I’d like to take moment of your time to clarify a point that I keep hearing from our community and much of the world. We are inundated with horrific cell phone and police cam videos highlighting the violence we, as a society, in particular the black community, are subjected to. We are losing patience with the police leaders who consistently back their officers despite eye witness testimony and viral video which usually tells a different story. The fix is always in and we now know it. Between the incidents of police violence, which are happening more and more frequently, there is always a campaign by supporters of law enforcement to try to emphasize that there are good cops out there. They say that there are just a few bad apples. This is false and I’ll explain why.
It is a cop’s job to do good; to protect and serve. Most of the time they do just that. The vast majority of the time, cops are responding to one of a handful of common situations. Domestic disturbance, followed by retail theft, then burglary, then narcotics and so on. These types of dispatched calls make up 90% of a cops job. In every one of these types of calls, there is a victim and a subject; a good guy and a bad guy. And yes, they see it black and white, just like that. Shades of gray don’t mesh with state statute. They definitely don’t mesh with the binary mentality that officers come to embody as they try to navigate through street encounters.
This binary mentality is a key aspect of all of these police killings from Michael Brown on. The black and white mode of thinking is not rare. It is an unintended consequence of doing police work. In a domestic disturbance situation where there are allegations of battery, nothing matters other than, did the actions of the subject meet the statutory criteria for arrest? If you can check the boxes, you take the guy to jail. That’s your job. Make no mistake about it; cops don’t care about truth or justice, they care about making arrests and impressing the brass. The shades of gray that should determine a fair outcome go out the window. So what does this have to do with police perception? Well, all cops are subject to the same factors. All cops come to take on this black and white mentality. All cops know how to articulate their way out of bad situations after the fact. These are things that all cops do, so where is there room for the good ones?
The cops who killed Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile, and Freddy Gray, and on on, all did good things in their career and at one time or another were probably viewed as heroes. Until the time of their ultimate failure resulting in death, they were probably viewed as good people who just wanted to do good things at work and go home to their families. And I would probably agree with these assessments. This is where the notion of good cops vs bad cops mythology is born. If these cops hadn’t murdered their subjects, they would have probably just gone about their business being viewed as community heroes. Good cops vs bad cops is an attempt to deflect responsibility away from the police establishment and isolate the problem to a handful of bad apples. This is scapegoating at its finest.
Police work creates and environment of superiority and enlightenment. Or at least that’s what cops think after they graduate the police academy. It is an unfortunate pitfall of the job. Police can kill so indiscriminately and callously, because underneath it all they feel they are better than you and me and everyone else. Like a man stepping on an ant. This attitude comes about after being bombarded with training that in essence teaches you that anyone and everyone you encounter is a threat. This is a predatory mentality that exacerbates the us vs them attitude. No cop is exempt from this trap.
To say that there are good cops and bad cops ignores the fact that all cops look for acceptance and status in the police subculture. In their pursuit of these goals, they adopt common police mentalities and attitudes. The us vs them mentality is an inevitable byproduct of working the streets that no cop is exempt from. When you combine this conformity to police subculture and belief systems, with the emotional and psychological ups and downs that come as a result of the day in day out hyper-vigilance they experience, what you get is a recipe for disaster with an emotionally unstable officer at the core. They are not good or bad. They are damaged. They are wound up due to self-inflicted pressures and ready to pop. We all know what happens next. This is an easy scenario for any cop to fall into. Literally any and every cop on the street has the potential to be a murderer.
The bottom line is that good cops are a myth. No one can deny the good things that police do every day. We depend on them and they generally provide a service that is at a minimum a necessary evil. The reality is that the pressures of the job combined with a command staff level enforcement of us vs the world mentality, opens the door for ANY cop on the road to become a killer. Police departments don’t instill fundamental concepts in their recruits; concepts like preservation of life above all else. Police tactical training revolves around the shoot first, ask questions later. The physiological and psychological effects of the job that police suffer, often go undetected even by the officer themselves which as we have seen, leads to a powder keg of a response to mostly common non-life threatening situations. There are no good cops and bad cops. Everyone with a badge has the same likelihood of being Darren Wilson.
Editor’s Note: The author was a Law Enforcement Officer in a major metropolitan American city for ten years.
For more information on what makes police emotionally vulnerable resulting in many of these police shootings :