I know that I’ve been sharing a lot of troubling articles on social media about police brutality against black people. I always try to qualify it with an acknowledgment that most cops are just trying to do their job. I really believe that racism is a pervasive original sin in our society, and that white police officers are not any more or less racist than any other white person. They just happen to be thrown into stressful situations where they are responsible for making split-second gut instinct decisions which trigger visceral reactions that we can repress in polite company. After several centuries of black men being portrayed as savage monsters in the white collective imagination, it would be hard for any white person expected as part of their job to draw their gun and shoot faster than Doc Holiday in Tombstone to avoid making gravely tragic mistakes in interactions with young black males. But I wanted to go a different place with this post because it’s Christmas Eve and I know that there are many cops who are putting their lives in danger today instead of spending time with their families. So I just want to say thank you.
The reason that I’m able to keep my cool most of the time is because I try my best to avoid confrontational situations (at least when I’m not on twitter). The two contexts in which I most often lose my cool are when I’m disciplining my children and when I’m arguing with some imbecile on social media. The season of my life in which I encountered the most conflict was when I spent two years as a high school English teacher. There was nothing I hated more about my job than having to confront students who were being disruptive. I got called a racist by my students at least several times a week, basically every time I had to send a kid to the office. If I had let that word paralyze me, my classes would have been completely sabotaged. The hard reality is that I was being racist sometimes, but I didn’t have time to deconstruct every situation on the fly. I had to act quickly and decisively, or my entire class period would be derailed by every conflict I had. It was only after the class was over that I could reflect and troubleshoot the problems I had encountered.
I can’t imagine having a job where almost all of my interactions with other people involve diving headfirst into some kind of conflict. And I can’t imagine being polite and cool-headed while I’m being screamed at, spat upon, kicked, and hit by people who hate everything I represent. Yet I know that there are cops who are somehow able to handle the responsibility of confronting people without being egomaniacal bullies about it. I couldn’t do what they do. I would get too much of an adrenalin rush. I would build up a rage inside of me from all the times that I felt like I’d been judged unfairly and then explode all over somebody in my custody. I just can’t imagine having the responsibility of physically restraining somebody who is trying to hurt me and trying to minimize the physical damage that I do to that person. I would snap. I would abuse my authority. So to all those cops who keep their cool and somehow manage to treat people with dignity even when they’re being physically and verbally assaulted, thank you.
I hope that real tangible, positive changes can occur as an outcome of these protests. It’s clear that some major changes in training regimens are called for. Some sort of revision needs to happen in the drills by which the snap movements in response to a potentially dangerous situation are engrained into police cadets’ instincts. More attention needs to be given to psychological tactics that deescalate conflict instead of always relying on overpowering and intimidating the other person to force them to submit. I certainly wouldn’t know how to talk down a mentally disturbed person with a weapon. I think that what many critics like me don’t appreciate enough is how much of police behavior is simply a reflection of the quality of training that was received.
One thing is for sure. Cops need to be paid a lot better than they are. You can’t say that you support cops if you don’t want to pay the taxes that pay their salaries. Yes, I’m looking at you, law and order loving libertarians. So even though New York City police union president Pat Lynch was playing super dirty to blame the murder of two police officers on Mayor Bill De Blassio as a tactic for gaining moral leverage in their contract dispute, I agree with Lynch that New York City as well as all the other municipalities in our country need to stop short-changing its public servants. They need both better pay and better training. Which means that taxpayers like me need to suck it up.
So to the cops who do a very difficult job much better than I could ever do it, thank you, God bless, and have a merry Christmas!