Whenever stories of oppression emerge, there is usually a campaign by those who identify with the oppressor to defend or prove that there isn’t a problem. When women started talking about rape culture on college campuses, male students started chiming in with how they aren’t all like that. When the LGBT community talks about feeling discrimination from faith communities, it’s only a matter of time before someone shows up to defend the reputations of All Christians. And if you haven’t heard about #notallwhitepeople #yesallblackpeople, this is worth a read.
It’s a natural reaction to want to defend yourself when a group you identify with is have some bad PR, but it also exhibits a lack of empathy and nuance. This kind of defense is dismissive of real, lived experiences, and it’s also dismissive of patterns of oppression. As a Christian, I don’t partake in discrimination against gay people. But I can surely agree that Christians have a pattern of discriminating when it comes to the LGBT community. As a white person, I don’t actively oppress black people. But I can sure as hell acknowledge that black people are being oppressed by white people, both individually and systemically.
And so it goes with police officers. If there is a PR problem with police officers because of the bad behavior of a few, the solution is not to scream “not all police officers!” The solution is not to scramble to post positive stories because for fear that people will think that a video of a violent cop is a reflection of every other cop. Spoiler alert: we know that’s not true. In all of the critical analysis I’ve read about racial bias and police brutality over the past few years, I’ve never heard someone suggest that ALL COPS are racist or bad or deserving of blame for the actions of a few. However, it is time for law enforcement organizations to take a look at the problematic patterns in regards to race, to acknowledge and empathize instead of defend, and to have some serious come-to-Jesus meetings about how to address it.
Case in point – I was asked last week to sit down with someone from a significant law enforcement agency where I live. She wanted to meet so she could pick my brain about how to avoid what is happening nationally from happening here. And I told her that I felt that the fact that they were actively thinking about this . . . acknowledging the problem and wanting to take action . . . just that alone made me feel safer in my own community. And then we brainstormed trainings and town halls and meetings with black leaders in own community. I walked away feeling like they GET IT. And at no point did she need to tell me “we’re not all like that.” She didn’t have to. Because she is actively engaged in trying to find a solution, as opposed to worrying about PR spin.
Is it bad to post nice stories about cops? No. But when the timing and motivation is to distract from stories that reveal a pattern of unnecessary violence towards black people, then it’s a derail tactic. And derailing people from talking about systemic racism or violence towards black people? Is racist.