We’re told over and over again that we can’t hold the police responsible for the actions of a few bad apples, even when those “few bad apples” remain in police employ and receive accommodations and promotions. Yet how many people out there are blaming thousands of peaceful protesters for the actions of a small handful of vandals?
We hear a lot about the cycle of violence whenever there is property damage and injuries attached to a political protest. We hear less about this when worse property damage and injuries are attached to a sports team’s win, or loss, or existence.
We do hear about the cycle of violence when a body—usually Black—lies in the street, slain at the hands of men who wear the flag on the shoulder and a shield over their heart and drive around in cars emblazoned with the motto “to serve and protect,” but what we’re being told isn’t “We need to stop this from happening again.” It’s, “This is an unfortunate incident, but if any windows are broken it’ll become a full-blown tragedy.”
You know what the real cycle of violence is?
The cycle of violence is police hearing that students are planning a peaceful walk-out and then running to ambush them with military-grade equipment, simultaneously paralyzing the transportation network that would be necessary for them to actually disperse as ordered and then punishing them for not dispersing. People gathering to peacefully protest violence, being met with inescapable violence.
The cycle of violence is the police learning that major street gangs have ordered a ceasefire and then concocting a story that it is so they can team up to hunt cops.
The cycle of violence is police captains and trainers telling their officers to go for the kill when dealing with criminals “so there’s only one story”.
The cycle of violence is the police relying on stereotypes and unconscious biases for designating who is a criminal who needs to be taken down and who is a citizen who may be be talked down or brought in but must ultimately be protected, if only because it’d be too much of a headache if they were killed.
The cycle of violence is the police forces across the country who, whenever this happens—and it is now very close to a daily occurrence—respond by telling their officers to “be careful out there”, meaning not “Try to understand that this is a sensitive time and there are a lot of wounds out there, old and new.”, and meaning not, “One of our own just killed a person… maybe a criminal, maybe not, but they were still a human being and part of the community that we’re sworn to protect and we bring more dangerous people alive every day so this could have been avoided and it should have been avoided, so by God, let’s do better.”
No, they tell their officers, “Be careful out there because are at war now.”
And what happens?
Seriously, the gap between extrajudicial killings by armed officers in the United States is sickeningly short under the best circumstances, but look at how quickly the bodies pile up in the wake of the highest profile-cases. When their victims are in the news, our nation’s cops don’t get any more reflective. They don’t become any more cautious or judicious in their deployment of force.
Instead, they become more militant. They become more trigger-happy. They become more aggressive and quicker to escalate.
And what happens?
The cycle of violence.
In times like this, yes. Let’s pray for peace. Let’s pray for understanding. But let’s turn our pleas towards those who are actually employed to keep the peace, and who are the ones whose response to crisis is to bring war to those who are looking for peace.
Let’s pray that the cops do learn how to take care.