When we hear horrendous stories about cops who shoot unarmed people, we rightfully are upset at the core corruption of our (in?) justice system.
That there is a very real disparity between the number of blacks and other people of color who are disproportionately injured by our societal sins makes the concern all the more relevant.
For me, it always prompts the same question: Why can’t we allow all our cops to be heroes?
If we began with the premise — hey, it’s already there on the side of some of their cars — that police officers are here to “protect and serve”, there is every reason to demand that if you enter that profession, you are training to become a hero.
A hero is happier than a grouchy pig
If we considered police work to be about heroic action rather than threat to certain communities, and general distrust in general, the problem of lethal injustice would eventually go away.
Racism does society no favors, and no one wants an authoritarian to be, or feel, like a “pig.” I do not think cops want to be considered pigs, and I don’t think our communities want to see them that way.
Having disproportionate “policing” and downright corruption when it comes to certain criminals (some would say people of color who happen to be orange) who get away with crime, breeds conflict for everyone.
Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio who was found guilty of racial profiling and was determined to have allowed jail facilities which were unconstitutional. When powerful, alleged orange criminals go on to pardon other criminals such as Sheriff Joe Arpaio, this also does no favors for police services and officers who are much better off when perceived as heroes. This is just one of the more prominent examples out there.
One of the worst aspects about white privilege, and for us white people who are sick of being called out for it, is when entitlement is given to anyone “above the law” while everyone else is persecuted in big and small ways for not being rich, powerful, and entitled enough.
This is what the fight for equality, an overturning of racist policy and sexist treatment is all about. We are human beings, and in my personal estimation, we suffer from complicit and unconscious bias, so this won’t change over night.
In Hawaii, it only quite recently became prohibited for cops to have sex with prostitutes. I am not a prude nor one to judge gender preferences. But, I am almost certain that the cops in question were male, and the prostitutes in question were less entitled, and less powerful, females. Making police officers heroes, on the other hand, asks more of them in addressing the crimes of the johns and the pimps, rather than just the prostitutes, most of whom are women, and continue to be much more vulnerable to abuse and defamation.
When you set up an imbalance of power, with either race, sex, authority, or privilege you are not inviting heroic action.
When it comes to race or gender, we cannot ever be completely post-race in our present reality. However, I have high hopes for one thousand years from now when we are all mocha colored. I tend to be a futurist by nature, so I see One Earth as inevitable, and something like the Federation rising, even though I am not so PollyAnn-ish that I think we will ever be an entirely peace-loving Kumbaya planet.
It’s up to us to make society what it is
What we can become is a vigilant people. We have every reason to train cops to be heroes, and to be watchful to see that they do.
Cops, in order to feel strong and professional, need to attract good and compassionate people to their ranks.
Kid who get away with bullying in high school, or sadism in the military are not the heroes we seek. There are so many stories about brutal and thuggish cops that it is a staple in television and movie dramas, but also too much of a reality in real life to be ignored. Perhaps if your want to be respected for your authority, you should be gently nudged towards becoming a hairdresser, or a kindergarten teacher. In those professions expertise and authority are needed more urgently than they are for hero positions.
When my husband and I watch a suspenseful horror movie, a police drama, a random episode of Black Mirror, or even a comedy, my spouse has to hear the following five words a lot:
“SHOOT HIM IN THE FOOT!”
Usually, it is not in an arrest situation, but the message is obvious. If you disable rather than murder the boogie man, the bank robber, the antihero who is certain to come back with a heavy vase at the very first chance he has, he won’t get so far with a wounded foot.
This does not mean, of course, that police should routinely shoot anyone, but if they do, there is no reason ever why it should be fatal. Training is paramount.
You may mistake a cell phone for a gun, but if you aim for the foot, or even the tire in some cases, you have a better chance to be a hero.
Lethal force is not needed for police officers to take in unarmed people. One reason it is tolerated is because cops are human and they get afraid. When they feel like heroes, who are respected, trusted and competent, they have far less reason to fear a distrustful, and threatened populace.
People can learn, and cops are people
We could train cops the same that we train teachers and counselors. In the social and psychology fields, a simple one-day training, and crucial reminders, instruct professionals in how to deescalate tense situations.
There are few situations more tense than a police intervention, so de-escalation should be job one. Using non-lethal force, and having a public that understands the hero is there to protect and serve you, not harm you, would go an awfully long way toward a more civil society.
Cops could help communities they serve in countless ways. They can walk, or bicycle the beat. They could offer community service events, and connect in ways previously unheard of in our cities and streets. They could visit schools, have picnics, patrol community gardens, share police dog walks, and more.
When you imagine Mayberry RFD, and Sheriff Andy Taylor, you should be a lot less stressed than you would about heavily, militarized police units in full riot gear while you have none.
A hero is on your side, otherwise, we willingly create division and hate.
When I advocate for cops to be allowed to be heroes, I am thinking not just of them, but primarily of society as a whole. We allow them presently, to be reviled. We allow a system that tolerates the intolerable.
Why not allow them, through training and improvements, to be civil servants. It’s time to allow men and women, police officers of a highly respectable profession, to become our heroes.