Last week, we were out for a walk around the neighborhood when we came across a police barricade on San Vicente Boulevard. I dunno if it was for an Emmy party or what, but the Sheriff’s department had blocked the street with several cruisers and there were probably ten officers standing in the crosswalk to prevent traffic from going up the Boulevard. The first thing I noticed was that most of the officers weren’t wearing masks. Maybe four out of 10 were wearing masks. The rest were just standing around, chatting in the middle of the crosswalk, no social distancing from each other or from us as we were walking through the intersection. Here’s the thing, as far as I know, masks are required by state law in California right now, and most local law enforcement agencies, including the West Hollywood Sheriff’s department are issuing citations to citizens for not wearing masks.
Same with Beverly Hills. I saw an official sign in a park in Beverly Hills last weekend that the fines are a hundred dollars for the first offense, $200 for the second offense, and $500 for the each additional offense. And people are getting tickets. So when people wonder why there is public distrust of law enforcement, point toward the officers who ignore the very laws that they are paid to enforce. Which brings me to my larger point. The people out there who are opposing the call to reimagine or defund police departments tell us that we’re supposed to trust the police. That’s the common argument: that police should be trusted and that they actually need more money to pay for the training that can equip them to deescalate violence, or for psychological training for intervention, to perform social services like homelessness intervention. Those people want the police to act like social workers, even though that’s not the job that police were trained to do.
Why? Fear and greed. Conservatives are ruled by fear and greed. That’s the reason social services are underfunded right now… Because conservatives don’t want to spend their tax dollars on “entitlement programs.” There’s only one thing that conservatives fear more than giving their money to the government. And that is the fear of some stranger busting down their door in the middle of the night to rob them. So they accept the idea that their tax dollars are funding the police because the police are the ones who are supposed to prevent them from being robbed in the middle of the night. They’re supposed to prevent that from happening… at least, to them. And they assume that the people who knock down their door in the middle of the night to rob them are also the same people who need social services. But police are not social workers. If there is money to be spent on social services, that money should go to established social service providers and institutions with individuals that are qualified to perform those services.
I know I don’t want police to provide social services because I don’t trust the police not to shoot me in my sleep. And now we’re back to Brianna Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who were defending themselves from strangers who busted down their door in the middle of the night, presumably to rob them. How would they know? Castle doctrines and stand-your-ground laws are in direct opposition to no-knock warrants and the constant police justification of excessive force. If police are allowed to shoot when they feel threatened, but civilians are also legally allowed to shoot in order to protect their families and property, who has the right to shoot first? Unfortunately, there are a whole bunch of racist assholes out there who think that whoever is white is justified in shooting first. And unfortunately the entire system is built to support that racism. It seems to me that the ways our society enforces these rules are less about fairness and more about upholding that systemic racism. White conservatives believe that it’s appropriate for white folks to defend themselves with guns, but they justify police violence against BIPOC individuals, because, well… they’re afraid of people of color. They’re racist.
So where do we go from here? How do we create a system that values everyone equally in the eyes of the law, regardless of race, creed, or color? I believe that we have to start with transparency. In order to hold police accountable for their actions, we need a public record of those actions, and we need the police unions to cooperate with that. How do we do that? How do we force police and police unions to be more transparent? Maybe forced transparency starts at the ballot box. Maybe it starts in the streets with peaceful protest.
Or maybe it starts by asking the cops in the crosswalk why they weren’t wearing their masks.