Two incidents with US police in the last week added fuel to the perception that some cops in the US are drunk on power.
One story emerged on Friday in Utah. The video showed a policeman brutally arresting a nurse after she refused to let him take a blood sample from an accident victim.
Another report Wednesday was from Georgia. A policeman who pulled over a driver apparently said, “We only kill black people.” He subsequently claimed he was trying to calm the driver.
These incidents are the latest in a series of questionable police-public encounters. Loose law enforcement, racial bias, and readiness to use guns are sullying the police image.
Police, with and without law
In the Utah case, the policeman apparently did not know the law or the constitution. The nurse did know the law. It is not legal to take or give an unconscious person’s blood, except in limited circumstances.
It may not be surprising if some police do not know relevant laws. You do not need to have more than a high school degree to be a cop. When law enforcement does not know – or ignores – the law, that is a grave threat to the rule of law.
Even when cops break and ignore the law, it seems to be very hard to punish them. In some cases, they are fired. It is not so common to see them being arrested and convicted.
With Donald Trump as President, it is unlikely that the federal government will be tough on errant cops. And with Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, the Justice Department will likely not be as hard on police and racial bias.
Police and Race
The Georgia police officer’s statement about “shooting only black people” was perhaps his subconscious speaking.
Minorities have a special reason to be nervous about any police encounters. Most likely, they will encounter a white cop. While some cities have made progress in diversifying law enforcement, more than three of four police officers are white.
Many police officers are polite and courteous. Unfortunately, there are also racist cops. The latter do not hesitate to unleash violence on minorities who MAY pose a threat.
On the other hand, as Charlottesville showed, a white man can pull out a gun, shoot, and just walk away.
Police and Guns
It is a truth –perhaps not universally acknowledged – that the US has too many guns. To some extent, it is not surprising then that it is rare to see cops without a gun.
However, only a quarter of all police officers said they had ever fired their weapon on the job. Unfortunately, having a gun in the hands of someone who is belligerent and racist can cause problems.
Cops in other countries are no milquetoasts. They can also be aggressive, and even racist. But not having guns means that they must learn how to defuse situations non-violently.
Of course, with the threat of terrorism and armed criminals, cops must have guns. But perhaps law enforcement offices might find it useful to periodically refresh their employees with the law, sensitivity to differences, and non-violent ways of calming tense situations.