Police. Brutality. I have been thinking about these two words a lot lately.
I first saw them in action in 1991 during the beating of Rodney King. Amadou Diallo was on my mind and on my college dormitory wall in 1999.
It’s a strange pairing. I wish the two words didn’t go together and were not so often a part of my life. They should be an oxymoron.
Perhaps, this contributes to why it is so hard to talk about.
Like a bad cop, it goes against our understanding of police officers, whom we see as law-abiding citizens and not the categories of people we expect to break the law.
It creates a cognitive dissonance. Because “right is right and wrong is wrong.” Right?
As a child, I was taught there were two kinds of people – good and evil, saved and unsaved. There were “children of darkness” and “children of light.”
Police brutality is evidence of a gray area, a blurring of the lines.
Yes, policing is a good job, but we should not assume that every person who holds the position is a good person or is doing the job for all of the right reasons.
Just because the cause is admirable does not mean that the person fighting for it is. You and I can point to any number of leaders, their public fall from grace and list their moral failures.
Pastors, politicians and celebrities alike, we see their public, well-lighted and very good side.
But “nobody’s perfect,” right?
This is often the quip, but it points to another extreme: perfect or imperfect.
Accountability is avoided because the bar is then raised to the impossible moral standard of flawlessness.
It works both ways, making it impossible for some people to ever be acceptable and for others to ever be held accountable for behavior that conflicts with their job description. Because they’ve got talent, are called, are providing a public service or are putting their lives on the line.
Still, where do we draw the line? How much are these persons allowed to get away with because of their title and position in our society?
Our politicians say, “We are a nation of laws.” But the meaning of these words vary greatly, depending on the community that hears them.
We, as Americans, are simply not who we say we are – not yet anyway.
America’s justice system represents our highest ideals, morals and values. Still, there is a long and well-documented history of America not applying those laws equitably. The law has never been on every American’s side.
A “Christian nation,” the United States has a history of hypocrisy, of writing down one thing and doing another.
Still, America espouses to be the hero. Captain America, draped in a flag cape, it wants to save the world, whether countries have asked for salvation or not.
We show up with aid that assimilates. This is the American way. Because God blesses America and no other country. Because you are either an American or you are not.
This is about identity, the corrupting effects of power, when a country and its citizens don’t simply see themselves as above the law but as the embodiment of it.
Judge, jury and executioner, these persons consider themselves the law and even the lawgiver.
Civilized or heathen, it might suggest that there is only one way to be a human and we will know it when we see that you have changed your name, your hair texture and lost the accent.
This is not about one person or a few “bad apples” but a system that operates on the premise that America is the representative of what is right and good with the world.
Conversely, it becomes our duty to change what is wrong with the world, often identified as groups of people.
See the “Indian Problem,” the “Negro Problem” and the “Japanese Problem” for starters. Not us but them, we all have our list of people we wouldn’t be caught dead or alive with.
Still, we see ourselves as good Christians. Because bad Christians don’t exist? You are simply a Christian or you are not, right?
These false binary narratives and identities not only limit our options when sorting things out but also limit our ability to see ourselves and others as we truly are.
It’s not black and white. It’s more complicated than that, though it is easier and more expedient for us to describe persons as one or the other.
Sheep and goats, prejudicially sorting to ensure that we are on the right side is not good news for everyone. “For God so loved the world,” right?
Not either/or but both/and, it is going to take a much bigger picture because our current one does not match our words.