The thin Blue Monday


It’s like a riff on a bad joke. How many cops does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the cop has to want to change.

A year after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, not a lot has changed. Subsequent events have made relations between police and communities worse. In Baltimore, Freddie Gray’s death is still raw. Interim police chief, Kevin Davis, acknowledges there is some introspection happening. Half of white Americans, Gallup reports, are dissatisfied with how police treat blacks (down from the high 60s two years ago). Davis says:

“We have a profession with authority that no other profession has,” Mr. Davis told the AP last month. “We can take a person’s freedom away and … a human life if justification exists to do so. Where we are in this moment in time is, we have to engage in a great deal of self-examination, and look at how we can do things better.”

But the basic dynamic hasn’t changed:

Adding to the tension: The country is still entrenched in a post-9/11 national security environment that saw a widespread militarization of local police, and where soldier traditions and paramilitary tactics seeped deeper into policing culture, according to “Rise of the Warrior Cop,” by libertarian author Radley Balko.

That trend has hardened an already significant “us versus them” approach by many especially urban police departments, where some parts of town feel, at least to cops, like war zones. As part of that defensiveness, police academies focus first and foremost on the gun. US police cadets spend an average of 58 hours at the gun range and eight yours learning how to de-escalate tense situations.

Cops are taught to fear citizens; citizens fear the cops in a self-reinforcing cycle. Slate takes a ride through Baltimore with ex-cop Michael Wood Jr., a critic of police culture. “I never feared the streets,” says Wood, “But I constantly feared other officers.” (Video at the link.)

The ones who cross the line are the ones who are afraid, Wood explains. Giving them a badge and a gun doesn’t necessarily change that. Plus, fear is a legal standard. “If I am afraid that you can take my life, then I’m allowed to take yours, legally.” Living with fear day to day has a way of turning into a persistent, low-level, unhelpful anger.

Worth a watch if you’re already having a Blue Monday.

(Cross-posted from Hullabloo.)

Categories : National, Race

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