The Law Enforcement Problem

A welcomed or regrettable visitor?

I’m not one to generalize about different groups of people—whether by race, religion, profession, or residence. But if I were required to make a broad statement about law enforcement, it would not be positive.

It’s said that there are many good police officers out there. But even in the community of “good-guy” law enforcement personnel, officers must now be  asking themselves what can be done to correct the downward trajectory of their profession in the eyes of the citizens they serve. It was bad enough that one of their own was recorded killing George Floyd, a Black man, in broad daylight with cameras rolling—bringing a new and focused attention to other recent and past police killings in dozens of other cities throughout the U.S. But now video after video is also surfacing showing law enforcement’s heavy-handed tactics against protesters, non-protesters and the press in almost every major city of the country. If there is such a thing as a “good cop,” where are they now in these carte blanche melees that play out in their presence?

The argument that a few bad apples out there are ruining it for many fine officers surely has some validity. Yet, in an age when everyone carries a recording device wherever they go, and anyone can share anything they record with the entire world (on social media via the internet), those “bad apples” have a way of rising to the top far too often. And, just imagine if such recording devices were in the hands of the public in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, or ’80s (or much earlier). What would we have witnessed back then?

In my critique of the law enforcement community, one thing stands out. The tightly knit fraternity of the profession resembles a brotherhood of those who fought side-by-side in military battles throughout history. The solidarity is understandable, but as we watch the countless videos of police brutality, one thing is noticeably missing. Nowhere are the “other officers” attempting to intervene, stopping their fellow officer from taking things too far. Wouldn’t that kind of action make for a “good cop?” However, the law enforcement officers in the vicinity of these violations only seem to make sure that the bystanders watching in shock don’t interrupt the beatdown. Given such procedures, there appears to be some unwritten vow, some informal bond to fellow officers that supersedes whatever oath was taken to “serve and protect” the public. My question is, can a “good cop” truly exist in such a fraternity that behaves like a judge, jury and executioner on our streets?

I’d like to believe that our Black brothers and sisters walk a little more confidently, and with less fear today then they did back in… oh let’s just say the 1950s. However, as these racially charged crimes at the hands of our law enforcement officers unfold, I’m far from convinced that they feel any safer.

I don’t know the specifics for solving the “law-enforcement problem” in our country, but whatever we do, it can’t be subtle and/or superficial. I’ve heard some ideas that certainly qualify as worthy candidates for law enforcement reformation—starting with the outlawing of any kind of choke holds, especially on a suspect who is already restrained with handcuffs. That certainly is not outlandish. Community review boards that preside over law enforcement cases should reflect a community’s demographics. Stopping and questioning a person because they match some generic description of someone they are looking for is lame, overly used, and a deceitful tactic at best.

In short, a major overhaul is required when it comes to American law enforcement—a reformation of recruiting, training, leadership, and perhaps an entire philosophy. In light of George Floyd’s “death-by-cop” and so many others who suffered the same fate before him, the idea of “serving and protecting” our Black communities is just another vapid and broken treaty in American history.

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