John Donegan's piece "In cops' shoes" (July 2), displays a deeply problematic view of a crisis that has been affecting American lives for decades. It represents a viewpoint that is directly responsible for preventing positive change in our nation, and the world at large. In this piece, Mr. Donegan utilizes snippets of truth to make fallacious, manipulative statements that quietly demonize the movement for change and attempt to justify the despicable state of law enforcement.
As a whole, Mr. Donegan's argument is an irrelevant red herring and a malicious deflection from the issues at hand. He implores us to "walk in their [the police's] shoes" and have some empathy for them. He notes that "even the shrillest police critic will still call the cops when bad things happen," as if there is some other option for resolving crisis situations. Wouldn't that be just dandy? A world where there are groups and institutions better trained and equipped to handle every variety of crisis situation, where we don't have to call an over-militarized and undertrained force for every issue that arises? That's what the people Mr. Donegan demonizes are fighting for.
After a political attack disguised as an informative first paragraph, he begins with the assertion that the police force is "inherently and unavoidably problematic." This is the first of several nuggets of truth that Mr. Donegan employs to bolster his assertions. He follows this statement with one such assertion—"no one likes to have the law enforced against oneself." This association insinuates that any desire to reform or defund the police force is rooted in a desire to not be held accountable for actions that violate the law. He takes the true statement that the police force is flawed and denigrates it through this quiet assertion that wanting to reform the institution is rooted in criminal and selfish desires. This disregards the fact that law enforcement requires reform to actually protect and serve and continues to subtly demonize those who support its reform. There is no mention of any of the many reasons to reform the police, only veiled stabs at those who want to.
Mr. Donegan then asserts that the police deal with those who society wants to be "protected from" and that the police are a defense against the "worst people in our society." While this is true, it disregards and denigrates consistent systemic abuses of a deeply flawed system. Mr. Donegan completely disregards the point of the movements against the current state of the police force and deflects from the deaths of Americans at the hands of the corrupt system.
Through an obtuse comparison to soldiers, Mr. Donegan claims that we are asking too much of police, as soldiers have a much simpler mandate (to subdue an enemy by any means necessary). This is not an accurate comparison. The police are not ever meant to be soldiers. However, I will concede that we are asking too much of the police. Mr. Donegan notes that we are asking them to be, in essence, "gladiators," "lawyers," and "psychologists," all while remaining polite and composed. We can agree that this is too much to place on any one set of shoulders, especially one that is trained so quickly and poorly as an average graduate of a police academy. This is a primary reason why people are advocating for a shift away from police being the first responders and delegating tasks that fall into these categories to their own specialized and thoroughly trained teams. I would congratulate Mr. Donegan on such an assertion, but he has already made it clear that he derides that possibility in his piece. All of these things are perfectly reasonable demands to make of law enforcement, but the current system is not built to support these needs and is instead built to continue decades of oppression.
Of every assertion Mr. Donegan makes, the one that disgusts me the most is the claim that "relatively few of us are physically and emotionally capable of fighting and accepting the routine risk of being killed or injured, yet most of us feel qualified to judge how it is conducted." I want Mr. Donegan to repeat that over until he realizes how tyrannical that statement is. In a free society, ostensibly led by the people, who other than the people should be deciding how laws are enforced and people are protected? Is Mr. Donegan advocating for a police state where law enforcement is an untouchable institution? I certainly hope not. As a citizen of what is ostensibly the greatest democracy on Earth, I am deeply offended that he believes our voices should not be used to judge the conduct of people who theoretically work for us.
Furthermore, while I do appreciate Mr Donegan's concession that there are bad cops, and bad people become cops, that is no defense for a system built on oppression. While the "vast majority" of cops may be good people, the system they represent is thoroughly broken and in need of serious upheaval. While it does not do to generalize, and empathy toward fellow man is critical, Mr. Donegan's argument does not work toward solving greater issues in society.
Mr. Donegan's piece represents an ignorant and deeply flawed viewpoint that causes nothing but harm. Whether it is genuine ignorance or malicious deflection, such assertions as Mr. Donegan makes are not ever going to move society toward a future that even Mr. Donegan backhandedly acknowledges would be better. Δ
Isaiah Sczbecki filled in for Amy Hewes in this week's Rhetoric & Reason column. Send a response to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we just might publish it!