It has been said that perception is reality. When I was a kid growing up in NJ in the Sixties and Seventies, my parents told me to respect the police and I did. I watched shows like Dragnet (Just the facts ma’am) and Hawaii Five-O (Book him Dano!) where the cops were the good guys. But, by the time I was a teenager, I had long hair and the ethos of the time among my peer group was that cops were “pigs”. And I bought into that meme hook line and sinker. I spent the next fifteen years having one bad run in with the police after another due to my hair and where I lived and I hated and feared them. My subjective perception had been verified by my personal objective reality.
Over the course of my life two things changed my conception of law enforcement. During the late Eighties and early Nineties I watched New York City turn into a state of anarchy. I observed how Rudy Giuliani’s policies empowered the police to retake the streets from the thugs, the homeless and the drug dealers. The difference in quality of life was seismic in scale. The level of safety and security for all of the law abiding folk of all races increased measurably. The cops were doing good and saving lives. All lives.
The second thing that changed my thinking was a job I had as a bartender in place where I had ample opportunity to get to meet and talk to the cops themselves. What I found was the opposite of the “pigs” ethos I had once taken as objective fact. These members of law enforcement were not evil people. Sure, there were jerks among them. But, most of the cops I met were heroes who came to my bar to have a drink to get over the stresses and horrors of the job.
I remember one cop who recounted to me how he still was haunted by visions he witnessed of a beautiful sixteen year old girl lying in a pool of her own blood after a tragic and fatal car accident. Worse, he was the one who had to tell her parents the heartbreaking news. This is but one of many stories I would hear in a similar vein. These brave officers of the law volunteer to enter places most people would never voluntarily go and do their best to shield us from those who would do us harm. They are good people doing a mostly thankless job for the rest of us. Some of them give the ultimate sacrifice and never come home. I know this because I have met numerous families who lost a husband and a father.
So, much have my perceptions of the police changed that I now have friends who are cops. That’s something I would never have contemplated back in my “Cops are pigs!” days. Hell would have frozen over first!
Which brings me to recent events. I absolutely understand the feelings of many of the BLM protesters. Heck, I used to share them. When I lived in black neighborhoods, all of us shared the sentiment that the cops were the enemy. That was the lens in which we saw every police/citizen interaction. If you live in a high crime neighborhood, you will see a lot of cops manhandling criminals and, often, harassing the innocent. I understand that. I witnessed it for myself on a daily basis.
If that’s all you see or experience, the idea of the police as oppressors seems true. If you’ve never seen a cop running into a burning building or dealing with a domestic dispute or shooting a criminal before he can kill the innocent, you can continue to rationalize that chanting “Pigs in a blanket, Fry them like Bacon” is justified. If you grow up in a neighborhood where everyone feels like law enforcement is the enemy and you see the abuses, but not the good deeds the police do, I can understand the belief that they are oppressors. Your perception and your experiences have validated that belief. But in objective reality, the memes regurgitated by the BLM protestors have no basis in truth.
I could go on about how everyone has to read the new Heather MacDonald book or to read the new Harvard study by Roland Fryer and get their facts straight about the police and the African-American community. But, I understand how deep the biases are in the African-American community. Even President Obama didn’t wait for the evidence to come in before demonstrating how his own perceptions fueled his bias when he said that Cambridge police acted “stupidly”, “if I had a son he would look like Trayvon” or sending Eric Holder to Ferguson for a case of police racism that turned out not to be.
For many people, reciting the facts won’t matter. For them, what matters are how their own perception have been effected by personal experience. A lot of black people know firsthand about concepts like “Driving while Black”. I used to know about “Driving while having long hair”. Therefore, to many of the BLM protestors, their own personal subjective experiences trump the overall objective evidence of our society as a whole. However, the evidence says that cops are not targeting young black males as part of a organized implementation of institutional racism. Sh*t just happens sometimes. I understand that now. I wish they would as well.
Think about it. If the BLM movement was really right that there is really a plan of institutional racial genocide in this country instigated by the police, you’d see a lot more instances of it. Activists have been waiting and waiting for one for months to exploit cases like this, but they are few and far between. When you think about how many police interactions there have been in the country since the rise of BLM, you realize that if Cops are targeting young black men, the evidence of this would be far more abundant.
As we now know, even Baltimore and Ferguson don’t look like cases where the protesters were on the side of the truth. If the charges of the BLM movement were valid, how is it that it is cities run by Democrats and minorities that seem to be the worst offenders? Are the Democrat politicians and African-American, Latino and Asian cops complicit in this war on black men? Is the Black police chief of Dallas?
In a saner world, if these protests lead to all Cops having body cameras so that we can better weed out the bad ones: that’s great. If White America can better understand why African-Americans seem to have a different perception of reality than they do and that this leads to discussions about the “jail industrial complex” and the effects of “Great Society” welfare programs on the black family structure, all the better.
But, if we allow activists with a political agenda (and the billionaires, the media types, the Presidents and the political parties that support them) to mangle the facts and malign our law enforcement officers to the degree that the thugs and criminals retake our streets because police are too afraid to do their jobs, it won’t be white folk living in gated communities who will do the most suffering. It will be the people who are supposedly being represented by these protesters whose blood will be spilled. It will be little girls in Chicago and Baltimore whose lives will be ended because the criminals have been empowered. Those are the objective lessons of history. Those are the facts. The Giuliani Miracle and the Ferguson Effect are real.
If you want to protest for change. God bless you. If you want the world to understand why you perceive the police the way you do and work for the creation of new partnerships and new perceptions: Fantastic. But, if the tenor of your protest is to attack those trying to shield and protect the population from evil, recent objective history says you will have innocent blood on your hands. Perhaps, it is time to stop empowering those who have shown that their biases have blinded them to objective reality and start supporting people who actually want to have an honest dialogue about how we can change things for the better.