The Blue Wall

Growing up near New Orleans in the 70s and 80s, when the police force there was one of the most corrupt in the country, I learned to at the very least distrust police. I had some run-ins with them that I’m surprised didn’t end by having the shit beaten out of me. Baton Rouge wasn’t much better. But eventually I grew up, met some cops, and realized that the experiences I had were not all of the story.

As a tax-paying adult, I like having police officers around. I like that there’s someone trying to keep the peace, that there’s somewhere I can go when things aren’t right. I live in a city with a fair amount of gang and drug activity (mostly fueled by fauxhemian white kids from Northampton coming here to buy their drugs) and know that the police here have their hands full. I’ve heard about it first-hand from my friend Dan. I have other friends who are cops (one in New Orleans, which has done a lot of housecleaning since I left there) and now a relative. To say I “hate cops” would be completely untrue.

That said, I think there’s some ground between “all cops are fascist pigs” and “maybe we shouldn’t choke people to death or shoot 12-year old kids 2 seconds after arriving on the scene”. The police have a tough job, this is true, but it’s still a job, they still have bosses, and they’re still people. They can, and do, make mistakes. Unfortunately, due to the nature of their job and their tools, their mistakes are often fatal for someone.

Obviously no citizen or officer wants those mistakes made. Yet there doesn’t seem to be a real desire to do anything about them other than say, “Well, you know, shit happens.”

The blue wall that is built around these events, this idea of supporting all police at all times no matter the situation, is not helpful to anyone. Like it or not, the police are responsible to the civilians; they aren’t our masters. Demanding that no one criticize the heroes in blue under any circumstances, and closing ranks against anyone who does only serves to make the situation far worse. You can’t fix a problem you refuse to allow to be acknowledged. Nor is it helpful to assume that in every case an officer is always justified in his or her actions and deserves “the benefit of the doubt” every time. The benefit of the doubt is earned when you have demonstrated good faith, not because you demand fealty.

The protest by NYPD officers against Mayor de Blasio begs the question: if you don’t support the Mayor or the citizens, who do you support? Who do you think you answer to? The idea that people protesting the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand jury verdicts are responsible for the murders of Officers Ramos and Liu implies a connection of intent that these same officers don’t allow when considering the rash of police killings of unarmed black men. In other words, it’s okay to perceive a pattern of discrimination against police officers, but it’s off limits and dangerous to apply that same analysis to actions by those officers. It’s okay for police to protest perceived discrimination of them, but protesting perceived discrimination by them will result in blood on one’s hands.

We should just shut up and let police do whatever they want, and not worry our pretty little heads about how it’s done. After all, they are the law, which means anything they do is, by definition, legal. We want them on that wall. We need them on that wall. They do the dirty work we don’t want to admit needs doing.

That’s the attitude many of these officers seem to have, and it’s more than a little troubling. Do we really want a police force that has contempt for the citizens it supposedly serves? Did we forget that the “want them on that wall” bit is from a character in a movie who is a bad guy and is covering up a murder? Did we forget that Judge Dredd is intended to be a parody and cautionary tale?

Trust and respect are two-way streets. Both sides have responsibilities here. The citizenry need to give the police the ability to do the jobs they’re hired to do. The police need to understand they aren’t above the law they’re sworn to uphold. Just as the police are charged with bringing justice to citizens who break the law, they too must be allowed to be brought to justice when they break the law. Refusing to even acknowledge the possibility of wrongdoing, of not even bothering to have a trial just to hash out what happened, doesn’t build trust, it builds resentment on both sides. The blue wall of solidarity and unquestioned support does not support police officers, it undermines their abilities and authority.

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