“I don’t feel protected or served,” I tell him.
“I do,” he says.
The back-to-back public executions of Alton Sterling (07.05.16 Baton Rouge, LA) and Philando Castile (07.06.16 St. Paul, MN) give him pause, and he concedes that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, but at the same time he wonders what it must be like to be a police officer, having to deal with so much hostility, so many ways to die. “I wouldn’t want their job,” he says.
He poo-poos my theory that we’re in the throes of a massive auto-immune response, law enforcement personnel being the antibodies and the rest of us being presumptive infections.
As to the disproportionate number of blacks who are stopped, searched, tased, shot, arrested, indicted and sent to prison each year, he points regretfully, not to suspicion of racial bias, but to negative influences. Poverty, single parenthood, unemployment, and so on. The implication being that police are responding – and responding appropriately – to an effect they didn’t cause. By and large, they’re doing their jobs in good faith to the best of their ability.
When I suggest that a self-absolving, increasingly militaristic police culture might be causative in that it meets arrest quotas and fundraising goals by preying on those least able to defend themselves in court, he demurs. My brush is too broad, he says. Is Muslim “culture” to blame for the acts of a few Muslim fundamentalist terrorists?
Of course not, I say. Neither is Christian culture to blame for the acts of a few Christian fundamentalist terrorists.
He chuckles and asks me to give him an example of Christian fundamentalist terrorism, so I offer Robert Lewis Dear, who shot up the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic in 2015. I might have offered our 43rd president, but Dear seems more obvious and less inflammatory. He questions whether Dear was, in fact, a man of any faith at all.
As you might guess, my conversation partner is a Christian. A white conservative family man of a certain age who gets his news in normal doses, and with little avidity, from mainstream media.
Yet he’s a smart, highly educated, genuinely good man, also, who walks the walk in ways I never have and probably never will.
He’s actively involved with the homeless, juvenile offender and disabled communities as counselor, mentor, volunteer and friend, whereas I, for all my grandstanding about bad lieutenants and nascent police states, do nothing that can’t be done with a keyboard or a checkbook. I’m all talk, he’s all action. Postive, practical action. He says he’s been to the encounter groups where white people acknowledge white privilege and black people hug them afterward, but then what?
He also rubs shoulders with law enforcement on an almost daily basis, collaborating with them to pull kids out of the prison pipeline. That would be the same law enforcement that I experience only through the unflattering lens of alternative media. Plus the time I was popped for speeding by Sgt. Roid Rage.
So where do I get off lecturing such a person about systemic corruption and decay? What makes me think that I’m in a position to offer him any second-hand or tertiary news or insight that he hasn’t gotten or couldn’t get for himself first-hand?
My knee-jerk disdain for authority is a blinder, I admit, but where to draw the line between empathy and Stockholm syndrome? Between considered optimism and wishful thinking? Or plain old delusion? How many “bad apples” need to roll out of the barrel before we stop assuming that most of the remaining apples are sweet and delicious?
More good questions.