Sunday, October 25, 2015

#RiseUpOctober: Bad apples

National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Thursday 10/22, via Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

Some beloved commenters here and at NMMNB have made me feel misunderstood over yesterday's post on FBI director James Comey. Commenter Ten Bears wrote,
I have issues with this notion the cops are "protecting" me. They do not, nor have they ever. Me, or my family. More like an armed gang roaming the countryside terrorising the population.
Ten Bears, that's exactly what "protection" means, in certain circles.

The post wan't well enough written, though, and I'd like to try to make my point more explicit.

I don't actually know whether a majority, vast or otherwise, of US police officers are hardworking professionals and deeply humane and caring individuals or not, and strictly speaking there's no way I can know, because the institutions of police accountability seem to be designed to make sure we can't find out, which might make you a little suspicious.

I do know that a lot of us feel that there's a real problem with it, and I don't think we're hallucinating. Maybe it's a few-bad-apples in a vast-majority-of-brave-and etc., and maybe it's a set of institutional problems that put so many cops on the scale from indifferent (as when our Brooklyn apartment was robbed three times in two years and I couldn't even get them to produce a report to explain to the cable company why my cable box was missing) through venal (from traffic cops issuing tickets to narcotics agents seizing serious property, as if their central task was to shake citizens down), to downright violent, inflicting special torments mainly on African Americans, ranging from constant harassment to murder.

What you can say for sure is two things: (1) that there certainly is some kind of serious problem with police in the US, which we need as a society to know more about and to fix, and (2) that videos, both dashboard and body cams for the cops themselves and cellphone videos by bystanders, are part of the solution. They are part of the solution in that they provide evidence of what is really going on, which police institutions have historically been unwilling to provide for some reason, and in that they pressure cops to behave decently, should they be otherwise inclined.

When I say Comey was "insulting" cops in claiming that the fear of being taped was making them unable to do their jobs, I mean to say he is either telling horrible lies about them or inadvertently acknowledging a more horrible truth.

Some Tweeted images from yesterday's march in New York, the third day of this week's Rise Up October protests against police brutality, via WPIX TV, suggest that even under the glare of massive public attention some NYPD officers have a really hard time recognizing citizens' rights:

Another thing: that "few bad apples" trope is always being used in a strangely incomplete way, cutting off the operative half of the proverb to create a meaning that's exactly the opposite of what the proverb teaches. "Oh, it's only a few bad apples." No, it's what happens to the entire barrel if you start with even a single bad apple. If cops are apples, there's a good chance that our barrels were spoiled decades ago.

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