People First, Police Second

On September 6th of this year in California, Fay Wells locked herself out of her apartment. She would later do what anyone would, call a locksmith and then move on with her life. Shortly after doing so, however, Fay found 19 police outside her apartment, calling for her to come out and aiming their guns at her.

No one would answer this flabbergasted and unarmed woman’s questions until much later, only then did she find out that a neighbor had summoned the police, believing the black Ms. Wells to be a burglar of her own home.

In this instance of police hysteria, the unarmed black person wasn’t shot. But Fay very well could have been and all due to the racist assumption by a complete nobody that she was a vicious little negro criminal attempting to terrorize a nice white neighborhood.

When I heard this story, though I was in no way surprised, it did bring me to excogitate on the issue of priority. Between the citizenry and the constabulary, whose life is the priority? Let us consider firemen for a moment. When these noble creatures approach a burning building and find it poorly evacuated with people still inside, do they tremble with overwhelming trepidation or do they act, knowing fully that their lives have been made second to those they take risk to save?

Firemen do not merely ‘secure’ an immolating building, protecting only themselves and those already conveniently out of danger. Indeed, they prioritize the life of the endangered citizenry, putting their own lives at risk to rescue them. They have chosen this heroic profession, along with the concomitant dangers that saddle it.

Police, however, seem to take a different attitude to their job. They appear to believe that as agents of the state monopoly on force and life and death, their lives are the priority while the citizenry, most especially the black citizenry, takes second chair.

Maybe the police of America have forgotten that ancient maxim, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. Maybe they have deluded themselves into believing they were forced into their jobs, as opposed to having actively chosen them. Or maybe their lot simply attracts craven individuals who, in the face of even the mildest threat, react with nuclear proportions. In a word, cowards.

The likeliest explanation pertains to training. The American constabulary is systemically and procedurally taught that their lives come first and that when a member of the citizenry does not cooperate with absolute obedience, they have vacated their right to life. The police are state actors. They are agents of the government which is paid for and elected by the citizenry. This means that the constabulary should be accountable to the citizenry, in other words, subordinate to us, the people.

When one chooses to become an officer they are given immense power but they should also understand that their life becomes secondary to mine when on the job. This is because the job of an officer is to protect the citizenry, including the accused, not gun them down when he or she is too incompetent or fearful to professionally resolve the situation.

If this compromise makes any member of the police feel unsafe then stop, turn in your gun, and become a florist. You should not have become a member of the police because you liked the idea of playing a cartoon’s version of a hero, waving a gun about, and shooting down every shadow that gives you goosebumps. You should have become an officer wanting to protect and defend people, even those accused by some idiot of having committed a crime – if this wasn’t your motive then the only thing you represent is a danger to us, the people.

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