The only sovereign I can allow to rule me is reason. The first law of reason is this: what exists, exists; what is, is. From this irreducible, bedrock principle, all knowledge is built… Reason is a choice. Reason is our only way of grasping reality – it’s our basic tool of survival. We are free to evade the effort of thinking, to reject reason, but we are not free to avoid the penalty of the abyss we refuse to see.”
-Terry Goodkind, Faith of the Fallen.
Today was the release day of the report on the CIA’s techniques used against prisoners in order to extract information, techniques that have been called torture. It was also the day I read an article titled Today I Stopped Caring (http://nycfirewire.com/today-i-stopped-caring/), a post by Lt. Daniel Furseth about his frustration of America’s perception of its police force.
Furseth speaks of the trials of working in a profession where you are feared and hated for enforcing rule, by both sides of the fence. He goes on to talk about how when someone in his profession does something wrong, it creates a firestorm of public outcry and inspires an “internet of lynch-mob cop haters even though 99% of us work twice as hard not to end up in the news and to still be ‘the good guys’.” Furseth brings up a valid point, about how the world at large can stereotype all police based on the actions of “a cop six states away, from a department that you never heard of, [who] screws up and forgets his oath of honor.” And I can understand and sympathize on this point. My father was a police officer and has been in some form of law enforcement for a great deal of his life. When people say things like “Fuck the police” with honest vehemence, it makes me want to take them by the shoulders and shake them until their heads fall off because that doesn’t fucking help.
Yet, even with my sympathy for his frustrations somewhat intact, I cannot help but disagree with Lt. Furseth. The outcry and anger aimed at the police is a result of the lack of being held accountable. The law that police work so hard to enforce and uphold should apply to everyone, equally. That is the basic precept that so many tout as the reason America is so great. In a country that preports to be so morally righteous as ours, it is shameful that some are given special dispensation in the application of those laws.
From 2010-2013, there were a total of 554 police deaths in the United States. These are not all attributed to being related to crime specifically, but for the sake of argument let us say that all of them were. Using data from the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund (http://www.nleomf.org/facts/enforcement/), that means that of the over 900,000 sworn law enforcement officers, 0.06% of them have died in the past four years. If you do a search of death related to occupation, law enforcement doesn’t even make it onto most charts. Does that sound like one of the “countless deaths”, Lieutenant Furseth? Do you know how many black men were killed by police in that same amount of time? I don’t. Actually, no one does. And why is that?
Propublica did a report on the number of blacks killed by police, information that also took into account same-race shootings (black police officers shooting black suspects). They found that between 2010-2012, black males 14 years old and younger were 21 times more likely to be shot. Twenty. One. Times. More. Likely. That is a stunning percentage. And while the arguments against the report (which can be found here: http://www.propublica.org/article/deadly-force-in-black-and-white) usually rely on the basis that the evidence it gathers is very limited, I find that statement fairly damning as well. The report itself clearly states that the data collected is incredibly incomplete. All of the numbers of fatal shootings are self-submitted by police forces across the nation. There is no regulatory body or committee that oversees the collection of such data. And rather than weakening the argument against the police, it strikes me as a vastly incompetent strategy for a nation so hell-bent on equal rights and freedom and justice for all.
The Torture Report (as it’s being called) is really just the icing on the cake. I have yet to read all 524 pages of it (here:http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/12/09/world/cia-torture-report-document.html), seeing as how it just hit the stands, but I’m fairly certain that it will be a grim read. So we find out the CIA has been torturing prisoners, engaging in acts that probably put us on equal footing with the people that we’re trying to demonize… and people aren’t surprised. Everyone I’ve talked to about it today has responded with varying levels of sickened resignation. So what does that say about our country, that it’s citizens practically expect such things from its government?
I wish I could meet Lt. Furseth. I wish I could look him in the eye and shake his hand and thank him for all of his hard work in protecting the lives of the American people. I wish I could tell him that there will always be people who are assholes, who will yell “FUCK THE POLICE!” and get on social media and bad-mouth his profession and his livelihood. And I wish I could quietly and calmly describe to him that his anger at those people, while understandable, is misplaced. Because the actions of officers like Daniel Pantaleo and Darren Wilson are the things that are fucking it up for all the guys who are getting it right. The only way to change is to recognize that there is a problem in the first place. To use our faculties of reason to see and be honest that there’s a problem and an abyss ahead of us as a nation. And the problem is that the guys who are fucking it up are getting away with it. Is it really so much to ask that everyone be held accountable to the same standard, the same laws, regardless of race, sex, income, and creed? Wouldn’t that be an example of the “hard work and dedication” you call out for in your letter? Wouldn’t you be proud to be a part of the creation of such a nation?
I know I would.