Not long ago (post #122), I wrote how “All Cops Are Bastards”, and I freely admit, a lot of well-earned emotional energy went into that. Well-earned on the part of cops, that is, in the sense that the emotional unhealthiness of several police officers, has played a huge, profound, and long-term role in my life, almost exclusively in a negative sense. From my ever-deepening understanding of the roles the police have played in societal oppression of the marginalized and as the black boots of the State, defending the powerful from being held accountable for their crimes, to my own father being a 30-year officer of the Ontario Provincial Police, to the fair number of times I have been involved in run-ins with the police in which we were not…..errrr, ‘allies’…., I have quite a lot of emotional energy driving my perceptions and opinions concerning the police.
But in truth, I do not believe that All Cops Are Bastards. Some, sure. Some of them, perhaps, are total assholes. But there are asshole-y people in every profession, from teachers to preachers, line cooks to line workers, and civil engineers to the ones who drive trains. So of course there are cops who are bastards. And, I would be willing to entertain the hypothesis that becoming a police officer might actually attract the ego-tripping, emotionally unbalanced, power seeking tyrant types of people, disproportionately. After all, you get to carry a gun, exercise all manner of authority over people, drive however you want, commit violence (for a good cause), and be A Hero. The possibility that these privileges appeal to people who are particularly hungry for power seems logical.
But, OTHER THAN having the ability to lord power over others and break traffic laws without repercussion, what else might attract people to a career as a police officer?
….How about making the world a better place? Helping people? Serving the public? Surely, surely, no small number of police officers initially don the uniform out of benevolent, humanitarian motivations. Surely many of them, when they were little kids, were inspired to make a difference by helping people and protecting society from the Bad Guys. Don’t you believe that? I do. And it coheres with my personal knowledge of at least some of the cops I have known in my life. (Although to be honest, more have fit the power-tripping version, but hey, it’s a small sample…)
When you grow up with a police officer in the family, you do learn quite a bit about the dark underbelly of the profession and the bad apples in the barrel, but you also meet people in uniform who are good-hearted folk, who contribute to their communities, who have good values, and who deeply desire to put their energy into improving the world and doing what they can to reduce human suffering. So, it seems disingenuous, and simply inaccurate, to paint them all with the same brush.
But wait, doesn’t this contradict what I said in my other post about how corruption is deeply embedded within the police as an institution, and how all the cops must know this and yet not stand against it?
Well…..yes, it does contradict that. If cops do generally know about the corruption in their ranks and don’t speak out about it, they ARE complicit! And no, “I was just following orders” has been soundly rejected as a legit excuse in our world.
But I thought about this some more, about the degrees of hypocrisy in which we all participate. For example, I have been an ardent environmentalist and committed social justice advocate for maybe 25 years now, but I do not live a sustainable life, nor do I religiously practice ethical consumerism. I still drive a car, eat meat more than I “should”, and I have most certainly made purchases from companies that are downright shitty to their workers and the environment. Sure, I try, but I also sometimes just say fuck it and take the easy route. I have strong values concerning spirituality, paganism, personal growth, and feminism, and yet, I do not always live up to these values. Sometimes, I have thrown them right out the window and indulged myself as I wanted to. Shame on me! What a hypocritical bastard I am!
Should we start a movement called “All Environmentalists Are Bastards”, and apply that label to every self-proclaimed environmentalist who buys a piece of plastic, takes a private vehicle somewhere, flies for a vacation, or eats a burger?
For half a year or so, at the beginning of the pandemic, I had a roommate who lived her own environmental and ethical values to a degree that I found both inspiring and embarrassing. Embarrassing for me, that is. She had learned, and regularly practiced, SO MANY little tricks and hacks and made so many behavioural changes to reduce her ecological footprint, compared to me, that it was quite humbling.
So yes, just like the cops, I know full well that I live in a life-harming, freedom-squelching, oppression-embracing system, and thus, I am also complicit.
So this made me rethink my judgement of the cops. A bit. Perhaps the many different barriers that keep me from living 100% in accordance with my values, also make it tough for them to do the same. For example, “the system” is gigantic, multi-faceted, and my own individual behaviour changes are just a drop in the ocean. Also, “the system” is complicated and confusing, and it’s bloody exhausting to constantly be fighting the fight; sometimes you just…..want to relax, maaaaaan. And isn’t that ok? Also, “the system” is comprised of many other people who are also complicit, people I know, and like, good people, people who are also (I presume) doing their best. Also, if I do spend ALL my energy trying to live perfectly, will I have the time, energy and motivation leftover to still live my life, to be there for my friends and family, to pursue my interests and passions? Or will I just burn out and be of little use to anybody? Also, fuck man, I’m not perfect; isn’t it okay to be a little imperfect, to accept that “doing your best” has to be curtailed somewhat by the necessity, and wisdom, of “finding balance?”
So maybe, maybe, it’s the case that the police, or at least some proportion of them, really are “doing their best”. Maybe they stand up for change when they feel they can. Maybe they get involved in challenging the institution in some ways, but not others. Maybe they work behind the scenes, in private conversations with their colleagues, but aren’t always ready to put everything on the line to stand against the entire organization. Maybe they are conserving their energy for the shit-show-of-human-misery they deal with on a regular basis. Maybe after witnessing scattered bodies at traffic accidents, and hollowed-eyed addicts living in filth, and bloody murder scenes, and dead children, and domestic violence, and all the rest of what they deal with on a regular basis, maybe they just don’t have the energy leftover to then take a strong stand for combating the institution on some moral grounds. Maybe …just maybe, they’re human too?
To be honest, I don’t know quite what to do with this whole thing. I still judge the police, mostly, for their aggressiveness, too-frequent callousness and lack of empathy, and for the oh-so-painfully-slow pace of the institution evolving in a progressive direction. I still judge the many, many officers I have witnessed engage in unnecessary violence at peaceful protests. I still will raise my children to avoid calling the cops for most situations involving vulnerable people, based on my conviction that the police will likely make the situation worse. I still will advocate for and attend protests and sign petitions calling for police reform and demilitarizing them and holding public inquiries for police violence and redistributing a big chunk of their budgets to community-level organizations, mental health workers, and the like. But, I have to balance this with respecting the efforts they make, the risks they take on the public’s behalf, and the sheer fact that they choose, every day, to deal with the nasty shit the rest of us turn a blind eye to, or aren’t burdened with even knowing about in the first place.
Maybe if I, and more of us, can challenge our black/white, yes/no, good/bad dualistic framings of the police, maybe if we spent more of our energy building bridges of understanding that can be crossed in both directions, maybe if we can be less shaming and more forgiving of human imperfection, maybe then we can help each other, including the police, to serve the public better, and make faster progress in “making the world a better place.”
Maybe this would even enable both the public and the police to focus their critiques and energies more effectively, on the disciplining, educating, retraining, and reforming of the more extreme and destructive “bastards” that cause the majority of the problems, and play the biggest roles in preventing the institution from becoming more wise?