Let’s not Brutalize the Police for the Actions of the Few

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Being a police officer nowadays is hardly a dream for today’s youth, as the occupation receives more and more hate. Stop for a second and think of what it has to be like for the cops that don’t brutalize citizens because that is the vast majority of  United States police officers. Protests that direct hate towards the profession and not the individuals who carry out these brutal acts, take a toll on officers who are doing their job without doing harm.

Police brutality is such a tricky topic in modern America, you probably think of all of the cases that you have seen on television of innocent lives being taken by seemingly careless or prejudiced police officers. Many tend to generalize police brutality when criticizing the police system, creating a harsh and negative stereotype around the profession.

Police brutality is a big issue in America. Just this year a total of 788 people have been killed by police according to “The Washington Post.” And according to The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, there are about 900 thousand sworn law enforcement officers. While these are surprising numbers, misplaced hate is never good and a large majority of officers don’t deserve the criticism as they protect the peace. Police officers have enough to focus on without the people that they strive to protect on a daily basis criticizing them at every turn and resenting them.

Police officers are put in life threatening situations and have to make difficult judgement calls often. Sometimes there’s no right answer. There are always going to be times that people don’t agree with the call, and sometimes it is in fact the wrong call, but in that moment the officer had to make it. Snap decisions aren’t always cut and dry. It’s easy to look back and say what they should have done. However, the reality is that we, the citizens, were not in the situation and that the officers did what they felt was necessary to save lives and protect the peace.

A large number of citizens bash police and the profession and even protest their actions. These acts of civil unrest have created an added danger for our officers.

“Being a law enforcement officer,” said Loy Norrix School Resource Officer Devin Palmer, “is a dangerous job. I signed up for this job and knew of the dangers from the start. I feel like as an officer, you can’t let the things going on in the world make you nervous or afraid when you are on duty. I do feel that officers really need to keep their heads on a swivel and be extra alert and take into account the heightened tensions that exist between a small portion of society and police.”

Officers have to focus on the job at hand regardless of what others think of them. The negativity certainly doesn’t help them focus on preserving the peace.

“I deal with the negativity surrounding my job by the way I think. I always have it in my mind that I am just doing a job,” said Officer Palmer of the added danger of his job. “There are good days and there are not so good days. I always try to look at the positive things in my life when one of my days at work is not going the greatest.”

The United States needs to break these negative connotations that come with being an officer of the law. Community policing is a great way to achieve this. According to Devin Palmer, community policing is working with a population to make their environment safer for everyone.

“I think that community policing is a good way to challenge some of the negative stereotypes against police. Treating the people that you serve in the community the way you would like to be treated or the way you would want your family treated is also a key in my opinion,” said Officer Palmer.  “There is a very small portion of society that I feel no matter what you do, simply will not like police, but even those people need to be treated with respect.”

There are ways of handling difficult situations that  keep all parties safe. We should take lethal options, primarily guns, out of the hands of cops who are just doing their everyday duties in favor of non-lethal options, like tasers and pepper spray. Taking deadly weapons out of officer’s hands unless completely necessary will greatly decrease the number of citizens killed by police. These non-lethal options are perfectly capable of subduing a criminal without killing them. Police are moving toward non-lethal options, as they carry them on their person, but have yet to move away from carrying firearms at all times as well.

“In addition to carrying a firearm, KDPS [Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety] officers have several other options of less lethal force. Typical less lethal options that KDPS officers have are tasers, pepper spray and batons,” said Officer Palmer.

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Loy Norrix School Resource Officer Devin Palmer. This is Palmer’s first year working at Loy Norrix. Photo Credit / Sidney Richardson

Primary use of non-lethal options leaves room to retroactively figure out if the suspect was in fact a criminal. We’ve seen plenty of cases in the media of citizens killed under the pretense that they were a clear and present danger to the officer and the public, who later were found to be unarmed and innocent like in the case of Charles Kinsey, a therapist who was shot while trying to calm his autistic patient. There have also been cases where citizens were killed while they were guilty of a crime, but not a crime worthy of being killed or harmed, like in the case of Freddie Gray in Baltimore who was brutally beaten and arrested for possessing an illegal switchblade before dying later in police custody.

Many felt that officers weren’t properly held accountable for their actions although they were disciplined. To fix these issues and bring awareness to the problem, we need to not only change the way the system works but we need to have cops speak out against the actions of their peers. There needs to be a rise among those officers who do their job correctly and they need to use their voices to bring change.

I am an avid member of the Black Lives Matter movement and I feel that police should be held accountable for what they do, but holding police accountable means the individual officer, not the entire profession. The prejudice surrounding our police system creates an added stress, which in turn causes more mistakes to be made. We can’t judge a whole group of people based on the actions of a few within the group.

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