If you protest police brutality and you don’t protest police deaths, then you’re a hypocrite.
That’s what conservatives have been saying ever since two New York City cops were murdered Saturday in an apparent revenge attack for the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Probably the best example of this kind of thinking comes from Mike Barnicle, who writes in the Daily Beast today that,
“Unlike other professions—doctor, lawyer, teacher, journalist, sales clerk, stock broker—when a cop makes a bad mistake it could mean someone is dead…Now, two of them are dead…. who will hit the streets to galvanize support and express rage over the execution of two young men killed because of who they were and what they did for work?”
Mike is really missing the point. No one disagrees about whether or not it’s wrong to murder cops. Murdering cops is obviously wrong. But just because something is “wrong” doesn’t mean it’s worthy of protest.
Let me explain. As Mike Barnicle himself pointed out in his piece for the Daily Beast, it’s dangerous to be a police officer. And as awful as it is to say, this means that on-the-job deaths are part of the equation when it comes to working in law enforcement. We should do everything we can to avoid them, but ultimately, they’re probably going to happen, especially in a country like ours that has such lax gun laws.
The murder of unarmed civilians like Michael Brown and Eric Garner, on the other hand, is not just “part of the equation.” Police officers are supposed to protect people, not kill them. This is why people are so upset about the Garner and Brown cases. They’re angry because those cases show why the system is broken
And that’s a really important point. People don’t protest when tragic things happen to people who willingly put themselves in harm’s way; they protest when they don’t think the system is working the way it should.
So no, the protesters who took to the streets after Eric Garner’s killer escaped a murder charge are not hypocrites if they don’t protest the deaths of two New York City police officers. They’re just doing what normal people do when they see injustice in their world.
Anyways, the idea that people should protest the murder of police officers and that they apparently shouldn’t protest police brutality is just the latest sign of a dangerous trend in our society. And that’s the knee-jerk worship of authority figures like police officers.
At some point in our recent history - and I would argue it was after 9/11 - we, as Americans, decided that we weren’t going to have a thoughtful conversation about the proper role of law enforcement in our society. Instead, we decided that we were going to label all police officers “heroes” and ask questions later. Never mind the fact that it’s actually more dangerous to be logger or a fisherman than it is to be cop. If someone wore a badge, we made them into gods in uniform.
Make no mistake, there’s a direct line leading from our hero worship of cops to the arming of local police forces with weapons war and to the killing of Michael and Eric Garner. We basically told police officers they were beyond the law, and they’ve acted accordingly.
This is really dangerous for our democracy. In every single authoritarian society in human history, the march towards dictatorship began when people started worshipping authority figures and treating them as if they were superior to normal mortals. Ever so slowly, the police and military grow in power and influence, until it’s too late and they can do whatever they want when they want.
America is not yet an authoritarian state, but if we want to avoid that, we need to keep these dangerous trends in check. There’s a very real problem in this country right now with police violence and police brutality, but we’ll never fix that problem if continue to talk about cops as if they’re heroes and not public servants.
And, let’s be honest, when conservatives say that people angry about police brutality should be protesting the murder of police officers, they’re not actually trying to raise awareness about how dangerous it is to be a cop. They’re trying to shut down debate about the proper role of police in our society.
That’s a debate we need to have, and it starts with one thing: recognizing that the police are hired to serve us, and not the other way around.