Our police forces in America today seem to be either victimized or villainized by the entire populace all at once, with very little in between. Media sources and news outlets only aggravate the problem more by over-sensationalizing everything, from isolated shootings to actual incidents of police brutality, and the cultural issues connected to these problems, such as gun control, violent crime, and institutionalized racism. No one is blameless in this situation, and really, we all have a responsibility when it comes to how we allow ourselves to be influenced by the media and how much sway we each allow public opinion to hold over our thoughts and perceptions we have of our own communities.
But the issue we seem to be having with police brutality these days is not only worsened by polarizing media coverage, it is a cultural problem that often turns a blind eye and justifies institutionalized racism, racial profiling, and militant police action. It’s certainly not difficult to understand why some people have begun sharply criticizing law enforcement techniques, since it has become relatively normal to hear about acts of violence involving police and almost daily accounts of citizen fatalities at the hands of cops who are often not even held accountable in these incidents. Now we’re also seeing officers slaughtered senselessly in our streets, probably due at least in part to a widespread and growing distrust of police, which has been fueled by the now infamous killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri back in 2014, and the deaths of many others since then. These acts are sure to inflame those on the other side of the debate, creating and endless back and forth tug of war battle between statists who want their security and activists fighting for liberty.
By now we are all well aware of the efforts being made to bring attention to the injustices involving the slaying of black folks all across our country, promoted heavily through the actions and social media presence of the #blacklivesmatter campaign. Though there has been a mixed response to some of their tactics and criticism of their intentions, there’s no doubt this burgeoning civil rights movement is facilitating a national conversation about racism in our country. And unfortunately, it is a problem that still exists, even 150 years after the abolishment of slavery. We’ve come so far, yet still seem to have so far to go before we truly reach a point of common understanding and human decency.
To make matters worse, we’ve also continued to see regular accounts of mass shootings in the media, which often accompany intense debates and some speculative paranoia between gun rights activists and gun control advocates. In many ways, it seems we’re being pushed toward the precipice of our collective tolerance for violence of all kinds in our society. Within this narrative, there’s is also a thread of discussion regarding racism and mental illness as well. However, the issue of Dylann Roof and other recently publicized mass murderers is not really one of racism or gun control at it’s base. The problem is one of mental and spiritual health, a cultural epidemic that plagues us all. Tensions that we continue to experience between average citizens and government officials, poor people (black, brown or white) and police officers, or even between religious zealots and atheists, is more due to a lack of concern for one another as fellow humans than anything else. The insidious nature of this epidemic truly affects us all equally.
To move forward with mental clarity and impartiality, we must look at all these issues from many different points of view. Certainly, thousands brave police officers put their lives on the line every day to be of service to those who are in trouble in various ways. But we must also consider the fact that they’ve been taught to coerce people into incriminating themselves and they are expected to enforce unjust laws that are overly punitive, especially for those committing victimless crimes. Drug offenders are easy targets when it comes to getting the job done, particularly in regard to marijuana; a substance that is actually linked to lessening aggressive and violent behavior and is relatively benign overall. But for an officer on the street there also quotas and deadlines to meet, even if it is demanded of them “unofficially.” And for the average cannabis user, whether middle class, low income, or impoverished and on the street, the fact that possessing and enjoying a plant can get you put in jail, or possibly pushed to become a criminal in prison, is an tremendous injustice that only worsens the situation for everyone.
For police playing a numbers game, this is no way to keep our communities safe. It’s okay if you’re selling widgets or collecting signatures, but in relation to writing tickets and making arrests, such behavior is nothing short of unjust and indecent. And unfortunately in our lower income, disproportionately black and often crime-ridden communities, there is ample opportunity for officers to meet those expectations, whether they’re implied or explicit. Let’s hope more cops start calling out these atrocities of public policy, speak up for what is right, and fight for changes that will bring us all a more livable society.
When people live in poverty, sometimes their decisions are made out of desperation and they may choose to find ways to generate income and obtain food for their families, self-medicate for a mental or physical issue, or even just to have a little fun and find some enjoyment in life, which can get them arrested. The illegality of marijuana is one of the most unfortunate aspects of our country’s continuous problem with racism and street violence, unemployment and poverty, and our failed war on drugs, which only fuels the illicit drug trade, really. We need to stop this endless warfare against the poor, and by extension, people of color who truly are unequally represented in this socio-economic category. Perhaps then people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and financial abilities will come to have more trust and respect for authority, law enforcement, and our governing bodies.