Within the litany of social ills we bestow upon ourselves continually the seemingly most popular these days is to proclaim that the justice system is broken. Cops are unfair in their brutality of the under privileged, judges are unfair in their sentencing, legal representation is unfair across the economic classes, lawyers are unfair, the incarceration process is inconsistent and unjust, hell… even the Constitution can be interpreted as being unfair. Of course to many, capital punishment is unfair (for moral reasons if nothing else). Yep.. the mess is all about humans trying to live in harmony with other humans. If other humans get in the way of the freedoms of “us” law-abiding humans then let’s pass a law and when they break it, send ‘em to jail! In fact, let’s make some of those laws with mandatory prison sentences.. take sentencing authority away from those liberal judges, damn it! Uh, huh.
Look… I’m thinking it’s time us humans begin to accept the fact that no category of humans is going to be anything but human in their conduct. It doesn’t matter what kind of pedestal we feel good placing them on, in the end they are just human like the rest of us. We’ve seen in the past our politicians fall from public grace, many times into legal disgrace; even U.S. presidents. The occasional judge ends up on CNN for being a legal putz; powerful executives of large corporations lose sight of playing fair on Wall Street, even “innocent” children barely teenagers computer hack into crime for gain or simply for the challenge. Recently it’s sports figures (it’s a bitch getting all that money at such a young age with so many temptations available). It’s inherent that we humans screw up no matter what age category or social title of importance we choose to bestow on upon each other. That leads us to that group of humans we place in charge of our daily health, welfare, and personal safety and security.. law enforcement.
No, the point of this post is not to pontificate my worthless opinion upon those who could care less, regarding cops gone wild. But the recent excesses of the police in handling suspects (I am not going into the varieties of profiling here) is a perfect example of humans messing up. Human cops have messed up and dare I suggest… it’s the rest of us humans sitting around thinking for hundreds of years that cops are above being human and don’t mess up, that have messed up as well by not enforcing a system of performance checks and balances. I mean, c’mon, folks… I’m a business manager from way back and it’s Management 101 that says when you delegate authority you just don’t remove yourself from the responsibility of monitoring that performance. I’m as shocked as the next (white) person about all the illegal apprehension, detention, brutality and murder manifesting itself… even when it’s been in the news for months and the police are still seen going to excess to the point of murder smack in front of public videographers. Is it that such flawed and misguided activity has been going on for so long that the police don’t even know when they are doing it? Or is it that the police, over the generations, have been evolving into a level of performance that represents more the convulsions of their daily encounters in poverty-stricken areas where lawlessness tends to run amok? Should we really be all that shocked to learn that police behave differently in “nice” neighborhoods than they do in “bad” neighborhoods? Seems only human to me. So to fix that do we “fix” the police or “fix” the bad neighborhood? It wasn’t the police who made that neighborhood “bad”, but for some reason we expect the police to do the impossible and make the bad neighborhood good. The law requires that all citizens be treated equally yet there is no law that all citizens should behave equally. We all behave differently because we are all human… even the police.
We can assign all the blame and finger pointing we want when trying to understand the what’s & why’s for the way the police (as in recent events) have been treating citizens of lower economic means (which, of course, is a politically nice way of saying neighborhoods of color). But the end result is that police are human, too. They are reacting and coping to the world around them as any of us do in our respective jobs… whether you are a sitting U.S. president circumventing the law thinking you have all the answers, or a football player accused of cheating by deflating a football. You can call them heroes for serving or providing great inspiration in personal achievement, but don’t let them serve alone without some form of performance vigilance. Don’t put any fellow humans on some pedestal and walk away thinking they are truly above reproach. The rules for changing this are actually built into our Constitution. In a democracy… or a republic… government always answers to a higher authority… fellow humans like you and me. It’s up to us to make it work. Just keep in mind that the Constitution was created by humans to rule humans. Hence it should always be a work in progress… and vigilance should never rest.
So what is the point of this post? Me pointing out the fallibility of us humans regardless of the level of career professionalism, celebrity or hero worship we want to attach to them. Generally speaking I feel people are basically good toward each other. What contradicts that is sometimes what circumstances are introduced into the mix. It’s not a stretch to suggest a scenario that illustrates this. You’re an off duty cop (black or white).. on your day off, thinking about doing one of those projects on the honey-do list. You head over to the local Home Depot to get some parts. Out in the parking lot a middle age black guy is trying to start his car unsuccessfully; his battery is dead. He notices you and asks, “Hey, man, do you have cables to give me a jump?” You’re in no hurry at the moment. The cables are in the trunk. You’ve been down that road yourself in your past so you can understand the frustration. You empathize. “Sure. Pop your hood and let me pull around.” After clamping the clamps and making sparks the guy’s car starts right up. He shakes your hand. “No problem.” You say, “Good luck.”… and you both part never to see each other again.
Your first day back at work you answer a shoplifting call in one of those economically challenged “neighborhoods of color” where crime is commonplace, the drug trade flourishes unabated, and cops can be targets. You’re wary about going into those neighborhoods as it is; your survival instincts are in play just as much as your instincts to do your police duty to serve and protect. Heart of hearts, you really don’t even want to be in that neighborhood. But you are a professional. Sure, you understand all the social explanations of economic plight and the family and financial hardships of the residents, and you truly do feel for them, but you are way too focused at the moment looking for a suspect while looking out for threats against your own well-being because all you want to do is finish your shift safe and get home to your family. Compassion and empathy for social problems is not important at the moment.
So given all that.. you tell me what your frame of mind will be when you confront someone matching the description of that shoplifting suspect… who just happens to be the same age and demeanor of that fellow you helped in the Home Depot parking lot. Are you going to turn on “humanitarian” or are you going to be more like “Robocop”? That’s my point. I am in NO way trying to find excuses for police brutality or defending their performance. If anyone does wrong then they should pay the price. What I am suggesting is that just as much as there are reasons black Americans in poverty neighborhoods have adjusted to living life to survive in their enclave, so have cops evolved (good or bad) in doing their jobs in trying to keep the peace in those enclaves.
I am thinking that most of the police brutality is not directed against black Americans but rather against people in poverty-stricken neighborhoods that just happen to be black (given that black cops are also susceptible to delivering brutality). It’s not a racial issue. But that’s just a white human’s opinion; a white human who has been insulated from those socio-economic problems simply because of fate… luck of the draw… throw of the dice… divine intervention.. take your pick.
I’m not perfect… because I am human. But I do know that respect between us humans can only be earned, not mandated.
“Remember humanity, forget the rest.”
(A quote often attributed to Albert Einstein but was actually part of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, a letter to world leaders by renowned scientists of the day, in 1955 warning about the pitfalls of a nuclear arms race posing a threat to the future of humanity. A quote still pertinent today given the social search for some human balance in a world of rapidly changing technology and priorities.)