No mainstream politician, activist, or pundit was going to do something as stupid as go on television after the Dallas massacre and say, “Well, that’s what the cops get. Ignore Black Lives Matter long enough, and this is what happens. Next time, it might be worse, suckas!”
But it was a little disturbing to see how close to that idea some of them came. These comments were fleeting and wrapped in several layers of “I do not condone this attack” disclaimers, but they were there all the same. Yes, this was tragic. Yes, this was despicable. But, yes, this is going to start happening with some regularity if white cops keep murdering black suspects.
If they’re right, no one should be more frightened than black Americans.
“Hands up, don’t shoot” was the lie that launched the Black Lives Matter movement, but it was a very minor lie compared to the one at the center of this debate. That lie – that white cops kill black suspects because of latent or direct racism – is making it impossible to move forward on this issue. The truth is messier, more difficult to talk about, and cannot be fixed with soundbite solutions.
The truth is that cops – black, white, or green – know they are much more likely to die in an encounter with a black suspect than with a white one. That’s not racism; that’s a proven statistical fact. And for cops who have been on the beat for a while, no statistical facts are needed.
Does this give police officers the right to start shooting wildly every time they pull a black man over for a broken taillight? Obviously not. But then, that’s not really what happens in America, is it? In fact, these shocking scenarios are so rare that the victims become household names. And in further fact, these videos don’t always show us the whole story.
Reforms like body cameras and specialized de-escalation training programs may help us make our law enforcement system better. If so, there’s nothing wrong with giving them a whirl. And there are clearly racial issues with police that have less to do with specific videos and more to do with things like the war on drugs. Those should also be addressed.
But if we only increase the level of fear police officers face when confronting black suspects, we’re actually making the problem worse. You’re not going to successfully get cops to ignore their own survival instincts. If they believe that they are not only in danger due to criminals but also due to racially-charged animosity, they’ll be quicker than ever to rely on their service weapons. We’ll see a vicious circle that can only end in disaster.
As it stands, there are too many lies and too many subtle threats being flung about to have a productive conversation. Too much hatred being thrown at police officers and not enough understanding of what it’s like to put your life on the line every day. And now the war on cops could be moving away from rhetoric and into bloodshed. None of this benefits society, none of this benefits law enforcement, and none of this benefits Black America.