Picking Sides

It’s difficult for me to determine which of this is the most dispiritingly fucked up. The number of civilians killed by law enforcement officers in the United States since… well, pick a number, any number. Incredibly, these kind of statistics aren’t routinely kept. The execution style shooting of two New York police officers over the weekend. Or the statement issued in response to the shooting, allegedly by the inaptly named Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, one of the NYPD’s unions:

“The mayor’s hands are literally dripping with our blood because of his words, actions and policies, and we have, for the first time in a number of years, become a ‘wartime’ police department. We will act accordingly.”

It is the latest twist in the uneasy saga between New York mayor Bill de Blasio and the city’s police force, going back to the election campaign when he talked of reform. The police have viewed his not critical enough opinion of the protests which emerged in the city after yet another unarmed black man, Eric Garner, was killed at the hands of the police and yet another grand jury refused to pursue prosecution.

Not to diminish anyone’s deaths here, not the slain police officers, not the hundreds of civilians killed annually by police and law enforcement officers but the above statement has to be as close to treasonous as you can get if that’s possible in a non-military situation. Officers sworn to uphold the rule of law declaring war, essentially, on those who have granted them that right. ‘We will act accordingly’ uttered threateningly in the direction of an elected leader.

How can that not be the most shocking element in this already shocking story?

The fact that no solid record or numbers have been kept in terms of civilian deaths at the hands of police forces is shocking.

The blind eye we as a society turn to excessive force and brutality from our police officers is shocking.

The ease with which a convicted criminal with acknowledged mental health problems could access a firearm is shocking.

But little undercuts a democracy more than the idea of armed insurrection by those expected to serve and protect.

Am I missing something in those ‘wartime’ words?

I ask this from my privileged perch where my last interaction with the police was getting the speed reduced on a ticket I received in order to avoid losing points. I am not unaware that large segments of our society already see the police in a much less benign way than I do. People of colour. Those with mental health issues. The poor, the indigent, the outsiders.

Police baring their teeth at them is nothing new.

But we, those of us on the safe side, collectively shrug. It’s a dirty job, right? Where angels fear to tread…

Increasingly however, the net of undesirables has seemingly widened. Somehow expressing understanding of mostly peaceful protests against the death of another unarmed black man has made the mayor of New York complicit in cop killings. You’re either with the police or you’re with the police killers. Levelling any sort of criticism of the men and women in blue is now akin to levelling a gun at their temple.

Toronto’s police union president got into the frenzy, penning an editorial in the Toronto Sun, pointing his finger at ‘anti-police rhetoric’ as destabilizing. Carried to the extreme – “police officers are the enemy”, McCormack puts in quotes, although I’m unsure exactly who he is quoting – can only lead to the tragedy we witnessed in Brooklyn on Saturday. Police actions have no consequences. Criticisms of those actions, which amount to anti-police rhetoric, do.

The murder of police officers is indeed a tragedy. But so is the murder of every person who dies at the hands of our police. To say those deaths are beyond questioning, or the anger that arises when those deaths are not properly investigated and prosecuted is somehow anti-police, threatens, if not democracy, maybe that’s too broad a stroke, it undermines the quality of justice.

Some lives are more valuable than others. Everyone is not equal in the eyes of our law. That kind of eats at the heart of our democracy.

This isn’t about us-versus-them. It’s about order-versus-justice. Some of us think out of the former will come the latter. Right now, I’m seeing very little evidence of that. Instead what we’re witness to is that without justice, there is no real order.

— unYuletidely submitted by Cityslikr