I’m not a historian, professor, politician or reporter. I am a middle-aged (ugh), white female whose family contains 3 police officers by marriage. What I am about to say may have no merit to you, but it does to me. Maybe I haven’t looked hard enough, but I have yet to see one article this week in support of law enforcement. I did find this from March – In Defense of the Police – but nothing recent. There may be articles out there, but they are buried beneath the hatred and accusations.
I’ve seen a lot of In Defense of Black Rage, Militarization of America’s Police and Why We Hate the Police. Okay, I made the last one up, but it sure feels like I read a lot of articles with that title.
By now, you’ve heard about the unrest in Ferguson, MO, the racial accusations and the disregard police have for the general populace. Behind the emotion, there has to be reason and facts, we just haven’t seen them yet. I’d like you to put aside this week’s incident and think about things in a different way, if you are willing to take a step back.
Please note, I do not claim these statistics to be 100% correct, they are estimates based on data I was able to find. This data is related to excessive force only, not other types of complaints.
In 2010, 1,242 officers were involved in excessive force complaints – .14% of a 900,000 member police force. .14% Even if these figures were 10 times higher, we would still be looking at 1.4% of the police force. 100 times higher? 14%. To hear the news and negative public opinion, you’d think it were closer to 50%, wouldn’t you? It’s not as rampant as you think. Crime rates per 100,000 police officers are significantly less than the non-police citizens. Additionally, incidents of violence of a police officer are also lower than those of the average citizen. Again, the media would lead us to believe otherwise.
In the same year, ~7% of excessive force allegations have ended in death, ~92. Conversely, 105 police officers were killed in the line of duty, 30 as a direct result of gunfire. I couldn’t find any statistics for injuries on duty, as a matter of fact statistics on police brutality are something new. Historically, record keeping of both excessive force by and toward a police officer has not been something that can be agreed upon, much less collected accurately. (Source: CATO Institute)
Militarization of the Police
Did you know that in the US, there are ~245 police officers per 100,000 people? There are at least 43 more countries in the world whose police to citizen ratio is higher than ours. If the American citizens decided to revolt against police, the police would surely lose. Not only would they be outnumbered, they would be outgunned as more than 1/3 of all Americans own guns. For every 245 police officers, there are 30,000 armed citizens. Whether or not they choose to use those guns against the police is up for debate.
If you take into account the type of weaponry available to criminals, it would make sense that you would want your law enforcement to have access to the same, or more effective, weapons. Ask yourself, are the police arming themselves because they think it’s fun? Or are they arming themselves because they must do so to stand a chance against the citizen that blows their head off at a traffic stop and the person with an automatic weapon shooting up your mall? Do you want them to carry a pistol when you are being shot at by someone with an automatic weapon?
Police are accused of racial profiling on a regular basis. In some instances, it is true. Let me make something clear – the police do not cause poverty, they did not enact slavery back in the day, and they do not make you commit crime. If you commit a crime, no matter your color, you should be arrested. So, if you commit a crime and you get arrested – please stop complaining.
If you are a victim of racial profiling, I am sorry for you and we do need to work a lot harder to eliminate stereotypes. There are race issues, for sure. But feeding into them and using them as tools and crutches is also not acceptable. The problem I have with race is that it isn’t applied fairly. Earlier this year, Officer Kevin Dorian Jordan – who was black – was shot in the back 3 times and killed by white men. There was no outrage, no racial accusations, there was apathy. His status as a police officer negated his color, that tells me that there is more at play than race.
For every ‘bad’ deed committed by an officer in uniform, there are thousands of good deeds to counter them. But they don’t make the news, or not as often as they should. After all, do we really want to read one more ‘Cop Saved a Life’ or ‘Cop Plays Basketball With Kids’ story? B-O-R-I-N-G. That doesn’t sell, invoke discussion or elicit emotion. What sells emotionally, politically and financially is discord, anger and disparity. Those things rile Americans into action, regardless of whether or not the action is destructive.
We all know the media speaks before it thinks, it places blame and it does not tell the whole story. Police are not without fault and blame, there are many instances where their actions are questionable – some even illegal. We aren’t given the opportunity to see the entire picture before we react. What is more inflammatory in today’s world than ‘Police Shoot Unarmed Wholesome Black Teen’? Nothing, and the media should know better, but they don’t care.
We do not hesitate to throw good money after bad into the world. We send our soldiers around the globe to be the world police. We exert our muscle on other people daily. Heaven forbid we do it on our own soil. Someone cries foul. The police are treading on their civil liberties. But whose civil liberties are you treading on when the police try to stop you? It’s a fine line between enforcing the law and protecting your rights, and it gets more difficult each day.
Racial Disparity in the Police Force
We all know that there are more white officers than black on the Ferguson police department. We know that the police department is not a racial representation of the community. Why not? Why haven’t more black people gone to the academy and become police officers? I don’t know. The test is the same for everyone, no one gets extra points for being white. I’m sure there is a reason, but I don’t know it.
Recently, I asked a young black male who complained about ‘white police’ why he didn’t become a police officer. His answer? “Who wants to be a pig? I sure don’t and I am a law-abiding citizen.” I don’t believe his response is representative of the young, black male population but it makes a point. No one wants to be a cop. It’s not a popular profession.
Let’s face it, we are taught to fear the police. Period. How many Moms tell their kids they will get arrested if they don’t behave? How many parents who have had bad experiences with police pass that on? I could go on forever. I’ll be honest with you, I am not 100% free of racial bias. I am also not 100% free of fear from the police. I can’t help it. When I see a police car behind me, I get scared. If I get pulled over, I pray I am not sent to solitary. Why? I don’t know. But I learned it somewhere, I wasn’t born with an unnatural fear of flashing blue lights and people in positions of authority. We are sending that message of fear loudly and clearly across the country with headlines on a regular basis. When it comes to the police, we don’t honor the fallen as much as we denigrate the standing. This is passed on from generation to generation.
We can’t take away the human factor of the job. People fear the police. Guess what? The police also have fear – every time they put on the uniform. Every time they see another officer shot at, hit by a car, or beaten. Yes, they get beaten while working. They are humans, nothing more or less. They have fear and bias, they also have love and humor. Each position holds its own hazards, the police are in the unfortunate position of interacting in ways which sometimes require force.
A police officer can take a life as easily as another citizen. More people are killed by civilians each year than by police. Think about that. If the police were truly abusing their power, wouldn’t there be more casualties?
The relationship the public has with the police is a complicated and emotional one, but I truly believe it goes much deeper than race. I’m not sure what lessons will come out of Ferguson, but I hope that they are used to close the gap between the general public and the American police force. It’s time we started working together, not against each other.