The “national conversation” about race and policing we’ve been having ever since Michael Brown was shot by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., last summer has been based on lies. The lie that Officer Wilson shot Brown while he had his hands up and was pleading “Don’t shoot.” The lie that New York City policemen targeted Eric Garner for a violent arrest because he was black. The lie, peddled especially by the progressive prince of New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio, that the police are racist.
These are the lies that fuel hatred for the police, because if the police routinely execute black men in cold blood and serve a thoroughly racist system, they deserve to be hated. They should be the subject of nightly protests. They should be showered with obloquy. They should be harried by Attorney General Eric Holder. They should be considered a stain on the national conscience to be extricated at all costs.
The logic of the de Blasio view tends toward the conclusion that the police are unbelievably insidious: They recruit people of all races to go into dangerous neighborhoods on the pretense of protecting innocent people there, when in reality the mission is to harass black kids and, should the opportunity arise, kill them. If this were true, it would make the police as a class not just racists, but sociopaths.
It fails the basic standard of common sense, and defies the numbers. As Heather Mac Donald of City Journal writes: “Criminologists have spent decades trying to prove that the overrepresentation of blacks and Hispanics in prison demonstrates that the criminal justice system is racist. And each time they fail. Even the most left-wing academics have been forced to admit that crime, not race, determines criminal justice outcomes.”
Police go where the crime is, and at considerable risk to themselves. Surely, if their own comfort and safety were all that mattered to them, they would spend all their time patrolling the poshest neighborhoods in America.
Police critics have taken Ferguson and Garner and have woven them into a narrative of reckless disregard for the lives of blacks. After the grand jury declined to indict in the Garner case, de Blasio referred to a “profound” crisis. The numbers suggest the opposite: As crime has declined — thanks, in part, to rigorous policing — police interactions with the public have declined and have involved fewer instances of the use of force.
I have never been reluctant to criticize the cops when they deserve it. I made a category here called “Bad Cop, No Donut” just for those posts. But the fact is the overwhelming majority of cops are good cops. We only hear about it when they screw up, or wants somebody wants us to think they screwed up.
Once upon a time there were no legal requirements to be a cop and no screening. It usually just required family and/or political connections. Beginning with Sir Robert Peel in England (for whom “Bobbies” were named) police work became modernized.
Today’s police officers are carefully screened, with written, physical and psychological tests and background checks. The few bad ones that slip thru are usually caught in the field training and probation process.
But cops are human. Sometimes good cops go bad due to stress and burnout. We all have bad days and bad times in our lives. We expect cops to always use cold, impartial judgment when they are caught in the heat of the moment.
Cops never know from one day to the next what they are going to get. A cop can literally be bored and sleepy one minute and then fighting for his life the next. A life-and-death situation can happen five minutes into a shift or five minutes before it is supposed to end. It can happen anywhere, anytime, any day of the year.
Cops are human, and humans fuck up. Sometimes it is bad judgment, sometimes negligence, but malice is rare. Racism can be a factor too, as cops are not immune either. Most of the time their fuck ups are civil, not criminal.
Cops need to be held accountable. Bad cops should be fired and where appropriate, prosecuted. The agencies they work for are civilly liable for injuries and damages. But those agencies need to provide proper training, supervision and discipline. Accountability starts at the top. But we mustn’t forget that cops have rights and are entitled to due process too.
As we have seen in recent high-profile cases, we must reserve judgment until the facts are in. As Joe Friday used to say, “Just the facts, ma’am.” Not rumors, tweets and news reports, because they are unreliable.