Series: Why We Hate the Boys in Blue, Part II
What’s the price for a black man’s life? I check the toe tag, not one zero in sight” – J. Cole, January 28th
[It is nearly impossible to turn on your TV, visit a news site, or open Twitter without encountering another story of police brutality and abuse of power. It seems like each week, we have a new name in a hashtag, memorializing the life of another man or woman lost to the boys in blue. This has inspired fear, anger, and for some of us, hate. Yes, we are growing to hate the police, and it is not without cause. The facts and figures point to a terrifying pattern of police violence against people of colour, especially blacks. Each of those facts and figures represent real lives—real human beings who live in fear of becoming another victim, another number on a chart, another body on the ground. Over the past month, I have interviewed five young people who shared their experiences with and feelings toward the police. They, like me, had a lot to say, and it is so important that we listen to the people who live this fear. Here is part two of my three part series on police brutality.]
Have you had any negative experiences with the police?
Yes. I got arrested when I was in the eighth grade. Yes, what I did was wrong but if they wanted to make some sort of positive impact in my life (considering it was my first run in with the law), they need to be trained more with sensitivity and mindfulness. Honestly those assholes have a different way of thinking. They don't think like genuine educators which I think they should in some sense. Instead, this is all a numbers game. Anything to make them look productive like they're doing their job, rounding up delinquents, arrests, etc. Yes they do protect the public and risk their lives but they also destroy lives and communities. Another experience was last April, my ex-boyfriend and I were stopped while driving. The officer claimed he was speeding, but I was aware the whole time and he sure as hell wasn't. We were discriminated because we are young minorities, they wanted to find something on us. Why card us? [The officer] asked for [my boyfriend’s] driver’s license, ID, insurance papers etc. He didn't have the insurance papers but he has his policy number memorized and when he provided it to the officer, the officer was surprised and knew we were no nonsense type of people that did no wrong. If he was speeding, why wasn't he issued a ticket? Because he didn't do anything wrong that night. The officer thought we were young drunk ghetto hoodlums. We both knew as we drove off that that officer felt a damn fool (maybe even disappointed) to waste his time harassing us. My daughter was in the car as well that night and she was not impressed. She stated she was traumatized and it left such a sore impression of officers in her mind. Amazing how I've never bad talked officers in my life in front of my kid and she can make her own unbiased analysis as to how 'wrong' that was and how the encounter made her scared and uncomfortable.
Are there good cops?
I believe there are good cops. I assume those are the ones who had a very good upbringing and were nurtured with an abundance of morals and values growing up. I recently read an article about a young officer who always 'did the right thing.’ When he snitched on his fellow officers for doing corrupt bullshit and overusing their power, they would purposely leave him to fend for himself when he requested for backup. Talk about corrupt! Besides endangering his life, they also threatened his job so much that he felt he needed to step down or transfer states to work elsewhere on a police force. 106
Any suggestions for reform?
Sensitivity training. Psychology classes. Showing documentaries to officers in training about how crooked officers who abuse their authority behave and make it clear that this is not the type of representation they want to give to the public. Showing these officers real life examples that actions have consequences. Create a program where they study other cultures (via films, not so much theory) so prejudices can be diminished. They don't have to agree with what they're taught, but at least it can potentially break down their narrow minds when dealing with various social classes, races and genders.
Have you had any negative experiences with police?
Last summer i was in downtown Toronto really late. I was being followed by this man for quite a few blocks and he kept making hissing noises at me so I was pretty scared. I thought that I had lucked out when i saw a cop car parked randomly on the street so I approached the officers inside and told them about the guy who was following me. I also told them how I was actually stranded in Toronto with no way to get back home and no buses, my phone died etc. The officers were both men but they seemed pretty nice and they even offered me a ride all the way home. When I got in the car one of the officers got into the back seat with me and sexually assaulted me as the other officer drove. He justified it as payment for the ride home and when he was done they dropped me off at the side of the road in the middle of the night.
Is policing corrupt?
Absolutely. I think as a whole police officers are in a position where they have so much power and not enough checks and balances. I think that as long as people are afraid of the police then the police can do whatever they want. They are in a position to abuse their power. This man who assaulted me didn’t even bother to hide who he was because he knew that as a police officer, he would get away with what he did. The job description of a police officer is supposed to be to protect and serve but i don't see that. What I see, what I’ve experienced is a policing system whose main role is to act as a punisher. It’s an aggressive role.
What are your sentiments towards police?
I hate the police. I feel like I have to back that statement up by confessing that I’m one of those people who scolds strangers for popping a grape into their mouth in the produce section of the grocery store. I’m a very "by the book" kind of person. I don't break the law and i don't believe in breaking the law. I grew up in a household where despite the fact that nobody ever broke the law we were taught to tense up at the sight of police. If my parents were driving they were always nervous around cops even though they were never doing anything wrong. This was my first impression of the police: an authority to be feared. On the other hand I was taught at school that the police were there to help me. In elementary school they even brought in a local police officer to come tell us that they are there for us and to help us and basically that police officers are our friends. So, even as a child I’ve always had this conflicting view on cops and it wasn't until I was older that I realized that none of my white friends had this conflict meanwhile all of my coloured friends did. I also realized that my parents fear wasn't unprecedented. The lesson that was taught in school about the police "being my friends" wasn’t meant for me. Not as a woman and definitely not as a black woman. I hate the police because they hate me. I don’t hate them as individuals and I have met cops who have helped me in the past. But the reality is that those few good interactions don’t erase the thousands of terrible interactions that came before them.
It is important to note that this fear and distrust is not new and it is not going away. It is spanning generations; our parents felt it before us, our children are feeling it now. Should the pattern continue, our grandchildren will feel it. When it comes to police brutality and abuse of power, history is repeating itself in a disconcerting and downright terrifying way.
See part I here.