Or black, or khaki, or camoflauge or whatever police officers are wearing these days.
The events in Ferguson and St. Louis are by no means unique. But they have called attention to a long-festering problem in the US. I recognize that there are many honorable and well-intentioned police officers. Unfortunately, their good work is being overwhelmed by a growing mob of violent bullies behind badges.
I first became aware of police violence in the 1950’s when I saw police brutality against peaceful civil rights marches. In the 1960’s I saw police brutally beat anti-Vietnam War prostestors. In the 1980’s, I saw the results of an off-duty police officer ruthlessly beating an unarmed college student. (The officer’s penalty was to be assigned as public relations officer for the department.) I became involved in an incident when police handcuffed and held an African-American employee for walking while black. I heard dozens of black friends describe repeated abuse by police officers. I witnessed six city cops mace and brutally beat a black man who was already cuffed and lying face down in the snow and slush. I served on a jury for an assault trial in which the police brought charges against a black man without investigating the case. I read reports of six cops fatally shooting a frail, mentally ill woman brandishing a kitchen knife.
I thought all of this was bad, until I witnessed the cell phone video of the police shooting in St. Louis. The victim was most certainly mentally ill. The knife he was carrying was small. He could easily have been stopped and disarmed with a baton or a taser. (I’ve managed to defend myself against a knife-wielding attacker with no weapons and no Kevlar vest.) Yet two officers, both larger than the victim, pumped at least 7 rounds into the victim. The other responding officers arrived on scene with very bad attitudes and unnecessarily bullied the witnesses.
Unfortunately, this event is far from unusual. In just the past few weeks, we’ve learned of the killing of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson; of an unarmed man in Los Angeles; of a mentally ill 50-year old woman in Phoenix who was holding a claw hammer. We’ve seen a California cop brutally beat an unarmed black woman on the side of a freeway. We’ve seen a NYC cop strangle an unarmed black man to death. We’ve seen Missouri police forces surround a community with military vehicles and assault rifles pointed at unarmed protesters. And we’ve seen a police officer randomly pointing an assault weapon at demonstrators and yelling “I’m going to f***ing kill you.”
This is not policing. It’s sanctioned bullying and worse…almost certainly the result of NRA-sponsored laws which have made guns more readily available and police more nervous; of the government program that provides military weapons to police forces that have no need for them; of our national infatuation with big boy toys and weaponry; of police training that encourages the use of lethal force when threatened; of police consultants who promote confrontation; of rampant racism and the oppression of black and brown people; of political fear-mongering that makes citizens afraid of their neighbors and encourages them to excuse police brutality as long as it makes them feel safe; of prosecutors who are afraid of the political consequences for filing charges against cops; and of a disengaged populace who are afraid to speak up against police brutality.
It’s time for this to end.