Editorial: Are There Any Good Cops?

by Carl Strang

This is a nature blog, but from time to time I have felt the need to insert an editorial. This is one of those times. I am an ecologist, trained and practiced in seeing connections among things. The city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, is in my study region and I have picked up singing insect county records in its parks. It saddens me to think that Kenosha may come to be thought of with the same negative connotations that saddled Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, in my youth.

The title of this post is deliberately provocative. Frequently I have seen the opinion expressed that bad cops who shoot to kill innocent civilians simply because they are black are a minority, that most cops are good cops. But I feel that at this point in our history we need a redefinition of what constitutes a good cop. Is it enough to be a police officer who does not grab any opportunity to kill a black man? Consider what happens in the wake of the headlines. Police unions close ranks in support of the officers who commit these killings. Seeing this, attorneys general do not press charges. We hear nothing from the supposed “good cops.”

Police officers are human beings. It needs to be acknowledged by all that this means some of them are mean spirited, that some are the manipulative sort who will call upon their “brothers” to support their evil actions. This needs to change. There needs to be a transformation of cop culture so that the ranks recognize and fail to support those few who use the power of their position to do evil. There need to be conversations in police stations, leadership by chiefs, making clear that those who try to use the power of their badge to do wrong will be outcast. Chiefs and veteran officers need to make clear to attorneys general that they need to do their jobs, and the good cops will support them.

It is fair to ask how I, an old white guy, have acted with respect to this issue. From the early times when wrongful killings of black men and women by white cops came into the news, I have imagined myself in the position of a black man and realized how this can make them fearful. I have felt profound respect for the patriotism and restraint of African American culture, given the history of slavery, lynchings, segregation and racism. My response has been on the personal level, smiling, waving, and greeting those I meet with a special emphasis on those of other races. I recognize that I am a symbol, and I try to create a positive, supportive moment of encounter to counterbalance the frowns and rejections.

It extends beyond race. I am a runner, and I love the girl runners. I love the way women have embraced my sport, and I am happy when I encounter a woman on the trails. As always, I wave and smile. Often the greeting is pointedly ignored. I understand this and admire the courage of a woman who goes out alone for a run, knowing how women runners have been sexually assaulted and killed by evil men. I recognize the fear and am saddened by it.

I suppose my behavior could be labeled racist or sexist. Yes, I recognize the race, gender, and age of every person I meet. Over the years I have learned through experience that differences of gender and race have little meaning for me, however. Each individual is worthy, and differences of race, gender, sexuality and so forth are insignificant compared to the uniqueness of each person. It is our behavior and regard of one another, not abstractions or stereotypes of race, gender, etc., that matter.

What about demonstrations? The motivation to express opposition to these wrongful killings is understandable, but they have a counterproductive component. Some express their outrage through violence. Even if only a few behave in this way, it supports the notion that the demonstrations are against the police as a whole, setting up an us-versus-them framework so that police sometimes respond in force, feeling unified in supporting one another and justified in using violence even against the peaceful protesters.

The opponent here is not the police, but something more abstract: a cultural tradition of tribal identity, loyalty and brotherhood. Those are strong bonds, but they must be made apparent as weaknesses being exploited by wrongdoers. They must be revealed as secondary to the reason we have police in the first place: to serve and protect. Serve. Protect. Serve and protect the public first, and fellow police officers second when the two come into conflict.

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