Want to why know police officers are killing us left and right? The TV series “Cops” may hold the key.
By the time you read this article, the information will be outdated. By no means will it be irrelevant, but we can’t stop the swift march of time, nor can we seemingly prevent our police forces from killing. When I started this piece, it was in outrage to the shooting of Walter L. Scott of North Charleston, South Carolina, who was gunned down in cold blood after a broken taillight traffic stop.
Then, as I began my research, a volunteer deputy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, grabbed his gun when he intended to reach for his Taser, and shot Eric Harris dead. At least that was his story. And if that wasn’t enough to piss you off, now we’ve learned that he was coworkers in the Tulsa sheriff’s office “were told to forge [the officer’s] training records.”
And today, I’m watching dash camera footage from a police officer, who ran down Mario Valencia in Marana, Arizona—a man, who was accused of stealing a rifle from Walmart and firing a round into the air. Everyone with half a brain is calling it excessive force, but his department’s Police Chief insisted that, “the entire community is safe, all the officers are safe, and even the suspect in this case is safe.” And he’s probably right—it seems to be safer in custody than out on the street. Since on the street is where they’re shooting and running us down.
And he’s probably right—it seems to be safer in custody than out on the street.Since on the street is where they’re shooting and running us down.
Between when this editorial is finished and when it is published, more citizens will die at the hands (or vehicles) of the very people who are hired (and paid with our tax dollars) to protect us. Since the police departments keep lousy records of their uses of excessive force, Vox compiled a somewhat complete listing of the people who have been killed by cops in the past 15 years. 5,600 names are on this interactive map, most of them died by gunshot. Divide that by 15 years and again by 365 days per year, you’re looking at just over 1 dead person per day across our great nation.
Just for “fun” (I hope those quotation marks convey that we’re dripping with sarcasm here), let’s compare police killings to death by terrorism—in 2013, 16 U.S. citizens “were killed as a result of incidents of terrorism.” 10 died in 2012, 17 in 2011, and 15 in 2010. But we’re all certain that ISIS is on its way over to the East Coast, ready to strip us of our freedom. You gotta be fucking kidding me!
But I digress. Were any of these slayings necessary? Absolutely fucking not. Were they preventable? Maybe they were, but a huge shift is necessary in, not just whom we hire to patrol our streets, but also in the way that we train these individuals.
I’ve been a big proponent of body cameras, covering them at length when I was a vigilant producer on Off the Grid (back in the good, ol’ days—“Fuck the Police State”, “Police Brutality”, and “The United Police States of America”). I was sure that video evidence was the way to keep our boys in blue honest, but after seeing the dash camera footage from Arizona, I’m not so sure that’s the solution anymore. The officer knew they were filming, and he just ran that man down. He didn’t even pump the brakes a little.
So that’s when I began to think about the best show on television for the past 26 years: Cops (or at least 1989 to the mid-2000’s, before it became entirely comprised of drunk driving traffic stops). Besides being the only REAL reality TV series, Cops humanizes a dehumanizing career. Watching old episodes, I see the police officers reason with suspects, treat them like they’d want to be treated, bargain with suspects to get them to do what the cops want. Maybe it was the cameras following their every move that made the officers play by the rules, but I’d like to think that those officers weren’t trained to have the itchy trigger fingers that the cops have today.
Maybe it was the cameras following their every move that made the officers play by the rules, but I’d like to think that those officers weren’t trained to have the itchy trigger fingers that the cops have today.
And why are the officers of today so quick to use excessive force? I think I may have pinpointed the shift in their mental state that led to their kneejerk brutality—and it comes down to two little words: “bad guys.” Watch a current episode of Cops. You’ll hear the phrase repeatedly. Somewhere in their preparation to serve and protect, officers must be convinced that there is a black and white duality to humanity — like the dark and light sides of the force — and all people fall on one side of it. Once you’ve crossed the line, you’re a “bad guy,” who must be dealt with swiftly and with the full vigor of the long arm of the law: be it shot, strangled or run down with a cruiser.
But we don’t live in a comic book world. People aren’t all good or all bad. They make mistakes, get pushed too far, go down a dark road for days, months or years at a time, before they make a U-turn and atone for their sins. America is the land of opportunity and second chances. These people that are shot by cops for minor offenses don’t get their opportunity to turn it around. This is why I think we need to erase the term “bad guys” from police training and law enforcement thinking. A man who is “bad” today can be “good” tomorrow. If cops took the time to try to steer these offenders in the right direction, they might find that these men and women will someday be their allies in policing the streets, instead of statistics in a Vox article.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC its affiliates, or its employees.
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