Two consecutive days after the nation’s prolific red, white and blue washed over America in celebration of its Independence Day, Black America was clobbered with double jeopardy on July 5.
The first jolt struck the heart of Louisiana when the murder of black, 37-year-old Alton Sterling made news. Sterling was tackled and pinned to the ground by two Baton Rouge police officers after being accused of having a gun while selling CDs in front of a convenience store. As a graphic video recorded by one of multiple bystanders captured, Sterling is hammered to the ground with both arms pinned behind him. After one of the officers draws his gun, he blasts six gunshots into Sterling’s chest at point blank range.
With nearly no time to mourn the public crucifixion of another black citizen, the shooting death of Philando Castile emerged just a day later. Accused of riding with a “broken tail light,” Castile, his girlfriend Lavish Reynolds and her four-year-old daughter were pulled over by Minnesota police. As instructed by police, the 32-year-old reached for his driver’s license and registration right before being sprayed with bullets in his right arm as his girlfriend and her child helplessly watched.
And just yesterday (Sept. 15), we found ourselves lurking through the same dark tunnel of devastation when Tyre King’s 13 short years of life were cut short after being murdered by Columbus police after officials claimed to have witnessed him pull a weapon from his waistband. The “weapon” recovered turned out to be none other than a BB-gun. In usual police-fabrication fashion, the argument here was that the toy gun “resembled” that of an actual gun.
To everyone else, yes, these moral catastrophes were depressing: a mere nuance, another trending hashtag, an overwrought protest prompt to snuggle under the umbrella of the Black Lives Matter movement. But for those of us who are connected to men and women like them through the implications of skin color and the role it played in their tragedies, it devastatingly becomes so much more. A literal American horror story. And for police officers who consider themselves to be morally sound, good-natured, practical and otherwise, “one of the good ones,” it forces them to take a gritty bite out of the reality that, despite what they’ve been taught their sparkly badges represent, everything that glitters is not gold.
But fear not, right? After all, those videos of the “good cops” pulling folks over to serve ice cream, playing a game of Horse with the locals or even posing next to some “F**k cops” graffiti is the most discernible proof that law enforcement just isn’t as bad as those “Black Lives Matter radicals” have made it out to be.
Just ask Buzzfeed, whose definition of a good cop is pretty much chucked up to a good sense of humor. Never mind a cop will actively advocate for police reform and corrupt departments that allow racism to thrive and murderous officers to exist in the same system as the “good ones.” Nope. An obvious good cop means humorous, personable and participatory in white college kid beer pong pastimes, while those “bad ones” are out dropping black folks like flies.
While some of us get a kick and maybe even a small breath of relief from these candor-fluffed articles and photos, they also synchronously adhere to the erasure of black pain through the “good cop” narrative. Many of us may be using these bits of American hope in an attempt to quell the tension, but oftentimes, the narrative is dangled over the justifiable voices of anger, which are inflamed not by individual police officers, but the crooked and exploitative institution that all badges belong to. See? it teases. Your anger makes no sense because look at this cop opening a can of beer for a guy dressed in a bear costume! Who could possibly be mad at cops after that?
But as Dreamville’s finest J. Cole so simply, but poignantly, put it, there are “good and great people who are cops, but the term good cop is an oxymoron.” In other words, good cops simply don’t exist. Good people do.
These narratives would be more sufficient if only those friendly beer-can-popping officers could also help America explain how during a seven-year period beginning in 2005, a white police officer murdered an unarmed black citizen nearly twice a week, averaging about 96 yearly killings of black people, according to reports compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice. Or maybe he might explain how of those killings, 18 percent of them were black citizens under the age of 21. But even these numbers typify only voluntary reports of law enforcement jurisdictions. According to National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service’s (NNPA) George E. Curry, that 96 could easily be as high as 2,170 black people per year when taking into account the other 16,250 departments that do not submit these figures to the FBI. Six unarmed black people killed by police every day for seven consecutive years. And our hope for policing lies within a smiling officer serving ice cream on a fake traffic stop?
Let’s just say we could give some logical, rational, humane, justification to these statistics without admitting the burning racial disparity within them. It still would not be enough voice of reason to disarm one of law enforcement’s greatest weapons of oppression: silence.
Take former Baltimore Police sergeant Michael A. Woods Jr., for example. In June 2015, Woods’ released a series of tweets exposing all of the corrupt behavior that he and his counterparts engaged in during his time in the force. From defecating inside the homes of suspects during police raids and blaming it on the canines, to illegal searches, to lying on court documents for favorable prosecutions, to targeting Black youths simply because they arrest them more, the tweets rushed headlines.
Woods’ recount of his time on the police force is enraging, to say the least, but despite his barbaric, cold-blooded, beastly behavior, Woods now embodies the term we’ve all hotly debated to define—a good cop. His refusal to silence even after publicly leaving the position launched a full investigation into the department. And while he nor the investigation may have been the single most reparative solution to police brutality and its intersection with racism, we can only imagine how close we may be to the answer if only all officers intrepidly placed their blue lives on the line for the same cause.
In the words of the late and great Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who is proudly lauded for his anti-violence sentiments, “the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and the cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.”
So, before scoffing at those with distrust and dissonance between American policing and those who scroll past our beloved “good cop” posts, there are a few things that need to be understood. Playing basketball and skateboarding with black youths is cool, but it is not a progressive step toward the infectious nucleus of racism within police brutality.
Good cops refuse to hold “department secrets” in cases of police brutality, especially those that have resulted in deaths of black citizens, whether it is media publicized or not.
Good cops establish trust within their own minority communities by embracing and attempting to understand the premises of movements such as Black Lives Matter as opposed to blindly filing it into another drawer of “them versus us.”
Good cops report and denounce malicious behavior, even from their buddies on the squad, when it includes racial profiling, excessive and harsh punishment and perjury.
Good cops refuse to share badges with officers who have affiliations with hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, and open their mouths for their respective departments to strip badges from those officers as well.
And most importantly, good cops are more concerned with their public actions actually being that of a good cop than a bystander recording them looking like one.