To Shoulder The Arms

Our view of the world is shaped by what surrounds us and by our past experiences.

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Reading stories of police brutality, I struggle with a few things. (Only some of which I mention here.)

First, the obvious, empathizing with the struggle and suffering that comes with being part of a group that is oppressed and the injustice of being attacked when seen as a vulnerable member of a society.

The groups change based on where the brutality, aggression or indifference takes place. Examples from recent news stories are members of the Native, black and gay communities, as well as women and children.

Second, the absurdity of statements justifying and supporting the actions of aggression.

It’s absurd to me because I truly see every person as being of equal worth. I’m like the organ donor decision board.

I do not judge the value of a life based on what s/he looks like, what s/he has accomplished or contributed to the world, where s/he grew up, went to school, or any of these things. Each life, in my belief, is as valuable as the next.

I believe we’ve only ever tried to prioritize and judge the worthiness of people because of impossible situations where we have felt, on some level, that it was up to us to make a choice. Who gets to live or die. And whether we believe that to be a choice between me and that guy over there.

Or, when we are heavy with grief and guilt when our lives have been spared while a loved one has died. Put in a situation where we grapple with our own worthiness.

From my perspective, it’s absurd that any police union boss or commissioner or media liaison person would publicly and undeniably condone the obvious aggressive actions of any officer.

To be fair, officers have a job that requires him/her to assess danger levels all the time. And working a job where you have to be alert to the possibility of being attacked most of the time has a way of warping a brain, skewing a perception of society as a whole.

It’s easier, I think, to lose faith in the intrinsic goodness of humanity when your job is to face people who might want to kill you, and certainly are not happy to see you, want to hide everything from you, disrespect you, want to taunt you or humiliate you.

Whether this attitude is a main aspect of your job or not, the presence of it can haunt you.

Our view of the world is shaped by what surrounds us and by our past experiences. And if we aren’t conscious of this, we have no sense of agency in shaping our perceptions. So, we float along, believing that the entirety of the human race, the world, the universe, is exactly what we’ve seen from our narrow experience.

If the weight of believing horrible things about the entire world is too much to carry, it might be easier to see some specific groups as “The Bad Guys”. Compartmentalizing is a perfectly human psychological defense.

This is not fair or healthy. It just is.

And it stems from a need to believe in our own worthiness when we are only able to outsource the assignment of the ‘title’ of Worthy.

I doubt there’s a big push in policing budgets for programs that support widening perspectives. And this may stem from a fear that doing so will soften officers. Throw him/her off his/her game. Put him/her or the communities served in danger.

This fear is driven by the fact that there is community outrage when those deemed innocent or worthy are “allowed” to be harmed.

What is the cost of that fear?

Lives. Lots of lives.

Can there be an effective police force that assesses danger without preconceived ideas? Can there be questions asked before tackling a guy standing by the front entrance of a hotel?

Are some police officers caught up in their role as protector? Is this a main identity?

If protecting the world is seen as an identity, and that perception is supported by many surrounding people and factors, and protecting the world is seen solely as taking down The Bad Guys, and there is a preconceived idea of who The Bad Guys are, what does it take to see a possible bad guy as someone who can be handled with ease, grace, compassion, fairness?

It takes a huge shift. And that kind of shift, while it does have to be an individual process, will never happen on a large scale until the supporting people and structures stop justifying aggressive behavior.

It could be seen as the job of a police union boss to protect the protector. To help save the job of a guy who is just doing his best given the tools he’s learned. A guy who could have been him.

The good news is that people who support unacceptable actions empathize with the person who took the action. Compassion, no matter who it serves, is a wonderful thing to see. It reinforces my belief that our capacity is alive.

Sideways is easier to address than extinction.

Evidence of empathy from a person living within a constricted perspective inspires me to believe that no matter how bleak things may seem sometimes, we are capable of heading in a better direction.

But, again, the aforementioned compassion is coming from a limited perspective. A dismissal of the greater problem, or a disbelief that a person in that position can do anything to contribute to the solution.

Unfortunately, supporting aggressive action while trying to support the human who made the decision, makes it seem like it’s okay to randomly charge and then take down any person standing near a hotel entrance.

Here’s what I would have done:

I would have said that while I do not condone the aggression used by the officer, s/he was doing his/her best with the information known at the time to make a quick decision about how to handle a person who was believed at the time to be involved in criminal activity. We apologize on behalf of the officer for the harm caused by this act.

