Protect And Serve, Only If . . .

I remember as a child how obsessed I was with the idea of law enforcement and becoming a cop. I used to watch anything and everything having to do with the good guys catching the bad guys, from 21 Jump Street and Chips, to Hill Street Blues and New York Undercover. Being a police officer was what I first wanted to be as a child growing up in the 80s and 90s, but over the years I had seen a small glimpses of how this power can become excessively abused.

My words may now be embraced, rejected, understood, or misinterpreted so I will do my damnedest to be as clear and concise as possible. Having friends and family friends in law enforcement, I know first hand that many officers do their jobs to the best of their ability, and respect the high level of power they have been given. And just as many say, there are good and bad versions of everything, and I completely agree. However, my largest issue with what has transpired in America between civilians and the abuses in power by law enforcement, is how difficult it is to find another officer who openly disagrees with the abuse, what damage it can cause and has caused society.

The latest incident between officers in Tulsa, Oklahoma and 40-year-old Terrence Crutcher has added to a laundry list of unexplained and unwarranted uses of excessive force by law enforcement. Defenders of law enforcement automatically reach to the danger of the profession for being the main reason behind pulling the trigger. I wholeheartedly agree that they have chosen a career that is riddled in fear, danger and potentially death, and I personally would not want that for myself or my loved ones; but the operative word is “chosen.” These civilian men and women who have had their lives wrongfully taken by police that chose to react first and possibly not even apologize later, did not choose to be a victim. Ultimately it seems as if that choice was made for them by the men and women squeezing the trigger. Another scapegoat has been, “well the guy had a gun on him.” Many times the excuse for black men losing their lives is that they possessed a firearm, but what if that man had a proper license and was within the same second amendment rights that people so loudly protect? The second amendment does not include a clause that it’s validity is based on the race, religion or ethnicity of the American citizen, yet it seems to be a forgotten right once the gun owner has a darker pigmentation. And lastly, “he must have been a bad dude,” as heard from the helicopter video of Mr. Crutcher’s public execution. Maybe he was a bad dude, probably not, but ok for the sake of the argument let’s say he was. Does that automatically mean if you’re a criminal you should be put to death?! Don’t agree? Time for a morality check. Anyone making the decision about a loved one, whether the person is your son, daughter, mother, father, sister, or brother, would much rather them go to jail for a crime, especially if it is non-violent, then to be killed on sight.

The frustration has grown in me over the last couple of years where these events have been documented, recorded, and even broadcast live in real-time. To the point of calling my parents, nearly in tears about how afraid I am to leave my apartment to run an everyday errand or take a cruise on my motorcycle, because I don’t want their only son to end up as a headline on every televised and web-based news outlet across the country. I know that I’ve done everything possible to live an honest and “by the book” life to get to this point, but after seeing Mr. Crutcher get shot to death on camera for seemingly NOTHING, leaves me with very little choice but to be afraid of the men and women that society has appointed to protect and serve me; a good, honest-living, tax paying, American citizen that may very well one day need their assistance. But trust when I say, scenarios have played in my mind where I second guess having to dial 911, merely for the fact that I may be mistaken for a criminal. Unless EVERYONE, including officers who flagrantly abuse their power, are held 100 percent accountable for their actions (that includes wrongfully taking an innocent life), this trend will undoubtedly continue, and much more frequently. We live in a society where the death penalty is a reality, and yet if you carry a badge and kill another human being, clearly regardless of age, that you’re given the benefit of the doubt so blindly that you can go on living a normal life without any repercussion...something is drastically wrong with that picture. I’ve been “randomly” stopped and frisked and/or searched in New York City a total of six times, and as aforementioned in my last article, the most dangerous object they found on my person was a Bic ballpoint pen and a sketchbook. There is no system of protection where I can show a badge that says what an upstanding citizen I am, and that all I’d appreciate in return is an opportunity to live my life without the fear of oppression of any kind; not a handout, just the normalcy that is enjoyed by the majority of my human counterparts. I’m sure as an athletic, 6’3”, black male, I may appear aggressive or intimidating to some and I’m sure judgment is placed daily on my character at first glance. The laughable part of being judged on sight is that those who know me, know that I’d much rather pet a kitten than participate in any act of violence or aggression.

If I were to commit a non-violent crime right now, say larceny and I am publicly caught on camera, the system would move at light speed to track me down, catch me, book, charge, and sentence me. Now take these acts of unnecessary violence against civilians by law enforcement. A larger number than ever have been caught on camera, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Eric Garner in Staten Island, Philandro Castile in Minnesota, Dylan Noble in Fresno, Walter Scott in North Charleston, and the list can continue for paragraphs. Yes, in some cases settlements have been reached, maybe some officers have gotten demoted, resigned on their own accord or even fired, but the penalties faced allow them to continue on with life as normal after committing a violent crime, and the punishments are far less severe than an average citizen committing the same crime. This trend does a couple of hurtful things to our society. It first mentally numbs the majority of people who would otherwise have no fear of this ever happening to them and makes it seem that if you’re black it is common place. Almost as if they are watching a movie, except the difference is there are no blanks in these guns, and the victim does not get to walk away once the scene is over. Another very dangerous result is that it allows other law enforcement officers to feel more protected when bending or breaking laws for the sake of enforcing another, even if it is captured on film. Again, not all officers would willfully abuse their power in this regard, but it would be very naive to think that it is not regularly exercised by some. Law enforcement has to be held at a higher standard of accountability. The responsibility given with that power is much greater than that of the civilian population that law enforcement officials are sworn to protect. And by gunning down civilians in a game-time decision fueled by fear, proves that the only person they are protecting at that moment in time, is his or herself.

The reasoning behind most of these tragedies is quite clear and does not need to be spelled it out. Too many people are in such denial, that instead of opening their eyes and addressing it, they would much rather pat themselves on the backs for not actively contributing to the problem; which I might add is the biggest part of the problem. Everyone wants to see or empathize with an issue, but not speak up for fear they will look unsavory in the eyes of their peers. This mentality extends into the law enforcement community as well. I know there are officers that are sick of getting painted with such a bad brush because of mindless decisions by their counterparts, but because of unspoken rules and social queues, silence is heard loud and clear.