Every American school kid was raised on well-meaning propaganda that painted the country’s police force as super good guys, and that propaganda has worked; many young Americans look up to police as heroes…but not just because of the propaganda; kids who have grown up in the information age aren’t dumb. They understand how important it is to have a highly funded police force. Americans are happy to wear “NYPD” hats and not just because they got duped by a marketing campaign but because they really do value their police on meaningful intellectual and emotional levels.
The thing is, the police are making it really hard to keep liking them. Americans who were raised on Saturday morning cartoons want to believe that every police officer is like Andy Griffith meets Robocop. That’s how Americans were raised to perceive cops. So that’s how they try to perceive cops, but it’s hard to keep giving the police the benefit of the doubt when the public looks around, and they don’t see Robo-Andy-Griffith. All they see are protesters getting pepper sprayed and shot in the head with tear gas canisters, and the public can’t do anything about it because anytime they bring up the issue of excessive use of force they’re told they’re ungrateful and spoiled and are sternly reminded that all police deserve the full honors and privileges of Robo Andy Griffith.
The “you’re a spoiled, naïve liberal” excuse isn’t cutting it anymore. There was a time when young Americans smiled when they saw cops. Now seeing a cop is more likely to wipe the smile off their faces, and the reason they’re scared of police is because the police go out of their way to scare them. Police cars are designed to appear menacing, not welcoming. I’m sorry, but you don’t get to act surprised when you pull up in a car that looks like a prop from a Hollywood movie about a futuristic dystopian police state and people say they feel menaced by you.
And it sends a mixed message that undermines your authority when the side of your car says, “To protect and serve.” but it’s an accepted fact of life that you do not ever speak to the police without a lawyer present. Ever. The police are even required to remind you that “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” Why would anyone want to be anywhere near someone who can and will use anything they say to put them in a prison system that is globally famous for its unchecked human rights violations?
The thing is, young American aren’t even asking anymore. They’re telling the police they feel absolutely miserable, terrorized and afraid of the people they pay to protect them. Some people have even given up on the system so completely they’ve left America to go live in less wealthy places where at least they don’t have to be afraid of the police or the corrupt government the police are protecting.
The correct way for the police to respond to that charge isn’t to say, “Oh, well then screw those people if they don’t like it here.” The correct way for the police to respond is to say, “I accept that I have a problem and am ready to listen.”
And the good news for the police is, young Americans are smart enough to understand that police aren’t just inherently bad people who deserve to be hated because of the color of their clothes. The American people understand that people who are police officers aren’t the problem. Unethical police behavior is a symptom of a flawed police system. To blame it all on the cops on the street would be like holding teachers (who work at the bottom of an obsolete and compromised education system and have their hands tied behind their backs by cumbersome bureaucracy) solely accountable for children’s test scores, and that would be ridiculous.
There are some serious flaws in the way the police force is designed on paper, and the police should be more eager than anyone to address those flaws because they’re setting up good cops to lose sight of the purpose of the law, and if the law has no purpose then you don’t have a police force; you have a mafia. I actually wouldn’t believe any senior cop who says they’ve never been pissed off at how ineffective and backward and in need of upgrading the police system is.
The police want the police system fixed. The people want the police system fixed. Everyone just wants the streets to be safe. The police and the people just never talked about it together because they’ve always been compartmentalized with a great divide between them. Now they’re both part of the 99%, and there are people with tables all over the world listening to ideas, writing them down and sharing them with other people.
If the politicians can’t figure out an effective way of balancing crime, authority, freedom, and equality then the police and the citizens are the only parties left for the responsibility to fall to. The people took the first step setting up the tables at the Occupy protests. All the police have to do to have their voices heard is sit down at the table. The least the police can do if they want to live in a better society is not kick the table over and beat the hell out of everyone sitting around it.
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