Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Oklahoma Goddam, or the Whole Damn System

One thing I can't let go of from this latest macabre murder (Oklahoma Goddam, as Nina Simone would christen the incident): The officer who fired the fatal shots is a woman. Statistically, female officers are involved in very few such shootings. Given this fact, some experts have recommended increasing the number of women officers as one way to potentially eliminate these murders of civilians.
My read: the impunity granted to police officers, security guards, neighborhood patrolmen, and gas-station vigilantes who kill people from historically marginalized groups is corrosive and corrupting. An increasing number of combatants are being recruited to assist in the containment of those people--in the ghettos, in their social, economic, sexual, and psychological place. The reason is uncomplicated: there is not sufficient political will to hold them accountable.
It isn't the training. It isn't about cameras (they haven't produced any convictions, since the days of the Rodney King video). It isn't even about racism, as a matter of the individual heart. Or fear. It's about selective impunity. Police are professionals. They have a job to do and codes that can be used to evaluate the way in which they choose to do it. Every one of us who works knows that, if we know our job is on the line, we can suddenly summon up politeness and squeeze out a smile, even with people we don't like. Because the alternative is to be jobless and starving.
As far as I'm concerned, the goal is not to find out whether an officer "is racist." I'm not interested in "state of mind." I don't care what you're thinking; I care what you do. I care that your fellow officers file false reports to help you cover it up. I care that your superiors and internal affairs find no wrongdoing in their investigations. I care that prosecutors do not fulfill their sworn duty of advocating for the people and, instead, present exculpatory evidence to exonerate police officers (when they never do the same for other citizens). I care that judges (and appeals courts) allow bench trials, so that the few officers who are indicted do not have to face a jury of their peers. I care that grand juries and trial juries decide to "believe" that someone who is fleeing, at one moment, returns to kill his pursuer the next... or that a man can be held liable for attempted murder of one passenger in a car but not guilty of the murder of the unarmed driver of the same car.
The most memorable chant to me, from the BLM marches has been this: "Indict. Convict. Send those killer cops to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell." Until the state holds officers accountable, the number of additional people deputized to keep those people contained will expand and the means of containment will also expand. This is not an anomaly; it goes to the core of who our nation thinks has a right to be, to move, to be protected, and who must be a threat, even when they are surrendering, fleeing, being beaten by four officers with clubs; when they have already when hit by two bullets, when they actually called the police for assistance, when they are having a cigarette in their car or holding their child on their lap.
In order to maintain any credibility whatsoever, the government of this nation must apply the law to police officers as it does to any other citizen. Indict. Convict. Levy appropriate consequences. Upholding the illusion that black people, Latinos, Muslims, and Native Americas are demons, drug addicts with superhuman strength, whores, or ball-busting women--all of whom had it coming--is simply too damaging to both government credibility and the national psyche.

1 comment:

  1. The strange sensation that has developed for me is the sense that I don't know the police. I think my childhood psyche has always viewed the police as the abstract good guy who punishes the bad guys. It's a simplistic image but it's distinctly married to how I've thought of the police as a default.
    It's an incredibly seductive, comforting perspective: the police are there to protect me. Not to enforce laws. But specifically for my protection.
    I think that construction creates the belief that anything they do springs from a place of over-protection, of too much love. I feel like I see this (white) viewpoint a lot in print (because I'm not engaging with anyone I don't agree with anymore apparently).
    Now, the construction is put to the lie.
    How do you walk back from that image? How do you market that change? What changes people's comfortable folktale about American police? Even typing that sentence feels like I'm stepping out of mainstream thought. I've seen horrible videos! And typing the notion that the police are not good feels transgressive.
    I think a conviction would change things. Watching guilty police punished. At worst it would serve as a moral hazard for police who feel that they are on beyond reproach.
    I hope you'll write more in this space.