Photo Courtesy of Sean MacEntee
By Sojin Shin || Op-Eds Editor
About a month ago, our family almost got robbed. We were fortunate in that my sister happened to be up when she saw them in the driveway at around 3 a.m. She opened the window, yelled at them, and they got away. We called the police the next morning since we didn’t know if the situation counted as an emergency, as the robbers had fled by the time we got to the driveway. The police officer that we reported the case to was civil, professional, and thorough in his interview about the incident. He also assured us several times that we should call 911 immediately. “I want you to feel comfortable asking for help,” he added.
Weeks flew by, and I had almost forgotten the incident until it somehow came up during a conversation I had with my neighbor, whose hobby is picking out new peonies for his garden. He used my anecdote as proof that the Black Lives Matter Movement is unnecessary since most cops are as dutiful and diligent as the officer I had talked to. “I don’t know how we will move forward,” he said, referring to the political tensions in the country.
This is not an uncommon defense of the police as an institution: it is often said that the media blows isolated incidents of violence out of proportion when in fact most cops are dedicated, noble, and selfless servants of the law. Having a friend whose parents are police officers, I can understand how someone might feel threatened and even offended by the recent anti-police sentiment. I also acknowledge that most of the officers I have interacted with in my life, including the one I phoned a few weeks ago to report the attempted robbery of our leased car, were indeed kind and helpful (although, I wouldn’t want to discount the fact that I live in a relatively crime-free and predominantly white part of Long Island). Being Asian, a “model minority,” so to say, also makes my experience vastly easier, I do not doubt.
Still, as much as I appreciated the help this certain officer provided a few weeks ago, I hold that the issue at the heart of the BLM protests is not in questioning the goodwill of an individual officer but how police as an organization is structured and behaves. The people are enraged at not just the officer that brutally murdered George Floyd, but the machinations that allowed it to happen. Indeed, a series of events, combined with other facts, reveal that the police, as an institution, are flawed in detrimental ways.
First, we know that the U.S police are undertrained and under-prepared. In comparison to a country like Germany, which requires all new recruits to undergo two to four years of training, much of it focused on de-escalation, U.S recruits have roughly 14 to 33 weeks of training (The Atlantic). A shorter training period inevitably means less preparation for different scenarios that might arise in real-life moments of hostility. As a result, an under-trained police officer is more likely to discharge their weapon in situations without a clear need to use violence. For instance, in 2017, there were 1,000 legal intervention homicides in the U.S, a staggering comparison to only 14 in Germany.
Another issue in contemporary police training is that little to no attention is given to an officer’s perception of race, poverty, and other socioeconomic factors. Because there is no federal agency governing police recruitment, it is not guaranteed that all police departments implement a standard procedure to weed out racist or overtly aggressive personalities. It is also notable that while police agencies do tend to provide implicit bias training, the workshop typically ranges from mere 4 to 10 hours, rather than a full-fledged course on the intersection of race and judicial procedures. Once again, considering the racial and socioeconomic tensions that are rife in America, the hours are significantly few.
As I wrap up this article, I want to say that my neighbor is not a viciously racist or even a selfish person. He has offered multiple times to get us groceries, knowing my mother has pre-existing conditions that make her vulnerable to COVID. He has a quirky but endearing hobby of watering many of his neighbor’s gardens at three o’clock. I do believe he has spoken out of genuine concern for the future of the country, but I also believe that his concerns are misguided.
Individual goodness is not a measure of how effective or well-prepared someone is. I can say with certainty that the police officer I spoke to the day after the attempted robbery was kind, civil, and professional in his response. Whether he can respond appropriately to an emergency or hostile situation, however, is not a question I can answer with the same confidence, as much as I would like to.
By using virtues of individuals as a way to defend a malicious and broken system, we expose both the citizens and officers of the said virtues to unnecessary violence. It is my sincere belief that right now, we all have good reasons to be worried about the police.
Junior Sojin Shin is the Op-Eds Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org