Last week, The University News published a commentary article arguing against the general distrust of the police by civilians. “The current social and political climate,” it read, “makes general distrust of police socially acceptable and almost mainstream, even at a place like the University of Dallas.”
This, according to the author, is wrong, not only because police die in numbers comparable to soldiers in Afghanistan, but because police officers are sworn to protect and serve us, the citizens of the U.S., no matter our race or ethnicity.
“If you support the Black Lives Matter movement, like I do,” the writer notes, “you ought to support the Blue Lives Matter movement, because no organization does more to defend black lives in America’s inner cities than law enforcement.” The piece concludes by saying that the general distrust of the police contributes to the already enormous burden of performing a service for which they could be shot at any moment, and that “as a society, we cannot afford to alienate the officers who both protect human life and also serve and support the rule of law.”
I would point out that, statistically speaking, it has never been a safer time to be a police officer in U.S. history: between 1994 and 2014, violent crime decreased 49 percent. In fact, according to the FBI, crime was at an all-time low in 2014 and has risen marginally since. So I am puzzled by calls for the increased militarization of the police or claims that “officers no longer worry only about public safety, but also their own personal safety.”
But momentarily putting the article’s choice statistics aside, I would suggest that one can respect and empathize with police officers while maintaining a healthy skepticism of them and acknowledging that this skepticism is especially warranted if one is a person of color.
In 2015, The Guardian found that while non-white minorities constitute less than 38 percent of the population, they comprise almost 63 percent of all unarmed people killed by the police. Furthermore, the same study found that black Americans “are more than twice as likely to be unarmed when killed during encounters with police as [unarmed] white peo-
ple.” People of color have good reason to be wary when interacting with law enforcement.
This wariness is only exacerbated by the leniency of the law toward the police. Of the officers that killed Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, to name just four of the most prominent examples of black men — and one black child — who were wrongfully killed by the police, none were indicted.
This is primarily because of systemic racism within the institutions of the law. But because proving definitively such a systemic bias is beyond the scope of this article, let it suffice to say that police officers, good and bad, work together on a daily basis, and that no one is particularly overjoyed at the prospect of convicting his colleague and potentially earning the ire of his brothers in arms. Hence the “blue wall of silence” and hence the general mistrust.
This is not to deny that there are upstanding officers or that we should treat officers we encounter with respect. If anything, one should empathize with the dutiful officers who are forced by the inadequacy of the system to tolerate and even support those among their ranks who misuse their power.