Quentin Tarantino has been making waves in the movement against police brutality. After the director flew to New York and spoke at a Rise Up October rally last weekend, showing his support for people who have been "murdered" by cops, the head of the biggest union representing the NYPD, Patrick Lynch, called for a boycott of Tarantino's films.
Lynch called Tarantino a "purveyor of degeneracy," and said, "It's no surprise that someone who makes a living glorifying crime and violence is a cop-hater, too."
The president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League has since come out in support of Lynch's statement, saying, "Hateful rhetoric dehumanizes police and encourages attacks on us. And questioning everything we do threatens public safety by discouraging officers from putting themselves in positions where their legitimate actions could be falsely portrayed as thuggery."
The animosity is getting fierce. And it has me thinking: Why are police union leaders picking arguments with celebrities rather than addressing the concerns put before them?
Before I get into my argument, let me disclose my privilege. I am white. When my girlfriends recently asked me about whether I feel safe living in New York City, part of my response was, "There's a strong police force. The NYPD is one of the most well-financed police forces in the country."
Later I stopped and thought--if I wasn't white, would the strength of the police force in this city make me feel less safe, not more?
And so part of my privilege is that seeing a cop on the street at night always settles me, not startles me. And this is not to say that all police officers are dangerous people. Most are not. But you cannot deny video evidence which shows how people of color have been mistreated and even killed by officers, in instances where such force was completely unjustified.
I read an article recently which asked why police unions are not subject to the same scrutiny as teachers' unions. And while I firmly believe that the faults of our education system are solely caused by lack of funding, not bad teachers, I do wonder why the teachers' unions are rapidly losing political power while the police unions seem to be rapidly gaining it.
The crucial difference between education reform and police reform is this: If a student has a bad teacher, the worst that happens is they don't learn; if a person of color runs across a bad cop, the worst that happens is they die. A student with one bad teacher will not have their education compromised if they are situated in a district with adequate resources. But a black person's life can very well be compromised by one bad cop, even from the most well-financed police force in the country.
And so it is fair to say that police reform should hold police officers to tougher standards. I understand that good cops who do their jobs well don't want to feel like they're being punished for good work. Nobody wants to be presumed to have bad character. Nobody wants to be presumed guilty.
But guess what--that's what people of color contend with every single day.
Craig Lally of the LAPD said Tarantino's words could lead to the "legitimate actions" of police officers being "falsely portrayed as thuggery." He seems to miss the irony--that black people are portrayed as thugs all the time, and sometimes they pay for it with their lives.
When you are a person who has power in a society, you need to be prepared to take a good hard look at the effect your power has on the powerless, even though that requires confronting parts of yourself, or your co-workers, that you don't like.
I recently took the Implicit Association Test, which analyzes your implicit cognition when you look at white and black faces, to determine which you associate more easily with positive words, and which you associate more easily with negative words. I'd recommend taking 10 minutes to take this test--it can be an eye-opening experience. My results indicated a preference for white faces. I don't like this result. I feel uncomfortable with myself, having received it. I could easily brush it off and ignore it, but that would mean it will probably never change.
Police and police leaders seem to be more concerned with protecting their reputations and their self-regard than with changing a society where people of color are so fearful of the public servants who are supposed to be protecting them. Why is Patrick Lynch's first response to Quentin Tarantino to call him a "purveyor of degeneracy" and boycott his movies, rather than actually responding to the concerns raised by the protestors Tarantino marched with? Shouldn't police leaders like Patrick Lynch want to apprehend and discipline violent and dirty cops, because they make the rest of the police force look bad?
Quentin Tarantino is not giving cops a bad name. Cops like Ben Fields, Michael Slager, and Tim Loehmann are giving cops a bad name, by using violence and deadly force when it is completely unnecessary.
The NYPD and the LAPD, and every other police in this country, will regain the trust of the people they protect not by demonizing Quentin Tarantino, but by holding their own officers accountable for wrongdoing. The Black Lives Matter movement has lead to a lot of polarization, and change cannot happen until we all get over our addiction to conflict, and everyone agrees to come to the table--to humble ourselves and admit: yes, we can do better.