The above is an article that one of my “friends” on Facebook (whom I have not seen or spoken to since middle school) posted and that showed up on my news feed. I read it because I was curious a few days ago, and it has been like a splinter in the back of my mind since. You know how it goes… when you read something that offends you and you can’t quite get over it until you tell someone - anyone - what you thought about it? So thanks for bearing with me through yet another one of my ridiculous rants.
If you are not interested in reading the article itself, here is a brief synopsis: the author argues that police officers are being unfairly victimized these days, and that the public does not adequately recognize the personal sacrifices they make every day to do what, to a certain extent, is just a job they do to pay the bills like anyone else. She points out that officers not only put their lives on the line, but also lack sleep, endure high levels of stress, and miss important connections with their families because of their jobs. Finally, she argues that the kind of protesting seen in Ferguson over the past week can be boiled down to sin and to the rejection of a righteous authority (which is both one of the most deeply offensive and deeply disturbing things that I have ever heard someone say about the police, but I’ll get to that later).
Let me just say, first of all: yes, police officers as individuals deserve our gratitude and our recognition. It is a difficult and often thankless job, and we should be aware of this when we interact with police officers in our daily lives. And the families of police officers deserve recognition too, both for the support they provide these individuals and for the sacrifices they themselves make so that we can have a force that keeps the peace.
HOWEVER: It is inappropriate and offensive to suggest that what we should really be thinking about in Ferguson is the police officers, while the police force there is bypassing justice for murder and brutally oppressing a population, which has constitutional right to protest, with tactics that have been declared illegal during war by international law. She writes of the stress and fear that police officers feel during their daily lives because of their training and awareness of danger, but how does she think the citizens of Ferguson feel? Those people who are unarmed and untrained being surrounded day and night by officers with military equipment and weapons drawn? She writes of police officers who have been killed in the line of duty, but do consider that those police officers took their job knowing that death was a risk; what about all of the unarmed individuals - young black men as well as other others - who have been brutalized or killed with little provocation? Don’t the police exist, in part, to provide a reasonable expectation that one can live one’s daily life without threat of violence or death? Are the protesting citizens of Ferguson less human and worthy of empathy than the police officers of Ferguson? Apparently, considering that this woman mentions them only as an unruly mob of people, rather than a group of individuals united by a common purpose.
And how dare she compare lawful protests to sin? (I admit that my inability to understand where she is coming from with this statement is in part due to my specific life trajectory - the fact that I am non-religious, my opportunity to attend college prep and liberal arts schools, and my interest in history and philosophy have all contributed to a specific worldview that is, apparently, radically different from hers.) Even if one takes for granted the existence of a divine authority, how can you equate the authority of police officers - who are human individuals who represent one of many human governments - to the authority of a god (or gods)? Thinking of the authority of the police or the government as absolute and inviolable is extraordinarily dangerous and completely contrary to everything that the United States stands for, and has stood for since its founding. Is this really the perspective that part of the US population takes when they see events like those in Ferguson?
I would also like to add that all of her talk about sleepless nights and stress that officers experience does not bolster by faith in the police. How can we trust the police to make the best decisions on the street if they are both exhausted and inappropriately armed to the teeth? This goes along with one of the main criticisms that have followed the protests in Ferguson, which is that there is a significant structural problem with the nature of local police forces in the United States today. Providing support in the form of military weapons is not what the police need; it sounds like they need support in the form of personnel, as well as mental and emotional training and counseling to help them deal with the very real stress of their job.
I don’t really have a good answer, per se, to this article, only questions and indignation. I suppose the best we can do is hope that this tragedy - and especially, I think, the international response to it - spur a national conversation about race, the police, and inequality that eventually produces something better than the mess we live in today.