This morning the St. Louis Police Department posted a social media update titled “Kids will be kids?” I hoped, for one fleeting moment, that they were taking a departure from their usual “don’t question police decisions” stance to address the fact that yet another recent unarmed Black victim of police brutality, Tamir Rice of Cleveland, was only 12 years old. To perhaps address the fact that this could have been prevented, that change must happen soon. Or maybe just to express sympathy to the parents of Black children who have been killed this year for crimes White children do not typically associate with arrest, let alone the death penalty.
How silly of me. They were cautioning parents against allowing their children access to toy guns.
They were cautioning parents against ending up like the parents of Tamir Rice.
They’ve since apologized, assuring the public that they do indeed use “discernment” about the value of human life. I’d submit that it’s that “discernment,” rather than any lack thereof, that is the problem.
For White Americans like me, the last few months have shone a brutal and unforgiving light upon the roaches and festering scars of our country: as my father pointed out to me in a recent email, the system is working exactly the way it was designed to work. Protecting White comfort and sense of tribalistic safety at the frivolous expenditure of Black and Brown lives––that is the true goal of our justice system. Everything else is just for show.
In feminist circles, we frequently lament the tendency of men to respond to our stories of harassment, discrimination, sexual assault, and everyday sexism with the words we’ve come to simultaneously mock and dread: “Not all men!”
They think they’re saying, “Don’t paint us all with the same brush. Some of us don’t deserve your anger.”
But the message on the other end of the phone sounds something more like, “Instead of working with you to address this problem, my immediate concern is discrediting you to ensure my own reputation is preserved.”
And true to form as oppressors, the American police have responded to months of protest and demands for accountability with a resounding, single voice: Not all cops.
If that were true, why don’t we see police joining in the rallies and chanting along with us that “Black lives matter?” Do they not believe that’s true, or just that their reputations matter more?
Why don’t we see cops turning in the “bad cops” among them––calling each other out for brutality, uniting to build a humane and socially conscious force, agreeing to work toward the level of service and protection they claim to hold so dear?
Why don’t we see cops campaigning along with the most marginalized of us for better practices, more oversight, more accountability––changes that would improve not only their ranks but their safety, since that is so paramount that they frequently kill unarmed “threats” to protect it?
The narrative they’ve chosen to uphold, however, is Not All Cops. And that’s our answer: until it truly is all cops exhibiting militarized, racist, and brutal behavior, they will not feel obligated to address criticism. So, by their logic, we must wait until that’s the case.
And with every grand jury decision, every senseless death, every questionable police action with no respect for the concept of transparency, that frightening image seems closer to reality.
Featured image: Scott Olson/Getty Images