Systemic Racism And Brutality In Policing Renders “Good Cops” Irrelevant

When laws are designed to protect police from accountability, police unions oppose reforms, and their culture condones racism, a few "good cops" can't make much of a difference.
Police officers are slow to render aid to a 75-year-old man after shoving him to the ground in Buffalo, New York – June 4, 2020

Police officers are slow to render aid to a 75-year-old man after shoving him to the ground in Buffalo, New York – June 4, 2020

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Over the weeks of protest against George Floyd’s murder, the myth of “a few bad apples” has disintegrated under the weight of the vast body of video evidence highlighting of senseless violence from police.

During a protest against police brutality in Buffalo, New York on June 4, two police officers shoved Martin Gugino, leaving him motionless and bleeding from his skull on the concrete in a graphic illustration of the need for the protests. Later, all 57 members of Buffalo’s riot team quit, but not in protest of the callous act. The officers, who walked around Gugino like he was a knocked-over trash can, quit because they objected to the suspension of Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski.

One officer in the video even moved to render aid to the severely injured 75-year-old man, but his colleague stopped him. Gugino spent time in the ICU, and President Trump spread a completely fictional conspiracy theory from the right-wing propaganda network OANN that Gugino was an Antifa “provocateur.”

In Philadelphia, fellow officers lined up to applaud Staff Inspector Joe Bologna as he turned himself in on felony charges for assaulting a 21-year-old student, and the police union even designed “Bologna Strong” t-shirts in support, also threatening to call in “sick.” Bologna hit the protester over the head with his baton and then tackled her as she backed away:

New York head of the state police union, Mike O’Meara, ranted on June 9, 2020, before a crowd of white officers about how “the media” is treating cops like “animals and thugs,” and demanding respect. His words, intercut with scenes of brutality during the protests:

The Brevard County Fraternal Order of Police, in a subsequently deleted post, offered jobs to six officers fired in Atlanta for excessive force during the protests and the 57 Buffalo riot officers who quit.

Bodycam footage of the Atlanta officers offered these jobs from Brevard County, smashing the car windows, tasing and arresting two college students:

Two of the officers are suing Atlanta to get their jobs back. As video indisputably shines a light on police violence, Tucson made it a crime to film police, though the constitutionality of the ordinance is questionable.

A Salem, Oregon officer warned members of the Proud Boys to get off the streets because police would soon tear gas protesters. The Salem Police Chief Jerry Moore “apologized,” saying the officer had not been fully briefed on how the curfew worked, though it’s unclear what that had to do with his warning to the alleged white supremacists.

In Bakersfield, California, Kieth Moore hit protester Robert Forbes with his car. Police let Moore stand around and smoke a cigarette, “protecting” him from protesters. Forbes has since died of the injuries inflicted by Moore, but police have not arrested nor do they plan to charge Moore, calling the incident an “accident.”

Breonna Taylor’s medical report claimed no injuries despite police shooting her eight times. To date, no one has been charged in her no-knock warrant death at the hands of police in Nashville.

Some officers likened public response to the relentless images of police violence against protesters to “coming home from Vietnam,” though did not specify with whom they’d been at war.

What we see now is a culture within the system itself, one completely disconnected from public perception. These “good” officers stand and applaud those officers recorded attacking peaceful protesters; they make t-shirts and quit in solidarity. The laws are also designed to protect police from accountability.

The problem is no one ever finishes that saying, “a few bad apples.” It’s not an excuse, but a warning: “A few bad apples spoil the bunch.”

From 2013-2019, 99% of police killings resulted in no charges. While records of misconduct are difficult to get–in 23 states they’re confidential–USA Today, in partnership with Invisible Institute, compiled records. Invisible Institute created a searchable database.

As per USA Today:

“Less than 10% of officers in most police forces get investigated for misconduct. Yet some officers are consistently under investigation. Nearly 2,500 have been investigated on 10 or more charges. Twenty faced 100 or more allegations yet kept their badge for years.”

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The Trump Administration’s Denial Of Systemic Racism

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing and subsequent protests, commentator Heather Mac Donald, who is white, penned an article for the Wall Street Journal calling systemic racism in policing “a myth.”

