Q:I have a friend, or unfortunately now an ex-friend, who recently told me she no longer wants to be friends because of my views on police brutality (we are both white). However, we have never even talked about my views, though I am dating a CHP officer. I tried to get her to talk to me about it but she refused and deleted me from all social media. How do I explain that just because I’m white and dating a cop doesn’t mean I support police brutality? It may be too late for her and I, but the question is posed to me a lot and I often feel like no matter what I answer it’s not taken seriously.
I think it’s important to put negative feelings about the justice system into historical and contemporary context. We can look to the NAACP for a strong list of facts about the current status of imprisonment in the US, and we can turn to the last 40 years of news for instances of police brutality- but I think maybe this James Baldwin interview has a quote that could help us unpack your question a bit.
“BALDWIN: Look, we live in Harlem, let’s say, or we live in Watts. The mother who comes down there with his cap and his own gun in his holster, he doesn’t know what my day is like. He doesn’t know why I get drunk when I do. He doesn’t know anything about me at all. He’s scared shitless of me. Now, what— the—fuck is he doing there? All he can do id shoot me. He’s a hired concentration-camp keeper. I can police my own community far better than you ever will. Because you can’t. It’s not in you to do it. I know why somebody there is upset when he is upset. The cats were right when they were told by somebody, some cop, some leader, some mayor to go home. They said you go home, we are home, baby. We can take care of ourselves. This is the message we’re trying to get across; we don’t need you to take care of us. Good Lord, we can’t afford to have you take care of us any longer! Look what you’ve done. To us. And to yourselves in taking care of us. No. I think the black people in this country should run their own schools, and run their own police force. Because you can’t do it. All you can do I bring in tanks and tear gas… and call the National Guard when it gets too tight. And think you can fight a civil war and a global war at the same time.”
I think when we open up conversations about police brutality, we can’t just say we are against it. The effects of police brutality are profound– children are dying in our streets, millions are locked up indefinitely, there is a real terror of any interaction with those in uniform for so many citizens. Baldwins’ words ring true still today, 47 years later. We do not have a justice system accountable to the communities it most affects. We have to acknowledge that the police have been used as a weapon against minority communities, and that the justice system is skewed to be discriminatory at best, oppressive and violent at worst. We can’t view critiques of the criminal justice system as direct attacks of those officers we know (and love)- but as necessary conversations addressing the broken system that perpetuates inequality and injustice.
It’s important to ‘come out’ as an ally. It may be that you haven’t said anything to anyone on social media, or posted any articles regarding your position. But in order for us to be effective in communicating our opposition of the abuses by the justice system we need to voice that support, often and clearly. Silence, in this case, is complacency. We have to acknowledge that the justice system has been used to unfairly police (often violently) minority peoples for decades, and that change isn’t an option-it’s a necessity to protect all of our citizens. It’s possible that your friend is seeking to distance herself from any association with folks within the law enforcement system. But I think it’s crucial for law enforcement officers, their partners, their friends etc to come together and discuss the failures of the justice system, and admit and face the abuses and then lend their hands and voices to end the cycles. You have an immense power here as someone in a relationship with an officer– your voice as an ally to ending justice system abuses could make a huge impact on folks within your community! Who knows how many more allies you could bring forth though efforts to fully understand the depth of law enforcement system corruption and communicate your support for change.