Efforts are underway, across this land, to try to hold cops accountable for police brutality and murder. Justly so. The racial dynamics of police misconduct highlight the direct line of descension from the old-time Slave Patrol to today’s constabulary. However, social justice requires empathy for all sides, and #SaturdaySchool has chosen what might be an unpopular perspective on police work as labor, police officers as ordinary human beings, and the intersectional role of non-white and non-male cops. We asked, “What is it like to be a black/brown cop in the USA today?” We discussed what it’s like to be both a target and a threat. We learned what happens when cops break the “blue wall of silence.” They are disciplined and/or fired.
This was not an easy topic. Some contributors simply could not think about cops empathetically because, as a people of color, they don’t feel that cops see them as fully human. How does one acknowledge the humanity of cops when cops do not acknowledge the humanity of black and brown people? Female cops, we learned, are harassed on the street, just like women everywhere. Nevertheless, women cops are better at de-escalating potentially violent confrontations, and they are better at getting cooperation from civilians.
The overwhelming opinion of participating scholars, students, and activists was that the whole system and concept of police work is misconceived, and it needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. Cops do important work. We need people on the streets to help out in times of distress and chaos, to “protect and to serve.” Cops do this but, far too often, they are seen roughly handling people, giving out tickets for minor infractions, and arresting people for harmless behaviors. Although police work is labor, just as carpentry, teaching and nursing are labor, we do not see labor solidarity, among us. When cops are forced to choose between the powerful and the masses, they always line up with the powerful.
As long as cops are cops are so consistently seen protecting the interests of the wealthy class against those whose suffering pays for that wealth, there will be no solidarity. As long as black and brown people carry the heavy end of police misconduct and brutality, there will be no peace. And in this Era of Black Lives Matter, it is getting harder to recruit cops. Who dreams of growing up to become an oppressor?
Fewer and fewer these days.