Anti-Brutality Does Not Equal Anti-Police

Law enforcement training exercise
Seminole, Oklahoma
(Copyright © 2003 by Wil C. Fry.)

Yes, this needs to be cleared up again, sadly.

In the light of this story (NY Times: “Officers’ Boycott of Quentin Tarantino Films Grows”), quite a bit of the rhetoric seems to be missing the mark.

Controversial film director Quentin Tarantino recently took to the streets to protest what he and others called “murders” by police officers, despite juries and judges repeatedly determining they are “justified” killings on the part of law enforcement. In response, national and regional police organizations announced a boycott of Tarantino, not only of his films but of serving as protection for him. An organization that “represents more than 1,000 police units and at least 241,000 law enforcement officers… objected to what it called Mr. Tarantino’s ‘anti-police rhetoric’, and asked supporters both to boycott his films and to refuse to provide security or technical advice for his future projects” (emphasis mine).

Naturally — in our era of constant news awareness and rush-to-judgment social media — commentary flew fast and thick. The one that bothered me the most was “He hates cops.”

Of course, Tarantino almost immediately clarified: “I’m not a cop-hater… Just because I went to an anti-police brutality protest doesn’t mean I’m anti-police.” But that will be lost on many who’ve already assumed he is.

But the “you hate cops” phrase is often applied to anyone who protests — or even holds a view against — wanton police violence, especially when the victims are unarmed, minors, disabled people, people without criminal records, and so on. If you’re against that, you “hate cops”, in the minds of many.

The phrase is often followed by: “Then don’t call the cops next time [insert situation here].”

Anyone thinking of this national debate in terms of “pro cop” or “anti-cop” is thinking of it incorrectly.

This is a forced and false dichotomy between two insupportable positions: (1) all police officers must be immune from prosecution no matter what, versus (2) all police officers should be taken off the streets because they’re so evil.

Almost no one thinks all law enforcement officers are evil, brutal killing machines. Further, I’ve never even heard anyone say most of them are.

No one truly wants to find out what would happen if every police officer in the nation announced they were staying home tomorrow. Or for a week, or a month.

There is likely a broad spectrum of opinions among those protesting police brutality, just as there is probably a continuum of opinions among the police officers. Some of those opinions are supportable by facts, while others might not be.

Here is a brief summary of my opinions on the police brutality issue. I believe I can argue each of these successfully, though I won’t do it now:

  • A great number of police officers (likely the majority) are decent with good intentions.
  • A noticeable number have committed egregious, illegal acts.
  • Often, the punishment — if any — is light.
  • People of all ethnic groups are negatively impacted to some degree.
  • People of color are negatively impacted to a greater degree.
  • Many of the victims of police brutality were either formerly convicted of or currently committing crimes.
  • Almost none of those crimes deserved death.
  • All police officers could be negatively affected by growing public outrage.
  • All decent police officers should be against the egregious, illegal acts.

Some solutions seem obvious: deescalation training, for example. Other suggested solutions — like body cameras — could have both positive and negative impacts, and even the positive possibilities could be negated by poor policy decisions.

But perhaps the best solution would be to realize the debate is not “pro-cop” versus “anti-cop”, and instead agree that (1) police officers are necessary in today’s society and (2) some will make mistakes while others will intentionally commit illegal acts. If we can agree that both of these points are true, then everyone can quit badgering each other and work toward a fix.

Related entry: Dissecting False Dichotomies, 2015.05.25

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