On Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr suggested communities who don’t show police respect don’t deserve police protection.
It’s unclear what Barr’s idea of showing respect for police looks like. But suggesting police protection be contingent on whether communities show blind support for police is problematic at best. Especially when speaking to a room full of cops at a Justice Department ceremony honoring police officers. This type of rhetoric only helps to further instill the “Us vs. Them” mentality that infects our law enforcement apparatus today.
“But I think today, American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers. And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves — and if communities don’t give that support and respect they might find themselves without the police protection they need.”
The entirety of his statement is a clear dog-whistle because we all know which “communities” he was speaking of. If you’re not sure, let me explain, he was talking about the inner-cities. Where people of color are routinely oppressed by law enforcement at an astounding rate in comparison to other, less diverse communities. In other words, he doesn’t want anyone protesting or questioning all that is wrong with every aspect of law enforcement today.
This is not to suggest we shouldn’t respect and honor the inherent dangers of the job. Nor am I suggesting anyone be anti-cop. However, we were all raised with the notion that respect is earned, not granted. As true as that is, and given the systemic problems within our law enforcement apparatus — from not properly vetting potential officers to the culture of creating false narratives and testilying in court to the “Blue Wall of Silence” that prevents officers from being held accountable — the onus is on citizens to ensure we have a more reliable and trustworthy system of policing and criminal justice.
Not only are his statements tone-deaf, but his words present officers the idea that they should have blind respect from those they systematically oppress the most through the use of racial profiling, stop and frisk, broken windows policing, and the many other prevalent issues present today.
Correcting the mistrust between law enforcement and the general public will require major reforms to take place. Reforms that make both our officers and our communities safer. Failing to address these problems, as Barr so often does, only serves to compound them. We need to implement solutions that work. Many of us have offered these explications and are routinely ignored. What we don’t need are more racist dog-whistles meant to further the divide that leaves cops assuming they wield more power than they actually do.
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Of the larger issues we face, with regards to policing in America, are police officers’ inherent superiority complexes. Barr’s words feed into that mentality. Aside from his failing to acknowledge the growing racism in law enforcement, Barr’s statement instead condones the behavior of bigoted cops by calling for less accountability and telling citizens to acquiesce as cops harass, assault, rape, and murder members of our communities.
One of the fundamental flaws in the way the police-state functions became very apparent in my investigation while in Waller County, Texas soon after the murder of Sandra Bland. While I have known of racists infiltrating law enforcement for more than two decades, attempting to question Sherriff Glenn Smith was a slap in the face. No, he didn’t respond to my questions, but the heir of superiority was there. As prevalent as the stench from your local municipal trash dump, his racism festers like the malignant pustules that are so common throughout American history.
Glenn Smith, once the police chief of Hempstead, Texas, was fired after a vote of no confidence by the Hempstead City Council. At the time, Hempstead residents had filed several complaints against Smith and several officers alleging racism and outright bad police work. In a major show of the ever-present Good Ol’ Boy network that persists all over the country, neither the Hempstead mayor nor anyone on the city council would confirm any specific reason for his termination.
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Despite what most would agree should have been a disqualifier, Smith was hired by the Waller County Sherriff’s Office shortly after his firing. He was later permitted to run for Sheriff of Waller County after receiving the Republican nomination. Not surprisingly, he won, in what is considered one of the most racist counties in Texas. It’s safe to presume that he won because he was running against Jeron Barnett, a Black police officer with a stellar record.
Barnett, who was named 2008 Crime Prevention Officer of the Year, would have been the first Black sheriff in Waller County. Smith, who was not only fired from Hempstead, Texas for his racist beliefs, is also known for a grenade prank that resulted in an officer’s foot being blown-off. Yet he remained the preferred candidate for the residents of the same county where Sandra Bland mysteriously lost her life.
What happened in Waller County is not an isolated incident as many would suggest. Many Americans now know that racism in law enforcement is as pervasive as any other time in history. Some would argue it’s even more entrenched than ever given the size of our law enforcement apparatus and the lack of proper vetting of cadets all over the country. It has always been entirely too easy for racist and/or prejudiced cops to infiltrate our police forces.
It’s an issue that continues to be ignored.
Barr purposely overlooks a reality that is more widespread than the average American realizes. As long as the leadership in any American city is as racist your local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, you can rest assured that it will trickle down to their respective subordinates — including officers of color. The problem is that potential police officers are not being scrutinized enough prior to being employed or subsequently elected.
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While Barr’s most recent thinly-veiled threat towards communities of color may come as shock to some, this isn’t the first time he’s spoken out against law enforcement reforms. In August, Barr spoke at the largest police organization in the country, the Fraternal Order of Police, saying there should be zero tolerance for resisting police. He also went after local prosecutors he accused of making law enforcements’ jobs more difficult because of their modern approaches to trying criminal cases.
“There is another development that is demoralizing to law enforcement and dangerous to public safety. That is the emergence in some of our large cities of district attorneys that style themselves as ‘social justice’ reformers, who spend their time undercutting the police, letting criminals off the hook and refusing to enforce the law.”
Given the persistent rhetoric used by Trump administration officials, this should not come as a surprise to anyone. The coded language being employed by many in the current administration is clearly targeting people of color in America. Barr is no exception. The law enforcement apparatus in America is in dire need of major reforms and we can not sit idly by and allow for the conditions to continue to deteriorate to the detriment of society as a whole.
Without accountability, there can be no trust. Without trust, there can be no respect. That’s how the system is supposed to work. Change must begin somewhere and driving a wedge deeper and deeper between police and those they are tasked to serve, is the antithesis of that change.