With all of the recent videos of unjustified police shootings and irrational use of excessive force, you would think that the entire nation would be deeply troubled by the police misconduct incidents and that everyone’s perception of police officers would be deteriorating. But that’s not the case in all communities. Take Ferguson: after the Michael Brown shooting and aftermath, the Ferguson police department received a very high approval rating of 69% within the white community, compared to 32% of the African American community. Nationally, only about half of the population trusts the police to be fair and just, but that percentage jumps dramatically to nearly 70% among white people with annual incomes over $150,000.
What’s causing the disparity? Empathy. In communities where racial profiling is high, the risk of “driving while black” is a reality, and police violence is commonplace, the media’s attention to high profile police abuses resonates on a personal level. But in communities where people are not personally exposed to those sorts of abuses, people tend to feel the need to defend and stand by police officers no matter how egregious the police misconduct.
Take, for example, the recent police misconduct incident at the Texas pool party. To many of us, the video of police officer David Eric Casebolt throwing a young black teen to the ground, waving a gun at her, and grinding her face to the ground and his knee into her back was an inexcusable, racially charged example of excessive force, undermining trust in the police. But that was not the universal reaction. In fact, a thank you sign to the police (picture below) appeared at the local Texas pool the following day:
Most of us were raised to respect and trust the police. A certain amount of protectiveness towards the good cops who serve and protect fairly is understandable. But when that defensive feeling turns into unquestioned loyalty, despite officers’ violence and abuse — when it prompts knee jerk defense of disturbing police violence — it becomes part of the problem. For all those who blindly support police officers, I challenge you to consider this statement:
There are many great police officers who put their lives in danger to protect and defend our communities. They have our support. But like any other professions, there are also bad cops. The officers that abuse their powers and needlessly beat and shoot people: they should be held accountable for their actions. We can protect good officers and condone unwarranted police abuse and misconduct at the same time. As Jon Stewart said, the two are not mutually exclusive.