Protests, Police, and the Cycle of Resentment

Following the death of George Floyd, I am disturbed by the images I’ve seen of police brutality towards those who are protesting it. Granted every phone camera is pointed at them, it is still a testament to the problems with the police force in the U.S. that it is so easy to catch incidents of rage-driven violence on their part.

And it is rage, unfortunately. I would much rather it be incompetence. Both are unacceptable, but the former implies the latter anyway. An officer charged with enforcing the law in a consistent and unbiased manner is incompetent if he lets his emotions dictate his actions. There is plenty of evidence of this and I am disheartened to see it. Where does it appear in the training manual to shove someone who poses no threat to you? During which exercises do the police learn how many swings of a baton are appropriate to disperse one individual?

All this is awful and I don’t mind saying that it’s an even greater atrocity when the police act violently than when protesters do, because they have greater responsibility.

I won’t be denounced for shaking my finger at the police like I have been for criticizing rioters, because that isn’t the narrative right now. I have been asked, using these exact words, “to focus on the narrative that matters.” From what I can gather, the narrative is this: that one should be more outraged about the persecution of a group than with that group’s imperfect reaction to their persecution. In this case, that means that by drawing attention to the violence of the protests which have taken place in response to the killing of George Floyd, we distract from the more important issue, which is the suffering of the black community.

The integrity of this argument is put into question when you realize that the exact same argument can be made in favor of the police at the moment. They are having a rather hard go of it. Many great officers are being harassed for misdeeds in which they had no part. Is this not understandable? If I am being told that, on account of the injustices suffered by an individual, I must look past his decision to hurl a brick at an officer, it follows that I also look past an officer’s excessive batoning on account of the bricks that have been hurled at him.

So, you can see how this is a hideous cycle. If the whole police force is demonized for the sins of a minority of bad cops, then the actions of a few rioters can likewise make the whole protest a stench to the police. Condemnation of brutality has to be according to a principle of non-violence, not on the basis of who has suffered greater injustice. Everyone is responsible for their actions. As soon as you start weighing the validity of a group’s indignation, it becomes a very vengeful philosophy. I will not excuse a violent protester no matter what he has suffered, neither will I excuse a violent police officer, regardless of how much has been thrown at him. This really is the only consistent standard one can have.

Nevertheless, I would still like to close with an acknowledgment that the state of the police in America is lamentable. The individual cases of police misconduct we read about in the headlines provide only a small sample size, but this response of law enforcement to recent protests has lead to an outbreak of police brutality which is undeniable and frightening. It points to some very defective protocols which need urgently to be addressed. I hope all the chaos will at least lead to some good reform.

Such a heavy subject calls for some winding down, perhaps with some nice music. Go take a listen over at my music page.

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