes up when police brutality becomes visible – as it has been consistently for this past year – and especially when that police brutality is expressed racially – is that somehow being for justice and against racism makes a person anti-cop.
I grew up white working class so I grew up with men (and maybe some women) who became cops. They were good guys, brave guys, often guys who weren’t scared of a whole lot. They have my unending respect for being willing to step up and try to do some good in the world. Some of my crossdressing friends are police officers or are in other law enforcement. I went to HS with a federal agent whose job scares the fuck out of me, but I’m glad he’s the kind of smart, brave man who can do it.
I’ve worked with the Appleton PD on quite a few occasions. A few of them I count as friends but certainly as colleagues in community building. We throw everything, as a culture, that we don’t want to deal with at them – racism, poverty, domestic violence, addiction, theft, and – as was pointed out to me recently – all of the mental health issues our system isn’t acknowledging, much less dealing with. They are given precious few resources to “solve” a whole swath of problems, and if we listened to compassionate police more about what is needed, we’d hear a lot about educational opportunity, community participation, access to mental health services, even social justice. They know it. They see it.
But I really really dislike having it assumed that as someone whose heart breaks over the broken spine of a young, poor, disenfranchised man of color in Baltimore that somehow I don’t care about cops. I’ve personally had both good experiences — I am, after all, white, currently middle class & newly middle aged — and not so good ones (because I am also queer, female, and have been, many times in my life, a protestor). That is, I am assumed to be on the side of law & order because of some of my identity, and assumed to be suspect because of other parts of myself.
Freddie Gray had pretty much of nothing about him that told the cops he might be on the side of law & order. We create these binaries of identity, assume kinds of legitimacy or don’t, but the issue is that we tend to put an awful lot of muscle and guns and power on the side of those who have more power.
To me the issue isn’t the cops the same way the issue isn’t the media. Both are reflections of our current systems of order and power – who, in a nutshell, is assumed to be okay, who is assumed to be a good citizen, who might be given a second chance, and who gets the benefit of the doubt.
The thing is, poor people live in public. Their lives are, as a result, seen more easily, examined more closely, judged more often. Mental health issues go untreated – even undiagnosed. Addiction likewise.
And so we send in the cops to clean up the messes we’ve created, created not because we’re bad people, not because we’re Republican or Democrats, but that we’ve created in letting these systems that assume some people are okay and some people aren’t, often based on their gender or orientation or race or immigration status.
But no, the fault is not often with the police except for when they – as their own community – protect and defend practices that prey on the least of us. And the least of us, in the US, are still black and poor with less access to good educations, who are often living in families rife with addiction, mental health, disability, and untreated and undiagnosed medical conditions. And maybe it’s because sometimes it’s obvious to me that the only thing separating me and them, my family’s ancestors from theirs, is the color of my skin.
Stay safe, Baltimore: and by that I mean not just the protestors but the police too.