Some jobs can’t have bad apples.
Imagine you walk into a doctor’s office and you’re told, “Well, sure, a lot of doctors are good eggs, but a lot of other doctors are, well, racist. If you’re not a white person, they’ll either refuse to treat you or make your condition worse – not as an accident but maliciously, sometimes severely. And now and then, somewhere between a thousand and fifteen hundred times a year, they’ll decide to kill you, again, often with malice aforethought. BUT, I, who am a good doctor, will not do anything to fix this situation, because all the other doctors won’t like me, so I tolerate and, indeed, through the continued support of the organizations to which we mutually belong, encourage their racism and violence – and will indeed defend vocally and, occasionally, with the violence of my own those ‘bad apples.'”
If you’re running a convenience store, sure, a few bad apples are unfortunate, but the worst that happens is you get some lousy food. With law enforcement, well, you get the shit we see – with black people three times more likely to be killed by cops than white people, and four times as likely if they’re not armed. And that’s just the killings. There’s a bunch of sub-lethal violence out there that doesn’t generally make the news – the false arrests and beatings and racist stop and frisks and other forms of harassment.
And since it happens at all levels of law enforcement, from legislation to incarceration, you have black people going to prison at roughly five times (!!) that of white prisoners. (And Latinos are imprisoned at about 1.4 times the rate of white people, which isn’t a peach, either.)
(There is a class component to police violence and judicial corruption, too, but harder to chart since few people chart “class” in the US. We prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist, but it drives almost all legislation and law enforcement. Here’s a thought experiment. Think about what happens if an employer calls the cops and says an employee has stolen a $10,000 machine. What do the cops do? Then think about what happens when an employee calls the cops and says that the employer has withheld $10,000 in pay. Again, what do the cops do? As a person who has seen variants of both questions, I can say with confidence that, in the first case, an employee gets frog-marched out of work in handcuffs, and in the second case, the cops say it’s a civil matter, and you should call a lawyer.)
What do you do with such a system? When it is so openly racist and violent? When even the supposed “good cops” defend the system that is so racist and violent?
Even many of the protestors go, “Many cops are good cops.” But… are they? To me, that’s like working for the “legitimate” front of an organized crime racket. Sure, you, personally, are not called upon by the mob to break any laws, but you know that there are mobsters in back doing mob shit – and you not only let it pass, but you defend the business when people try to clean it up. You assert that the mobsters are, in some fashion, impossible to remove from the “legitimate” business without destroying the business and that the business, itself, is too vital to be destroyed. I’m not sure a person can be a “good cop” in most departments.
If you’re going to fix the system, though, you’d need some critical things. First, police departments would need accountability. This would probably mean federal oversight. While a few departments have cleaned up themselves to a large extent, most don’t even want to try. They will need to be dragged into the future. Police departments are, in large, incapable and unwilling to police themselves.
Part of this would mean a lot of cops would go to prison and/or get fired and “lose their pensions.” This is true, however, of almost every crook who goes to prison. If we are so concerned about the families of criminal police officers, why are we so indifferent to the families of other criminals? Remember, these are corrupt police officers we’re talking about. Why should we have sympathy for corrupt cops? If anything, should we not despise them even more for having corrupted our civic institutions? I find it baffling that gangsters in uniform should be given any special consideration. If anything, I think their punishment should be more severe due to the damage it does to the government.
Second, we need a lot of judicial reform. First, an end to lifetime appointments for all judges (which would require a constitutional amendment in the case of many federal judges, but it’s worth doing). Second, an end to the election of judges. Third, depoliticizing the process for selecting judges. Most judges should get their jobs through hiring committees that look at their records without political bias.
Third, we need to be honest about why this happens. We need truth and reconciliation committees. We need for the institutional bias and racism that allowed this to happen and allows it to continue to happen, brought into the light – even though the reason is apparent. White people still hold almost all the power in the US, and most white people don’t give a shit about what happens to black people in America.
When laid out, though, it seems absurd to imagine it could happen. Arrest cops at the same rate cops arrest black people? Try and convict all of the cops that break laws? Federal oversight? Elimination of racist judges? Truth committees?!
As Chris Rock has said, black people have always been wonderful, they’re waiting for better white people. More tolerant, fairer, more equitable white people. Until there are a lot fewer racists among white people, I despair that this situation will continue. Probably for, oh, about two hundred more years.