The other day I said on Twitter, “I really do think cops are bad people.”
I need to go ahead and rescind that statement. I don’t actually believe there is a category such as “bad people.”
Let me back up and explain what led to this, and tell you a little bit about what I think of the police.
Sunday night my partner and I had left Bonnaroo and geared up for a 10 hour drive home overnight. About 40 miles away from the site we passed a car that was pulled over and being searched by the police. It was pretty obvious that they were also coming from Bonnaroo, and I wasn’t surprised that small town cops were targeting traffic leaving the festival. After all, it’s their big chance to get some drug busts in and feel special. Not a minute later blue lights start flashing behind us as well. The guy who pulled us over said we hadn’t come to a complete stop at a stop sign. He went to write a warning and another cop walked up with a dog and said he was going to walk the dog around the car, and if the dog signaled, they had probable cause to search the vehicle. The dog signaled, and we were told to step out of the car. As seems to be standard, we were told that they could help us if we just told them where we had hidden our stash.
The cops (over the course of the stop there were a total of 5 of them) then proceeded to go through everything in our car. They didn’t find anything because we didn’t have anything. The cop who had brought the dog then said that he could smell marijuana in the car, and said that if we didn’t tell him where it was, that he was going to have to start taking panels off the car. “You don’t want your friend’s car to get messed up, do you?” We again told him we didn’t know of anything in the car. Finally they let us go.
Our things were a mess. Every bag had been opened and rifled through, and nothing had been put back. Backpacks and purses were tossed back into the backseat without even closing them back first. Through the entire time we were detained we were lied to and manipulated by the police. We were threatened with damage to the car. We were told that if we just confessed they could make it easier on us. We were asked questions designed to get us to implicate ourselves in a crime we didn’t commit. Our belongings were treated with complete disregard. And this is not an instance of bad cops. This is standard procedure for those thought to have committed a crime.
It was shortly thereafter that I relayed the experience on Twitter and said “I really do think cops are bad people.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I haven’t become pro-cop in the time it’s taken me to calm my nerves. I just realized that in a moment of fear and anger I misspoke. I do think the police, individually and systematically, make the world a worse place. I do not, however, think that they are bad people. As I said above, I don’t believe that there is such a category.
I understand that many people join police and military forces because they have a drive to protect the people, things and a way of life that they love. I can see a nobility in that drive. I do not believe, however, that working as a cop (nor as a soldier) actually protects anyone. It only punishes people. To join a police force is not to dedicate oneself to protecting others. It is to dedicate oneself to upholding the law. Those are two very different things.
In the US, more people are imprisoned per capita than in any other country. More than in North Korea. More than in China. More than in Iran.
The goal of a police officer is not to make sure people don’t get hurt. The goal is to punish people for violating the law. The law doesn’t need to be just. It doesn’t need to be reasonable. It doesn’t even have to have anything to do with people getting hurt. The law simply states that the behavior outlined in its words is grounds for punishment. The job of a cop is to find people who cross the boundaries of a law.
This includes activities where no one is harmed, such as consensual prostitution, stripping in outfits that don’t cover enough of a body, and yes, possession of a controlled substance. The police find justification in the law for using violence against people who are hurting no one. They can use intimidation, lies and force and are considered to be on the right side of the law and of society, when others who are causing no harm to anyone are on the wrong side.
And it is that dedication to the law and upholding it with violence that I see as an unequivocal wrong.
My dad trains dogs to do police work. Or at least he used to. He’s been too busy with his full time job the last few years to really be able to do that. He trains them to search for drugs, explosives, firearms and people. He started doing it for two reasons. He likes dogs, and he wanted to help make the world a better place. I love my dad, and I respect his desire to help. I also think he participated in evil acts and helped perpetuate violence. His drive may be noble, but the way he followed that drive led him to engage in evil. And I believe that is true of every cop, every soldier, every judge and every politician.
Cops can be people’s friends. They can do nice things. They can be good company. And they make a deliberate, daily choice to make their priority violently punishing people for violating law. They are no different from gang members and mafia thugs, folks who also have reasons, even noble reasons, for the things they do as well. They can be your friend. They can help people. And they choose violence, death and destruction over and over again. The ONLY difference is that they don’t have the majority of society approving of their violence and their reasons for exercising violence. Neither police nor mafia thugs are bad people, but they are people who do equally bad things. They dedicate themselves to a system built on violence, then act violently within that system.
The police are my enemies. Each one of them. When my own father works with them, he is my enemy. I love him and I respect him, and I’m disappointed and saddened by the choices he’s made. Jesus said “Love your enemies,” and I try to do so. I fail often, and I admit that. But he never said they wouldn’t be our enemies. And the police are my enemy, individually and as an institution, regardless of the love I, or others, have for them. For that, and for my own anger at and mistrust of the police, I will not apologize.