In 2016, I wrote this very well-intentioned, very naive article on Medium, that open-heartedly encouraged police to join the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
I thought, police who love their communities and truly want to protect and serve, would obviously want to help heal the broken trust between police and black people in America. They would obviously be open to policing in a different way, if it meant that everyone was safer and happier, and that both police and civilians experienced more respect and dignity.
Where’s the flaw in that reasoning?
I’ll tell you where the flaw is.
The entire history of policing in the United States is racist. From the era of slavery, when slave patrols composed of white men went around rounding up black people just for existing outside the confines of a plantation, through convict leasing, through Jim Crow, lynching and segregation, through the war on drugs, punitive sentencing, and mass incarceration today.
Without racism and the war on drugs, American policing would be a hollowed-out shell of its present self, left to solve crimes with actual victims, and no longer able to justify the purchase of tanks.
Police departments aren’t a barrel of apples with some bad ones. Police departments were created to subjugate minorities, and exist primarily to wield incarceration and death as arcane forms of social control. If we want police to have different priorities, we are responsible for establishing those, and we are probably going to have to fight police unions and police leadership in order to get them.
The problem is that even “good” cops (and the semantics are messy, because many cops are decent people in their personal lives), are operating in an institution that originates in systemic racism, enforces racist laws, deprives people of their rights to life and liberty on purpose, and upholds white supremacy — by design.
There can never be enough “good” cops to save the profession from itself.
Public safety and policing need to be reimagined, from the foundational level. Laws need to be rewritten. Use of deadly force should be heavily restricted. Mental health, housing, and drug abuse are not problems for police to fix, they are problems for us to fix, and we should divert police resources in order to do that.
What I was too naive to realize when I wrote my original article, is that most police organizations will certainly resist any change to traditional policing, because all funded organizations are prone to the malignancy of wanting to perpetuate their own existence in spite of the widening ripples of suffering around them.
If police want to be safer, they need to be willing to reconsider their entire profession and their relationship toward the American public — to finally stop defending all the barbarities and abuses inherent in traditional policing, and recognize that transformation (a transformation that may reduce many bloated police budgets and send many officers into the world to find other careers) is the only civilized way forward.