Monday, July 18, 2016

Race issues and Police Killings in the United States

Black nurse standing up to police officers in gear and armor
The recent cases of police officers being ambushed and killed in the United States is very frightening and alarming, to say the least. The fact that officers who are there to serve and protect us and whose job it is to uphold the law are slaughtered in a brutal and cowardly manner is a dangerous portent of anarchy and is a reprehensible act. There is, as President Obama has put it, no justification in those acts.

Yet although I fully condemn such atrocious acts, I can see how and why they have come about. Within the American police force, there are officers some of whom have abused their power and authority and have killed innocent black people. Unprovoked or exaggerated reactions towards people of color is nothing new, but nowadays thanks to current technology, it has come to the forefront; these incidents are unacceptable and completely out of place in any time period, but more so in our day and age. 

Surely, I am not one to believe that acts of violence can ever have positive effects, but I understand the sense of frustration and impotence when facing these abuses of power. These officers are like school bullies, except that the school authorities seem to side with them in this case. As a result, the victims feel helpless and let down by the system as a whole. In a society where self-defense is accepted and in some cases encouraged, acts of retribution may fall within dangerous perimeters of possible tolerance.

Innocent people have been killed on both sides of the spectrum and for those who believe two wrongs make a right, there may be a sense of vindication here. In fact, the shock and uproar over dead police officers is much more palpable and disproportionate compared to the continuous slayings of black people (there have been a number of documented cases in which the so-called perpetrators have been unarmed and even innocent).

This is where the hypocrisy of the system can be felt and where it does seem that the state favors its own, the police force over the general black populace. This is why movements like Black Lives Matter need to occur since in everyday life, their voices are not given the weight and importance they should.

If the state is interested in upholding a sense of justice and not merely protecting its flock or (inadvertently) sanctioning wrongdoings against the black population, something must be done in this regard. Put differently, if those who are supposed to protect the people (and that means all people not a select few of them), are not doing their job, then they ought to be punished under the full force of the law. If it ignores or justifies illegal proceedings and killings against a group of its citizens, then the state, as a whole, cannot be trusted or respected.

To reiterate my point, all of this is careless and dangerous. It can lead to utter chaos and unnecessary racial conflicts. This is all happening under the eyes of the first black president, and it is undermining progress that has been made over the past decades. 

This is not to say that the civil rights movement has reached or fulfilled its goals; many of those promises have fallen short and true equality is far from ideal, but both groups, white and black need to step up and find a way to deescalate the tensions and to ensure that things do not get worse before they get any better. 

There are three broad suggestions I would like to make for the state and the police force. I believe that first and foremost, we need to cleanse the force from its rotten apples. This needs to be done in a clear and impartial manner. 

Those who have committed crimes need to be brought to justice; some have, but many others have not. Merely wearing a uniform does not give people the right to break the law. The police union needs to stop supporting them, or else the shame and blame could fall upon each and very member of the law enforcement.

This means that all those good cops, and they are the silent majority here, ought to distance themselves from their evil brothers and even condemn and denounce any possible wrongdoings. I understand the feelings of solidarity and brotherhood among members of law enforcement, but in this situation they would be fully misplaced. Worse, this type of support for evildoers would endanger fellow police officers who are indeed doing a great job to secure peace and order in these chaotic and troubling times.

The second point is about the screening process itself. Police officers should not only be physically but also psychologically fit for the job. Any person who demonstrates bigotry or racist ideology should be immediately discarded from the position. They cannot be entrusted with protecting all citizens if they have their own inherent prejudices especially if those would interfere with their actions and could lead to cases of injustice.

Thirdly, the state must ensure that the police officers earn the salary they deserve and, more importantly, that they are not overworked. Police officers deal with human lives on a daily basis and they need to have sufficient rest as their job is stressful enough as it is. They fall in the same category as surgeons and pilots; if they are overworked, their lack of concentration and errors can cost human lives.

Also, they should have constant support and access to health services. Counselors have to be at hand for any traumas or stressful situations. Let’s face it, police officers have to deal with the worst types of people often on a daily basis. As a result, they can turn bitter, cynical, and even paranoid.

Police officers witness horrible and devastating scenes of pain and violence, and it is important that they can deal with all of these issues and that these experiences do not have a negative impact on their psychological and emotional well-being. A police officer needs to be constantly responsive. That includes being well-tuned to the respective situation and even have (if not show) empathy and compassion whenever necessary. A police officer who lacks those qualities cannot be fully effective and may make matters worse.

A final observation is also aimed at veterans. They are the ones who at the bidding of the state get their hands and fingers stained with blood; they kill in the name of their country and they risk being maimed and psychologically damaged as well as killed in the line of duty. The Dallas shooter had served in Afghanistan, while the Baton Rouge shooter had served as a marine in Iraq and their military service must have had traumatic impacts on their psyche. Veterans need to be treated well; they must be taken care of and the state owes them at least as much for all that they have done for the sake of the nation.

To sum up, the United States has reached an important breaking point, all of which is taking place in an election year. With all of this trauma, there is the chance to heal and forge ahead in unity against the ugly faces of hatred, bigotry, and racism. Killings need to come to an end, be it police officers or black people; at the same time, respect needs to ensue, a respect that involves both sides and that can hopefully lead to trust and peace among the diverse faces of the American nation.

No comments: