I can’t believe I’m writing yet another article regarding police brutality and the unjust deaths of innocent black men. I’m horrified, heartbroken and utterly exhausted. Within 48 hours, two men were gunned down at the hands of police officers – Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota.
And, as usual, there have been those who will search for any justification for the killings of these men. The guns on their bodies, their criminal activities, their appearance and demeanor. There are those who cry out about the risks associated with the field of law enforcement. The ones who grab our collective grief and and tell us we need to care for the officers who put their lives at risk everyday. Those are the true victims here.
But to claim inherent victimhood for police officers is to ignore the power differential that exists between cops and citizens. We are not on an equal playing field. The same way your doctor, your therapist, your teacher and other professionals have the upper hand. We are always in a position to submit to their authority, and the unwillingness to do so – or even a slight misstep – could mean risking our safety, well-being and actual lives.
And this is all the more so for people of color.
We allow police officers badges and guns because we acknowledge the power and risk of the job. They should be held to a higher standard, both of respect and critique. When an officer kills an unarmed black man because he felt threatened or afraid, the response shouldn’t be, “Well, what would you do in that situation?” That’s why I’m not a fucking cop. I couldn’t handle that situation.
If you are permitted to carry a gun at work, I expect you to have a greater threshold for fear and panic than the average citizen. While I acknowledge that they are only human, I expect a certain level of grace and tact that doesn’t exist in the general population. If I can’t expect slightly more responsibility and calm in the wake of chaos, why should they expect the privilege of handling weapons day in and day out.
But there are some who want it both ways. They want us to acknowledge the incredible power of law enforcement while claiming they’re just like the rest of us. If they really are just like the rest of us, why have them at all? If you really want to claim that we’re all on the same playing field, that we would all respond to these situations the same way, why bother having a uniform, badge and certain protections to distinguish any difference between them and the general population? Why did they go through all of that training to get the job?
Perhaps it’s because you and I both know that it’s bullshit. You know there’s a difference, and that difference is the respect that comes with a position of authority. It’s the privilege of being in a position of power almost everywhere you go. You just don’t want responsibility and courage to go along with that, apparently.
They’re heroes when they do something you like and scared children who must be coddled rather than critiqued when something goes awry. All power and no responsibility. It kinda seems like the life to me (though it would make for a terrible Spider-man motto).
And on the flip side, you have these young black men – the ones who are burdened with the responsibility of representing themselves and their community at all times. These men who must all be saints, because anything short of that seems to be justification for their slaughter. These men who must not give a crooked glance or a suspicious grin. They did nothing but be born unaccepted and already criminalized. They must be utterly perfect so those poor, terrified officers don’t fall into their accepted flawed behavior. These men who can only expect reluctant martyrdom, not heroism. All for being born the wrong color.
When you cry about the victimization of cops, what you’re really saying is that white privilege and comfort is more important than black lives. That an officer should have no expectations of courage, tact and professionalism while a black man must embody sainthood to save his life.
Or, more sufficiently, what you are really saying is black lives don’t matter.
Molly Regan is an improviser and writer in Baltimore. She likes chicken pot pie, Adam Scott’s butt and riot grrl.