A hate crime, as originally intended, is understood to be a purposeful, detrimental act toward an individual based on immutable states of being, like race or disability. However, last week the state of Louisiana felt it necessary to codify into law, that being a police officer is among such static traits, even though officers may retire, get fired or quit, thus becoming non-police. No other category of hate crime protection has this fluidity. Lack of fluidity, and the bias toward it, was the point of hate crime legislation in the first place. The murder of a police officer in Louisiana is often accompanied by capital punishment. What worse consequence could there be? So, what gives with this illogical and literal judicial overkill?
I was a special education teacher (Autism Specialist/Severe Profound) for twelve years and have had plenty of contact with wonderful SRO’s. On the flip-side, I have also had the occasion once, to stand between an officer and a teenager who had autism for the protection of the student. That probably wasn’t a smart thing to do, but being a school teacher provides one with a bit more deference. I was able to calm the situation without physical violence, which is what this particularly arrogant officer was raring to impart upon my student. I know this because it wouldn’t have been his first joyful slamming of a student (not mine), face-first, into the ground. Regardless of this experience, I’ll go on the record and state I believe that most police officers are simply doing their best when acting as individuals.
The key word in that last sentence is, “individuals.” Anyone familiar with the Stanford Prison Experiment understands the effects unfettered authoritarianism can have on small, tight-nit units when faced with, what they perceive to be the enemy. Unfortunately, those “enemies” in question aren’t the soldiers of a fascist dictator on a far away battlefield, they are the very citizens whose lives they’re constitutionally obligated to protect. But instead, a half-century of drug war has hardened the resolve of the most affected communities, who now see law enforcement as an invading force. Sadly, in these same enclaves reside those who need addiction assistance the most but instead, on average, receive harsher punishments for the crime of harming their own bodies. To me, addiction in itself, is certainly penalty enough.
Drug cartels and drug companies have become almost indistinguishable, as they sell the same products, all the while, seeking a greater profit margin. Therein lies the absurdity of mixing capitalism with medical care. Investors put in the capital and want a return, who cares how. I have no doubt, if pharmaceutical CEO’s were allowed, some would act in the same manner as their cartel cousins. Why not off your competitors? There’s no competing based on product quality, just access to customers. That’s why drug lords call it, “territory” and drug reps call it a, “sales territory”.
To paraphrase the, cops-are-always-right crowd, “They, could never understand the risks officers face, or the worry that they won’t come home at the end of their shift. Any day now, some, “thug”(see also; “nigger”, in modern, latent racist speak) is going to kill my husband/father, etc.” Only, that’s statistically so far fetched it borders on a macabre’ fantasy. In 2015, 128 officers died in the line of duty in the United States. However, less than half of those deaths were murder. Many were accidental. Out of those deaths, 3 officers were killed by assault, 6 by a bomb, 39 by gunfire and 8 by vehicular homicide, for a total of 56 cop murders. In 2016, thus far, there have been 39 US police officers killed in the line of duty. However, only 23 of those deaths were murder. Those include, 19 deaths by gunfire and 4 vehicular homicides. The previous years were not much different and the trend of police murders has dropped precipitously throughout the end of the twentieth, into the beginning of the twenty-first century. I don’t deny that there are some hellbent on murdering and assaulting officers, and they should be rightfully punished. However, by definition, there is absolutely no concerted, “war on police”. If there were a full scale war, in a country with enough firearms for every citizen to have one, there would be multitudes more casualties. Distressingly, it is nearly impossible to ascertain a discrete total number of citizens killed by the police, as many, but not all, individual departments are not so forthcoming with the data. From what I can gather, it was around 1,100 in 2015.
The graph above represents the total number of officer deaths in the United States from the 1870’s to today. Of course, our ridiculous attempts at curbing substance use has cost many a life, both officer and civilian, but that’s inherently axiomatic and not what I find telling. Our country’s line of duty deaths have begun to approach those of the 1880’s. That in itself is wonderful, but it’s even more amazing if you consider that there were only 50 million citizens in the United States during the 1880’s, compared to the 320 million of today. That means there are less murders per capita of police now than in 1880. Currently, there are between 700,000 to 1.2 million police in the US, depending on what you consider an officer of the law. Let’s take the more conservative estimate of 700,000, that includes only local and state police. Out of those 700,000, only 56 were murdered in 2015, meaning that any beat cop last year had a mere .00008% chance of being purposefully killed. Where then is the war?
The war on cops is simply a cover for the frustration with the ubiquity of cameras. For generations, police became accustomed to acting with almost complete impunity, their statements seemingly always commensurated by other officers. Those who don’t back up their brothers in blue, oft find themselves the target of ridicule, harassment, assault, demotion and termination, even if they’re doing the right thing in exposing dirty cops. Cameras in the hands of the public means the thin blue line doesn’t have to be crossed as evidence is blatant for all to view millions of times a day. As politically middle-of-the-road, suburban whites become more aware of the biases police present toward those of color or poverty, the outrage grows. The same thing happened during the Vietnam War and civil rights movement of the 1960’s as news cameras became mobile. When citizens want answers and those in charge simply want compliance something is bound to give. I hope what gives is a path to a more egalitarian means of policing, with the drug war and racial profiling a distant memory. I honestly doubt it.
* My stats, as well as those used to generate the graph, come from the very pro-police, Officer Down Memorial Page.