In what amounts to proof of a problem, Trump, who is white and who called the Charlottesville Nazis “very fine people,” does not believe there is systemic racism in policing. He has scheduled his first pandemic rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, home of the horrific 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, on Juneteenth – the holiday commemorating emancipation.

Attorney General Bill Barr, who is white, says there is no systemic racism in policing. Private citizens filed suit against Barr in his personal capacity for his alleged role in the use of tear gas to clear peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square for Trump’s photo op.

Acting DHS head Chad Wolf, who is white, also denies systemic racism in policing. Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli, who is white, thinks police still would have killed George Floyd if he were white.

This, of course, is nothing new. President Trump’s history of racism is very clear and his administration has gone out of their way to undo Obama Administration reforms to address systemic racism in policing.

In a 2000 study on police abuse, researchers found a sharp divide by race among officers in terms of whether they believed that race and socioeconomic factors played a part in brutality. From the study:

“These responses suggest that most American police do not believe that race and class are important in understanding police abuse of authority. However, findings presented later in this Research in Brief suggest that black officers and nonblack (white and other minority) police officers strongly disagree about the salience of race.”

Police killings are a leading cause among black men. One in every 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by police. To read more about police brutality and systemic racism in policing, check out our other article here.

The ACLU and the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, and Michael Brown, all killed by police, have asked for a U.N. investigation into systemic racism.

Tulsa Police Major Travis Yates appeared on a podcast to say that systemic racism doesn’t exist, but went on to explain that he doesn’t think police shoot enough black people, using the repeatedly debunked justification that black people commit the most crime. That omnipresent stereotype persists through overt macroaggressions, like the timing and location of Trump’s rally, and the more quiet, covert racism, most often in the form of microaggressions.

Cultural Microaggressions Feed Systemic Racism

Like a sourdough starter, racism needs feeding to grow and expand. And what feeds it? Microaggressions. Small, constant grains of racism, some as fine as flour, others far more coarse and broad.

Little acts of bigotry, microaggressions are a form of protectionism; they subtly knock down challenges to the status quo, with the purpose of keeping the social order and maintaining stereotypes. Sometimes people commit them in the form of gaslighting, like in the denial of systemic racism, disguised as “compliments” or couched as “jokes.” The subtlety only reinforces racist systems, as people deny the microaggressions occurred, the meaning behind them, or blame the victim of them for being “too sensitive.”

Take this wry observation from Twitter user D-Money:

Did NASCAR not know what the confederate flag meant? Did Walmart not understand the implications of locking up hair care products generally purchased by black people? Given Walmart’s extensive, carefully researched tricks to make you spend more no one could reasonably believe they did not.

Without this culturally-sanctioned form of racial aggression, society couldn’t maintain the key assumption, the racist belief in black aggression and criminality, required for the perennial justification for police violence against people of color. These small acts, like locking up products used most often used by black people, feed the notion that if they’re locked up, they’re locked up for a reason.

If police are violent, they’re violent for a reason. Even if data belies this assumption,
as white people resist arrest more often, though Black and Latinx people are more than 50 times more likely to experience the use of force from a police officer.

Police perform minor stops or pretext stops, followed by searches, more often on black motorists than white, though white motorists are more likely to have contraband.

So Are There Good Cops?

Good Cop theory is a sleight of hand, a form of misdirection. It places the weight of an entire skewed system on the shoulders of a few, and the reward for those few is they tend to remain on the force, complaint after complaint, much like Derek Chauvin who had at least 18 lodged against him.

Removing those officers means nothing if the structures that minimized and condoned–tacitly and explicitly–their conduct remain in place. Police departments, as they stand, make it difficult for officers to effect change. Whistleblowers often face repercussions; Cariol Horne, a former Buffalo police officer, was fired while the officer she stopped from hurting someone remained on the force. He was later convicted in brutality against four teenagers.

Focusing on good cops versus bad cops is a forest for the trees problem. Individual branches don’t matter when the entire forest is on fire.

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Opinion // Donald Trump / Police Brutality / Racism