It is no secret that the American police have been under heightened scrutiny lately. I’m guessing that there were probably protests either in your city or somewhere close by this summer, and there are still protests going on today that seek to raise awareness about criminal justice reform. Just this week, the Breonna Taylor grand jury announcement sparked a resurgence in protests, as neither of the police officers who killed Taylor were indicted. Right now, it seems that people have a lot to say about both the police and the people protesting against the police, and this issue doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.
One of the most recent high-profile tragedies involving the American police has been the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Blake, while in the process of being arrested, attempted to reach inside the driver side door of his car and was then shot in the back seven times by one of the arresting officers. The Blake shooting sparked widespread protests and unrest in America, but it is just the latest incident of police brutality in a long string of similar flashpoint cases that run throughout American history that all share two common elements: White police officers needlessly using deadly force against Black victims, and a consistent failure to administer justice to the officers involved. These two elements point to two different but related problems with our police systems.
The first is that there are too many bad cops patrolling American streets today. I’m sure everyone that saw the video of George Floyd’s murder could immediately recognize that that guy definetly should not be a cop. Getting these isolated “bad apples” out of police stations is a very necessary and urgent first step.
But the second element I mentioned earlier points to a more systemic problem with our criminal justice system: We currently have a system that is failing to adequately punish bad cops. It is one thing for a police officer to kill a suspect in an unwarranted situation. It is an even worse tragedy for that cop to then not be held accountable and to essentially get away with it. And when these cases involve White officers and Black victims, it all seems to point to a bigger problem than just “a few bad apples.”
So does that mean that all cops are bad? Am I saying that we should abolish the police? Does pointing out issues with our criminal justice system and calling for reform mean that I am not supporting our cops? Absolutely not. As Stephen Covey would put it, that is a sucker’s choice. This does not have to be and should not be an either/or situation.
I think being a police officer is one of the most noble and courageous professions one can pursue. I do not have the courage to do what our police officers do on a day-to-day basis. Many of you are probably thinking of a police officer you know that you greatly respect and know is truly doing a good job. I am thinking of Joe Pickering who attends my church back home in Columbus, Ohio.
So if I say that we have systemic problems with our criminal justice system that largely have to do with race, does that mean that I think Joe is secretly racist and that I don’t respect or commend him for putting his life on the line everyday back home? Of course not. It is entirely possible to respect and admire our police systems and still demand to see them be held accountable and reformed. In fact, I think one of the best ways we can support police officers is by helping improve their credibility through reforming the issues that are causing so many people to discredit them. Holding our police accountable means supporting cops that do good police work and, more importantly, punishing cops who overstep their legal boundaries. That is merely a call for justice.
Again, the common goal here is to have the best policing system in America possible. The way to get there is not through “ACAB” rhetoric or by insisting that cops can do no wrong in the line of duty. Many people in America already affirm the stance I am promoting here and are using their voice to advocate for societal healing. But their voices are too often drowned out by the arrogance and intolerance of people who let their anger overpower their reason and empathy. At least at Harding, let’s use our voices to “let justice roll down like waters.”