ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The conclusions reached by the U.S. Department of Justice in its investigation are inescapable in the face of overwhelming factual support. However, I believe that an important part of the problem is not discussed.
This is the question of how things got to this state.
Consideration of the root causes must surely lead to a better solution. What forces of history, what social or cultural conditions created this struggle between our protectors and the people they are sworn to protect?
Has the public really become just a mass of potentially violent, drug-addled perps liable to shoot at a cop at any time? Have the police become nothing more than a collection of over-aggressive, disrespectful, ill-intentioned bullies?
As you look back over the last 50 or so years, there is no doubt that our collective penchant for violence across our entire world society, police or civilians, has multiplied many times and taken forms no one could have imagined.
The police were much less at risk several decades ago than they are today. We are all much more at risk, both from each other and from law enforcement.
Due to various factors, including to no small extent, terrorism and the advent of widespread and more potent and addictive drugs, the mission of police forces all over the country has “devolved” from serving and protecting the citizens to simply getting much more violent, more dangerous individuals off the streets and not getting killed in the process.
The line between “good guys” and “bad guys” has become very unclear. As a result, what has developed over these years is an erosion of the relationship between the police and those they are sworn to protect.
While police used to be able to make pretty reliable assumptions about the intentions of the people they encountered, that process has become much more difficult and dangerous, even in small town America. Thus, poor old granny gets tasered by some cop who just can’t sort it all out correctly.
The real offshoot of our social and cultural “evolution” is that law enforcement officials, including the police and even prosecutors, have developed a “siege mentality.”
The chief characteristic of such a culture is the deep-seated belief that there are only two types of people in the world – us and those who are not us.
It has reached the point that law enforcement officials seem to recognize only other law enforcement officials as trustworthy. The rest of the population is composed of criminals or those who have not been caught yet.
Thus, training concentrates not on initially peaceful and rational communication with citizens but on quickly and aggressively “cowing” them into submission through loud intimidation and forcefully, and often violently, subduing those who do not take well to such tactics.
So, it’s all about attitudes really. On both sides.
Ignoring for a moment our society’s gross failures in treating mental illness and drug abuse, which is probably the biggest part of the problem, things could be better through the realization and acceptance of a few key truths.
Those in our society who want to do harm to others, including the police, really are a minority. A large percentage of citizens respect the police and want them to succeed. A large percentage of police officers are likewise well-intentioned, faithful public servants who want to do their job and live to tell about it.
Success for the police depends upon demonstrating a respect for citizens, and upon accomplishing their mission through skillful communication and fair and reasoned tactics and judgment. They must deal with those they confront as people, not as nameless, faceless perps.
Success equally depends upon the citizens supporting and respecting the police, at least once we have held them accountable and have helped them to create the proper culture and attitudes within the department.
There are two sides to this coin – at least.