Police culture breeds cowardice
Policing is a stressful and dangerous job. It is not, however, an especially stress or dangerous job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, policing is not even among the ten most dangerous jobs in the US. Pilots, construction workers, miners, loggers, truckers, fishers, roofers, and even delivery drivers are more likely to die on the job.
But, still, cops do die on the job. Only not in the way you probably assume. Of the 4,679 occupational fatalities that occurred in 2014, only 9% were homicides. 40 percent of deaths were traffic-related. This trend is reflected in data specific to police fatalities. The most dangerous place to be a cop is not, as you might expect, in a densely populated urban area. Not even close. Police in rural areas are much more likely to die on duty—a reflection of the long distances they are expected to drive, as well as their more frequent interaction with hunters.
average, an American cop dies on duty about once every three days. Civilians—a disproportionate number of
them black or brown—are killed by police at the rate of more than three per
day. The majority of police die in
traffic incidents. Nearly everyone
killed by police dies after being beat, tazed, choked, shot, or tortured.
Simply put, cops pose a greater threat to those they police than civilians pose to cops. Far greater. All data and observations and common sense bear this out. And, once in a while, we see pictures or videos that prove it, too. Sometimes we get two videos in two days, and a dark pall draws over our national consciousness.
When this happens, white people feel guilty, and express guilt in whatever manner suits their individual taste. Black people get mad, and some protest. Academics respond with repellent prose about bodies and privilege. Pundits fish for hot takes and come up with either bland obviousness or the dumbest shit you have ever seen. The President gives the exact same speech he did last time, and the local police department promises a thorough review. A week later we stop thinking about it. A few months later we hear the thorough review determined that the officers acted appropriately and no charges will be filed.
Both of the men who were murdered this week were carrying guns. That seals the officers’ respective fates. No one is going to jail for this, aside from maybe the people who posted videos of the shootings. That the murdered men were either completely innocent or guilty only of very petty crimes makes no difference. The legality of the second man’s gun makes no difference. The police will not face prison.
Why? Because they have a dangerous and stressful job and they’re just humans and humans make split-second decisions and we can’t judge anyone too harshly until all the facts are out there and even when they’re out there we still shouldn’t, like, judge because you don’t know what was going on in their heads. For heaven’s sake, the suffering these poor men have already gone through is punishment enough—having their names dragged through the mud, seeing all those mean protestors hold up signs. It would be cruel to hold them accountable.
Now—notice, the key to that last paragraph were the words “dangerous” and “stressful,” words we’ve already established apply to policing no more especially than they do to loggers or delivery drivers. Pretend, for a second, that a delivery driver were to murder someone. The murdered man lived in a high-crime area and was behaving erratically once the driver arrived (the driver texted the man and asked him to come to the front door, but the man failed to comply and insisted the driver meet him at his apartment). The man reached for his wallet, the driver mistook it for a gun, and, well, you can’t blame someone for making a split second decision. He’s got a very stressful and dangerous job, after all.
Only you absolutely can and should blame the driver. He’s a murderer and a coward. He got scared and then like a scared little baby he shot a man. There’s nothing defensible here, in spite of the conditions of his employment. He’s a shitty, cowardly, chickenshit little fuck, and he deserves to go to prison.
For all its pretenses of masculinity, the culture of policing is seeped in paranoid cowardice. From the moment he gets a badge pinned to his chest, a cop is told that he is a pewcious wittle angel, that his life is more important than those of the people he encounters, and that if he ever sees a super scary bad guy he should make his gun go boom so the bad guy goes away.
Whenever they talk about black-on-black violence, police and other racists always cast it in cultural terms, saying it’s due to the rap music or whatever. But then when it comes to police-on-civilian violence (or police-on-domestic partner violence, or police-on-police violence), the focus is always on the individual, his being a bad apple or else suffering a momentary lapse of judgment. This is bullshit. Cops are cowards because they are trained to be cowards.
You know why loggers and pizza men don’t murder three people a day, even in spite of their stressful and dangerous jobs? It’s because they don’t operate in a culture that preaches and rewards cowardice. They are held to standards of basic decency that reject paranoia. They are scrutinized like regular fucking people, and so they behave like regular people.
You want to do something about police violence? Protest. Afterward, stop venerating the police. Stop pretending the middling danger of their profession grants them a magic status you would afford to no one else. Stop excusing their aggression. Stop accepting their stories at face value. Stop cheering for them at ballgames. Stop donating to their shitty memorial funds.
Everyone needs to scrutinize the police, at least as aggressively as we scrutinize teachers and fast food employees. This can’t happen in a culture of hero worship, and it can’t happen if we frame every account of their misconduct according to how darn special they are because they’re job is so pretend scary. Fuck it. They are people. Treat them like people.