It’s not okay to take out aggression on someone because s/he appears to be a vulnerable member of the community, and is, therefore, judged as less likely to result in negative consequences.

Individual officers who have a history of aggression need to be supported with anger management programs or counseling. It would be best to start this process after the first or second incident of aggression.

I think it’s important for police management and policy makers to give officers opportunities to keep his/her personal perspectives balanced.

Policing isn’t all about hunting criminals. It’s about teaching school children safety. It’s about helping people in distress. It’s about directing traffic. It’s about preventative measures in communities to increase and maintain safety levels. It’s about creating a positive relationship with the members of those communities.

There’s a way to involve every officer in these low stress, high reward activities.

If those in charge of decisions like this fail to see the cost benefit, it could be beneficial to weigh the cost of lawsuits against the cost of bringing job balance to the officers who spend much of his/her time in the high anxiety state of fight or flight.

It will also reduce the cost of sick leave and turnover, as well as any cost associated with job-related burnout.

Take a risk. Make a change. Use the evidence to support the decision to do so. Assess the results after a predetermined amount of time. Make adjustments. Keep going.

Author: tendrilwise

Hi, I have a diploma in Journalism, I've published a novel, and I am currently studying psychology. My odd way of viewing the world either gets me kicked out of parties or invited to them. Jenn McKay

4 thoughts on “To Shoulder The Arms”

  1. Hey Jenn,

    Another great topic. Police brutality as mentality versus the safety of themselves and the public. It seems unjustified for a police officer to make assumptions and act inappropriately. However in some situations if the police officer did not make these assumptions would they still be breathing.

    I see the police force losing its battle in this area. You have a whole bunch of individuals (some basically trained) looking after the rest of us. And generally I feel good about the work they do. We all do until we are on the opposite side of the law, seen as a minority or vulnerable person. Or feel the injustice by their actions.

    I don’t know where the line is drawn or how you overcome such situations – I feel for the victim but I can certainly understand where a police officer is coming from.

    Rachel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Rachel, thanks again for reading and commenting on my blog. You’ve been wonderfully supportive 🙂

      In no way is police brutality in any form (any manifestation of violence or indifference causing harm to those who the force is mandated to protect/serve – all of us!) acceptable or justified or justifiable.

      I hope I was able to make that clear in my piece.

      I write about finding compassion in situations that I find challenging.

      This actually brings to my attention that I have not yet written a post about compassion for vulnerable members of society – or not recently anyway. Maybe it’s time I do that. It seems obvious to have compassion for vulnerable members of society, but maybe it’s not obvious.

      I free-form write out my process of finding compassion for people who are in situations where they find themselves as the underdogs of compassion in current public opinion.

      And through this, I hope to make viable suggestions for actual solutions, because I truly believe that problems don’t get resolved through anger and/or judgement.

      Obviously my process did not lead to a complete solution to this complex issue, but I hope it can be seen as a beginning.

      Talk again soon! Take care,

      Jenn

      Like

  2. Hi Jenn

    I love the fact that you discuss this important topic. Police brutality is a very subtle challenge while some people are of the opinion that the Police should be tough to tackle crime, I believe too much of everything is dangerous.

    In my country, Police brutality has enabled citizens to disregard the Police. People have come to accept that the Police isn’t their friend so they fight for their rights in every way rather than allow the Police to fight for them.

    I can relate to the Canadian guy; the embarrassment and the Public disgrace. Thanks for sharing.Have a swell week

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Ikechi,

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I can see how taking advantage of a position of authority could unfortunately lead to total disrespect and therefore start a warring between two groups who ideally would be on the same side.

      I find it interesting that you would comment that this particular guy would feel embarrassment and public disgrace.

      I do not think this person felt either of those things, and here’s why: though he was mistaken for, and therefore treated as, a vulnerable member of society, he is not a vulnerable member of society at all.

      I believe you only feel shamed or disgraced when someone does you harm when you believe (consciously or subconsciously) that you are not worthy of being treated with proper respect.

      That’s exactly why vulnerable members of society being treated brutally is a disgrace (on the part of those who cause the harm).

      Vulnerable members who feel worthy of better treatment but feel helpless to get that in certain circumstances either feel angry or despondent or go through periods of feeling disillusioned.

      When this becomes a pattern, it’s really difficult to break.

      Which is why I call on the policy makers and management to make a change.

      Thanks for your thoughts,

      Jenn

      Like

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