It Is Time To Take A Stand About The Law Enforcement Narrative…

I am tired of the “bad cop” narrative. I have seen far too much of this narrative over the past few years and it is time for us to step back and rationally reflect on why so many folks are willing to perpetuate it, or conversely, are not willing to rebut it. Regardless of what others are, or are not, saying, I am here to say that it is time to take a stand on this narrative.

In every profession, in every organization, in every group, in every community there are people who are being bad citizens and working outside the parameters of expected standards, ethics, and morals.  Whether they are members of clergy that have run afoul of their promise to God or even farther afoul by breaking the laws of the country; politicians and appointed officials who start to believe they are above the law; daycare providers who are abusive or neglectful; teachers who engage in illegal conduct with students; financial managers that abscond with others’ life savings; doctors who do not provide the most basic level of care their profession requires; public servants (such as fire and police officers) that use their authority inappropriately or recklessly; or a hundred other examples of instances where people are behaving badly, these bad actors dramatically affect a larger group of individuals.

I am reminded of the proverb – “One bad apple spoils the barrel.” And spoil it does; because, once we intellectually recognize that aberration can occur within a respected group, organization, or profession, we start to view the collective with a cloudier lens. Trust is eroded and the notion that good people neither could, nor would, do such despicable things starts to get murky. Before we know it, we come to the recognition than just about anyone could be one of those bad actors and our whole view of mankind becomes a tad more skewed. But then, time passes and we move on. We still go to church despite the fact that there have been some members of the clergy that have done very bad things; we still vote in elections believing the right candidate will do right by the people he or she is elected to represent; we still send our kids to daycare facilities and schools; we still trust folks to guide our financial affairs; we still go to the doctor when we are ill; and, we still call for help from public servants when we are in harm’s way.  We manage to compartmentalize the bad actions as those of individuals and not to lay blanket blame across a profession which is, on the whole, filled with good people trying to do the right thing.

And yet, law enforcement has been demonized as a whole for some things rightly attributed to a few officers, racial inequity alleged to be endemic in specific departments, and other things that are nonsensical.  Law enforcement officers have been targeted and executed based on a growing malaise that has been laid across all law enforcement officers, regardless of their association with any of the most recent complaints. Law enforcement officers have been threatened and had their family members threatened. There have been efforts to demean and disgrace the badge and the honor that should be afforded to those who seek to enforce the laws and keep the peace.

Yet amazingly, the brave and committed men and women in law enforcement are still putting on the uniform and going out to do a job that is inherently dangerous and increasingly difficult. They are being shot, disrespected, verbally and physically attacked, taunted, maligned, and accused and still they show up again and again and again – they keep showing up. Well, I for one say, God bless them for their dedication. They are better people than I am. I would have said the heck with the job long ago. The pay is not that great and the danger level is high on a regular day, but in this anti-law enforcement environment the danger is multiplied and the pay seems even more paltry. Indeed, you could not pay me enough, because I am not made of the right stuff to do such a difficult, wearing, and often thankless job.

I wonder about the family members of law enforcement – their spouses, partners, children, parents, siblings, etc. – how can they bear to see their loved ones that serve in law enforcement being treated  like pariahs? How do they weather all the stories in the media criticizing law enforcement? How do they sleep at night knowing that members of law enforcement have become a target for disgruntled individuals who cannot distinguish a few bad actors from the whole.

I have no family in law enforcement, but I have many friends, colleagues, and former students who serve – good people, committed to doing the right things to serve and protect their communities. It pains me to see their efforts disrespected. I worry that they are a lot more likely to be injured or killed on the job than they were a few years ago.

This issue has become more salient to me since the pipeline protests took root in North Dakota. The protests have been going on for months and the bad cop narrative has been used to drive indignation, marshal economic support, and paint an “us versus them” picture. It has truly been an up-close lesson of how purposefully a bad cop narrative can be used to advance directives in social movements.  It has been painful to watch law enforcement vilified to further the promotion of NODAPL’s cause.

Now, I’ll admit that I probably know more than most citizens about the reality of what is going on in regard to NODAPL; I know that not all those who protest are doing it peacefully or lawfully.  And I say it that way because I recognize that not all those who protest against the pipeline are law breakers who are taunting and threatening law enforcement officers while breaking the law. But, there are some bad apples, and those folks are attempting to further the narrative that law enforcement are the enemy to further hype their message of the underdog fighting for justice. Unfortunately, those folks may very well create a cloudy lens by which all NODAPL supporters are viewed. What a shame for those who have a sincere message of protecting the environment that is most powerfully conveyed with a peaceful protest.

Alas, therein lies the problem with these narratives that are crafted around limited bad actors, they unfairly lump every individual in the group, organization, or profession together without a recognition of how damaging and unfair it is. It is akin to using “all” when you should be using “some” or “a few” – it is a pretty big difference. Think about it in regard to your own profession.  Can you control every individual in your profession? Do you want your work efforts (no matter how spectacular they may be) to be viewed via a cloudy lens because of someone who is a poor example of those in your profession? I would not want that, and I have to believe neither would others. And this goes beyond professions, organizations, and groups – narratives have long been used around topics of age, race, gender, and religious beliefs.  How comfortable are we as a society with broad stroke narratives in these areas? I will tell you simply, we are not at all comfortable with it.

Law enforcement is not the enemy, nor are they out to trample others’ rights.  They should not, as a whole, be the target of folks’ angst, anger, or retribution. When individuals in law enforcement do the wrong thing they should be held individually accountable; the whole profession should not get a black eye.

I know many incredibly dedicated and professional law enforcement officers and I refuse to remain quiet in the face of the bad cop narrative. I urge you to think long and hard before you further such narratives. Narratives that negatively encompass a group of people based on individuals’ actions are shortsighted, dangerous, and patently unfair. Ask yourself, on what side of the bad cop narrative will you stand? Indeed, ask yourself how you will argue that a narrative does not apply to you when someone in your profession, organization, or group causes you to be saddled with an sweeping, unfair narrative.  Make no mistake my friends, these narratives, and the willingness to accept them without question or rebuttal, make for a scary and polarized society…a society where any one of us could be part of tomorrow’s narrative.

Another day in the new forty- obla di obla da

Ms. C

3 Responses

  1. Steve

    Here is the problem. When bad priests molest kids, and we find out about it, they go to jail. As we have seen in the Catholic church, if no one else finds out about it, they will cover it and let the abuse continue. And very deservingly, you can’t have a conversation about bad people pretending to be good guys without mentioning Catholic priests. We know some of them molest kids, and we know a lot more of them that aren’t molesting kids will cover for those that do. Police have the same problem. If bad police do something wrong, they are in charge of investigating themselves, and let themselves off. The problem is there is no accountability in the profession to keep the bad apples from spoiling the bunch, like back when we let the Catholic church handle abuse complaints internally because we trusted them to be of upstanding moral character.

    Also, as someone who has spent a career in research and development, I also don’t understand why any criticism of them is considered some sort of deeply personal attack. In R&D, our job is to criticize each other. It makes us better. This knee-jerk reaction to criticism prevents them from ever improving. This blank check we are giving them to police themselves isn’t helping them, it is exactly what makes the problem worse.

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