Why do the innocent fear police? For those of us who have realized we carry a card of privilege (white, cis, hetero, especially the combined forces of these characteristics), we know we are less likely to be profiled. Like Stephen King’s notorious Pennywise the Clown, police brutality has reincarnated through generations, taking new form and creating fear in the core of the people.
I recently went to a Billy Joel concert at Fenway Park. A life-long resident of a rural, non-diverse district, my history of engagement with police is my one speeding ticket, issued to me by a sympathetic State Trooper. Outside of the stadium, I sat on a military roadblocks, surrounded by a militarized police force, steeping in unease. Once symbolic of civic duty and protection of the people, police now instigate fear in much of the population.
Free will is the cornerstone of our humanity. The most tyrannical figures in history are those who sought to strip populations of their free will, in the form of enslavement, restriction of civil liberties, or extermination. A tactic of such figures was to generalize their targeted population(s), identifying the whole as sharing distasteful characteristics, or sharing responsibility for the act of an individual/group. Sound familiar? Today’s black America has been forced to normalize that acting on their right to protest is potentially life threatening: that is a despicable limitation of free will.
A further frightening parallel is this: dictators like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin didn’t have to work outside the law. They utilized the law to enforce their brutality. The Nuremburg Laws, passed 82 years ago to this month, created framework for the segregation and disenfranchisement of the Jewish population. Officers of the law were “just doing their job” when they enforced these measures.
Herein lies one of the greatest threats to racial equity under the law in the American society. The law is not comprehensive. It does not hold police officers accountable for glaring acts of race-related violence. Just or unjust, the law is upheld. (Stop and frisk, anyone?) While much restructuring has occurred, the racially oppressive laws of our past have simply been replaced by de facto enforcement. Things have to change in practice, not just on paper.
For decades, officers in America have “just been doing their jobs” when they enforced racist norms and policies. From slave-hunters to Jim Crow to legalized prohibition of interracial marriage, law was mistakenly depicted as synonymous with justice. While not all police officers are inherently unjust, enforcing unjust policy degrades their virtue and perpetuates systemic racism. If the system won’t hold police accountable for their actions, the people must. I call on all officers of the law to use the privilege of their voice, and speak on the reality of racism in law enforcement.
We live in an America where headlines of unarmed black men, women, and children being fatally shot by the police are unsurprising and familiar. Children are crying for justice in our streets and courtrooms. Police brutality is not an obstacle we have overcome. It’s not history, it’s now, and our children should not grow up in fear of those meant to protect and serve. You can be pro-justice without being anti-police. Peaceful advocacy doesn’t have to be quiet: use your voice, speak on behalf of the strong-yet-silenced, and create a equitable future for the next generation. In 1963, 1977, 2016, and now, 2017: the people demand that police brutality must go.
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