Over at Gin and Tacos, Ed has a really good post on the changing role of the police officer as forces around the country have become more militarized during the course of the War on Drugs. It’s in response to the Times article the other day that whose headline, “Nearly a Third of Americans Are Arrested by 23, Study Says,” pretty much tells you the whole story (but it’s a scary one, so you should read it anyway). Here’s Ed:
The militarization of law enforcement and thirty years of Zero Tolerance, tough-on-crime politics have created an America in which law enforcement has become, perhaps unwillingly, the Other, the Ministry of State Security types used as anonymous, menacing stock characters in dystopian fiction. And the frightening end result is that most Americans my age or younger – anyone born after Carter, I guess – have never had an interaction with the police except being arrested or being given a ticket. For non-white people in particular, many of us reach middle age now having never had a positive interaction with police. It has all been negative.
This is true. Aside from cops giving me directions (a neutral interaction, at best), I have never had a cop who I’ve wanted to thank. I’ve been pulled over for driving a shitty car in a snazzy neighborhood, though! And arrested for being a minor in possession of alcohol on a camping trip (wiped from my record, though I guess I just outed myself — sorry potential jobs, didn’t need you anyway)! In fact, the one time I’ve ever called the cops was when I was 17, getting a ride back home from a different area of town, and a car sideswiped us while trying to pass us on a two lane road. Big maroon Eurovan, which immediately cut its lights, and floored it out of dodge. We tried to follow him for a second, but he was doing, like, 60 in a 35 mph zone. And so, being all like, “That was whack,” we called the cops from my house so that we could file a police report. And what did the cop do when he got there? He accused us of being drunk! And of being the ones that actually hit something, “from the way the dent looks.” What wildly contradictory notions to occur in your head, Officer! Why of course! It is clear! Two underage youths got drunk, went driving, hit a telephone pole, and decided to create a wild story about getting sideswiped by a van and call the police on themselves! Your detective work makes me proud to pay your salary!
He went on to say that if we admitted we’d been drinking, he’d help us out. When we wouldn’t, he got in his car and drove away. In retrospect, we probably should have filed some sort of complaint, but we were teenagers and, ergo, stupid.
Anecdotal, I guess, but it’s pretty common among most of my friends, this type of experience. Which leads us to Ed’s next point:
I’m a law abiding 33 year old white male with a Ph.D. and an aspiring middle class lifestyle…and I’ve never dealt with a cop who wasn’t an asshole toward me. Not once. If that’s how they treat someone who practically shits white male privilege, I feel safe assuming that they’re not being much friendlier or more helpful to anyone else. The police officer is supposed to be someone we can trust implicitly, and instead the policies of the past three decades have transformed the citizen-police relationship to one of deep, mutual suspicion. They see us as drug holding, law breaking felons-in-waiting, and we see them as an opponent to be avoided at all costs.
There are a lot of white dudes who think cops are after us! Because they kinda are! I cannot even imagine the amount of shit women and people of color have to deal with. There is something fundamentally wrong with a police force that is designed to actively scare you. We’re not talking about passively remind you that they’re there to be the enforcers of state power (which you might sometimes want on your side), we’re talking scare you. “We will beat you down in a hearbeat, motherfucker, and don’t you forget it.” It’s absolutely insane that we live in a society where police don riot gear on the regular, and can disperse crowds with weird sonic noises that headphones can’t block out because the noise is at such a weird, loud pitch that it, like, inhabits your body. That’s fucking insane, dude. We have entered the future, and it’s us versus laser beams, people. Us. Versus. Laser beams.
And yet, we act as though it’s all just normal, the natural order of things. The police have “sound cannons” now. Okay.
My cousin and her husband are both cops, so I understand that they’re regular people paying bills, getting by, raising families, all of it. If one of them pulled me over, I’d say, “Hey, fancy meeting you here,” and they’d let me off with a warning. That’s all fine and good. The point is that knowing cops — having them as family members, even — doesn’t make me any less afraid of them. I only know two. The rest of them think I’m just another criminal waiting to happen.