by Edwin Crayton
You know the police have a real problem on their hands when stories involving police brutality are so disturbing, they actually move the Corona virus story off the front page. On the other hand, let’s face it. There are good cops and bad cops. Just like there are good doctors and bad ones, good baseball players and bad ones, or good parents and bad ones. The trouble is, when cops make a mistake or act in racist ways, it can be lethal to members of the public. Recently this has been amplified in the unfortunate and impossible to justify deaths of black citizens at the hands of police. Our emotions may tempt us to begin to believe all cops are bad or racist. But it may help to take a step back and realize that view is unrealistic and a bit unfair. Simple historical facts show cops are neither all good, nor all bad. Here are some examples of cops who played the roles of either good cops or bad ones.
Bad cops: During segregation, it is widely discussed that some southern sheriffs and cops routinely partnered with white supremacists to trap and kill black people. One technique during the Civil Rights Movement was to arrest activists, then release them at night. The activists would often later be found dead.
Good cops: In 1960 four black school girls integrated two elementary schools in New Orleans. The girls, Ruby Bridges, Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost and Gail Etiene had to be guarded as they walked past screaming mobs. Few stop to realize the marshals who had to escort them to school, might have been killed by someone lurking in the hostile crowds.
Bad cops: In 1963, police in Birmingham allowed their dogs to attack protestors, some of whom were children.
Good cops: In 1983, police in Los Angeles realized that enforcement alone would not stop young people from using drugs. So they partnered with the Los Angeles Unified School District to found D.A.R.E., a drug resistance education program for elementary school students. The program is now a respected program across the nation and in 50 other countries and 12,000 officers have graduated, enabling them to reach scores of children.
Bad cops: In the 1980s and 90s, the growing trade in crack cocaine was devastating the black community. A potent, highly addictive, cheap drug, crack seemed designed for poor black ghettos and was referred to by some as the “white slave master”. Some cops got a piece of the action and were corrupted by the money. To prove white cops have no monopoly on doing harm to blacks, some of these “dirty” drug dealing cops were African American.Bad cops: On March 3, 1991, a black man named Rodney King was beaten brutally by Los Angeles police after a high speed chase. The cops were acquitted by a mostly white jury and this led to riots in L.A. Later two of the police officers were convicted on Civil Rights charges. King made a statement during the riots that became famous. He asked, “Why can’t we all get along?”
Rodney King’s question is one we should try to answer today. Why is it we cannot all get along? Why is race still an issue in America? Perhaps the question was answered a few thousand years ago. In Matthew 5:43-45, Jesus taught that we should “love our enemies.” He pointed out that anyone can love his friends, but the key is to love those who do not love us. That does not mean feeling mushy about people who choke you to death by kneeling on your neck, the way the cop did George Floyd. But it means we need to try not to fight evil with evil. We don’t want cops to demonize blacks, showing no respect to black citizens. But at the same time, is it any better if we paint all cops with the same brush, calling them all racist? There are some who are proposing to dismantle or reorganize the police departments. Is that really what we need? Or, do we need to take each tragedy separately and try to fix what does not work in the system without throwing out the baby with the bath water? We need police. Criminals are not going away. We need a barrier between them and us. We just need to weed out the bad cops. Fire them. Or prosecute them. Or retrain them. Cops need to be taught how to interact with people from different cultures. But training also seems appropriate on the citizen side of the equation. We need to teach children how to interact with the police. Mutual respect is needed. Resisting arrest is always a no-no.
It was good to see community outrage and public outcry. It mattered that people protested—even some cops protested. It worked because it led to arrests. That shows that getting involved matters. One last lesson for the young: vote. Place people in positions of power who will treat you with respect and hear your concerns on policing. and other issues There will always be good cops and bad cops. Getting involved in your community helps increase the odds we will be able to have more good ones than bad.
Categories: Special Feature