The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Are Cops Bad?

Not from my point of view.  They do tend to be high-Alpha types who see the world in slightly black-and-white terms.  And like anyone who deals in a world of victims and predators, they tend toward a bleak view of the world.  but I believe that most of them started out wanting to protect "their" community.  And here is where things can go wrong, racially.  Stress these guys out, and their real feelings--not the socially constructed politeness--comes to the surface.  These beatings we've seen are, I have to think, examples of the way high-testosterone types would love to treat each other, if that pesky law didn't get in the way.  Yes, it's brutal, and sometimes deadly, and reprehensible.  But there's a reason why there are referees and judges in every sport, and penalties for fouls.  These aggressive types will break rules.  They play by instinct.  In a low-light environment, where they have a fraction of a second to act, they will act according to their deepest psychological leanings...much like people deciding what movie they'll see or won't see.  So, just as one measure of social equality and real healing will be when black men can have sex in movies, and it doesn't hurt the box office, another, more dreadful sign will be when one is equally likely to see black cops beating white perps as white cops whooping on black perps. 
This is, quite purely, a matter of cultural privilege, to be able to see and feel oneself the center of the universe.  OF COURSE this is an unenlightened point of view, but virtually by definition, few people are enlightened--if there were more of 'em, the world would be a better place.
Maslow's Heirarchy of needs--and the Chakras--suggest that until lower needs are satisfied, you can't (or are less likely to)evolve on to the higher levels.  Little white boys and girls can believe they are safe, and protected, and special, and the center of the universe at a far higher rate than non-whites.  This gives them a foundation upon which to develop healthy emotions, and security, and move to a higher level, where compassion, love, creativity, intellectual freedom, and spirituality can be found.  Without this foundation of egotistical self-love, it is difficult. The ego of babies, that balance of helplessness and "I am God!" is legendary.  Yes, this is primarily the responsibility of the parents. Yet and still, every culture on this planet  plays "secondary parent" providing vast amounts of feedback saying "yes!  you are special!" and the children see that reflected back to them from every direction.  At its best, this provides a foundation for maturity.  At its worse, it produces egotistical monsters.  Cops live in a twilight world, and are both some of the most aggressive among us, and walk in an environment most likely to trigger that latent aggression. Just as a culture can be measured by the way it treats the most helpless, it can also be measured by the transgressions of the most powerful.  While I don't measure all cops by the actions of a few, I have never known A SINGLE BLACK COP who didn't talk privately about the culture of racism in his department.  What?  Not a single one?  could they ALL be wrong? But then isn't that saying that all white cops are racist?  Or all whites?  No, back up for a moment.  What is really being said is that racism lurks in the human heart, and among the most aggressive--the very ones we need the most, at certain times and situations--this tendency is not only common, but damned near necessary.
Several of the readers talked about the anger they feel around cops.  Don't you get it?  What you are actually experiencing is fear, and your mind converts it to anger so that you won't be paralyzed.  Anger is better than fear, peace better than anger, love better than peace.  It is a step in the right direction.  But you'd better grasp that those cops are in terror of those black people.  Terror. And the anger and violence they project is their defense from their own weakness.  And they are afraid, and have been afraid for 400 years, knowing what would happen if the social roles were ever reversed.  Black culture has been astonishingly forgiving (the non-violent Civil right movement in America.  The "Truth and Reconciliation" trials in South Africa) but that is, in part, because more violent action simply wouldn't have succeeded as well.   I maintain that what we face in these cops is what we are--both angels and killer apes.  If we own both, we will never be surprised by our behaviors, the children can be safe, and we can keep our eyes on the way ahead.  But if we believe we are angels, we will be continuously surprised by the horrendous actions of a few still mired in the muck.  And if we think human beings are merely killer apes, we nurture the capacity for brutality in the Nth degree whenever the cameras are off.  It is in accepting both ends of the Chakras that we understand ourselves, can heal our wounds, can forgive ourselves and others. 
But remember--forgiving does not, and has never implied forgetting.

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