I recall clearly one day, I was using the men’s room at Davis City Hall when a firefighter walked into the restroom, saw me at the stall, and proceeded to ask, “Why do you hate us?” I went into a lengthy explanation of why I didn’t “hate” firefighters, only disagreed with the tactics of their union leadership, but it was a reminder of something I have learned often on this job – people equate criticism with hatred.
It seems that any time I criticize the police, or call for additional measures of oversight or call out problematic conduct by the police, I am accused of hating the police. It was a Davis Enterprise columnist who, this spring, accused me of running a “cop-bashing” and “anti-police” blog “that is willing to publish all things negative about the police.”
The reality is that I do not hate cops. To be very clear, I have long been a critic of policing and believe that a certain percentage of police officers conduct themselves inappropriately. I also tend to believe that the percentage of bad actors is considerably higher than a lot of people want to think.
But that does not mean I hate individual cops or even the profession. I am simply a believer that we grant police a wide amount of power to take away people’s freedom and take away people’s lives under certain circumstances, and a certain percentage of people, a certain percentage of the time, abuse that power.
Make no mistake – there are people who actually hate the police. From the polling however, that number is actually quite low. There is a more radical critique of policing that views police brutality against blacks as a function of structural racism and white supremacy.
As I have pointed out previously, there is some truth in that critique of policing – as policing has often been the enforcement mechanism for state oppression of people of color, and in particular African Americans.
In her MLK Day talk from 2016 in Davis, Natasha Minsker followed Michelle Alexander’s argument that “mass incarceration is a form of social control of blacks.”
Ms. Minsker argued that “the law has been used as a tool of racial oppression in this country from the very beginning.” She traced it to the 1600s “when criminal law was used to enforce the status of being a slave.” The law was used to categorize race and classify African Americans and Africans as second-class citizens and “even subhuman.
“Today we have a system where the criminal justice system operates as a massive instrument of control for people of color, particularly for African Americans and Latinos,” Natasha Minsker said.
But, while I agree with much of this critique, I differ with some who believe that what we need is a system to enforce constitutional policing. Constitutional policing is a necessity in society, but we must be able to trust the professionals who are tasked with this enormous responsibility.
However, the problem I am having is that my interactions lately with police officers from across the region on social media platforms have been overwhelmingly negative. When I have these interactions, when I read the comments by law enforcement, it completely undermines any semblance of trust.
It goes beyond just social media interactions, for sure. Two weeks ago, I was at the arraignment court in Sacramento, and got first-hand accounts from people there about excessive force from the Sacramento Police Department, both on the streets and in their homes, as well as from the sheriff’s deputies at the jail.
The comments made on Facebook by the Sacramento Police Underground, as we have reported, are quite appalling. You have the NY Police Union complaining that its officers are victims of “blue racism.”
But by far the worst are my personal interactions on Facebook with a number of law enforcement officers, many of them friends of friends, which should give anyone pause and concern.
The comments are rude. They are insensitive. They are laced with profanity. They are insulting to individuals who do not agree with them. And they are extremely right wing.
When someone posts f-bomb laced comments on someone else’s wall, it is easy to see who they are and what they do for a living. When I see some of these posts coming from police officers and sheriff’s deputies, I cringe.
One question I have is am I seeing a reflection in the posts, on the Sacramento Underground page and in the comments on Facebook, a true reflection of the attitude of patrol officers who are on the streets interacting with not only criminals, but also average citizens on a daily basis?
This is what worries me. Not everyone whom the police encounter is going to be a dangerous criminal, and yet their attitude toward everyday people is very dismissive.
We saw this kind of attitude in Texas with the treatment of Sandra Bland, where, after she refused to put out her cigarette, the trooper threatened to “yank” her out of her car. And then he said, “I will light you up” while pointing a Taser at her.
In Sacramento, a stop by the police of an alleged “jaywalker” escalated the confrontation by saying, “If you do not stop right now, I will take you to the ground.”
The individual said, “If you’re a real man, you can take your gun away and you can fight me like a real man.”
At that point the officer charged toward the man, threw him to the ground, and punched him in the face repeatedly.
“The actions of the involved Sacramento police officer are disturbing and do not appear to be reasonable based upon the circumstances,” the Sacramento Police Department said in a statement.
We see these interactions on video, now that it has become available.
Then we read reports like the one out of the Chicago Accountability Task Force report: “CPD’s response to the violence is not sufficiently imbued with constitutional policing tactics and is also comparatively void of actual procedural and restorative justice in the day-to-day encounters between the police and citizens.”
They add, “CPD’s own data gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.” Still more: “Stopped without justification, verbally and physically abused, and in some instances arrested, and then detained without counsel—that is what we heard about over and over again.”
The comments I see on an everyday basis on Facebook are resemblant of the types of problems you see echoed in these incidents and the report from Chicago.
Still, there is a difference, which some people don’t seem to understand, between criticizing conduct and hating individuals, but my interactions on Facebook with law enforcement have been overwhelming negative.
That doesn’t reflect well and it certainly doesn’t help law enforcement make its case.
What is clear is the need for additional dialogue to start bridging the gap between those on the police force and those in the community. But supporting concepts like community policing and constitutional policing does not mean that someone is anti-police.
—David M. Greenwald reporting