Every day there is fresh news about law enforcement officers behaving badly. Maybe they are involved in a controversial shooting or a beating. Perhaps a police officer ends up on trial for corruption. Some are fired, while others go to jail. Most seem to be cleared, either after an internal investigation or a private monetary settlement.
Despite this, the myth of the trustworthy cop persists.
The myth goes like this: police officers are good people. How do we know they are good people? Because they are police officers. They would not be police officers if they were not good people. If it sounds circular, it is circular. Yet, this is the rationale many people have internalized.
We were taught as children to seek a police officer if lost. We are taught as adults to call the police for help. The television has many a popular series depicting police officers as heroes and roguish antiheroes. National identity is tied to the perception of a fair criminal justice system.
The myth persists like a virus.
Well, keep in mind that these are also police officers:
- Police Officer Geoffrey Graves, of San Jose, was arrested for taking a domestic violence victim to a hotel, then forcing his way into her room and raping her. He wore his ballistic vest during the rape.
- Police Officer Stephen Young, of Boise, confessed to raping a baby. Investigators said that Stephen Young may have also been responsible for the rape and molestation of more than twenty additional infants.
- Police Officer Lamin Manneh, of DC, plead guilty to operating a prostitution business, which included enslaving his own teenage wife into prostitution.
- Michael J. Wright, a King County Deputy Sheriff who worked with the DEA, was fired for stealing drug evidence and subsequently arrested for selling heroin and methamphetamine.
- Shanon Richardson, an employee of the City of Buffalo Police Department, was charged with child abuse and animal cruelty in two unrelated incidents, one involving pit bull fighting dogs.
With the exception of Manneh, these are all current events. And if you follow law enforcement in the news you will encounter similar incidents daily.
The myth of the inherent goodness of police officers is used to justify authority. Society at large feels comfortable ceding power to a man in a uniform. Permitting a stranger to arrest, imprison and kill is soundly rejected.
And yet, police officers are exactly that — strangers. They are men and women, prone to the worst of humanity, just as much as any stranger may be. And the uniform does not assure us that they are good people. Underneath the uniform they are flesh, skin and bones. They have lungs, a liver and a heart. Sustenance is needed for their survival just as it is needed for your own.
And, to paraphrase Shakespeare’s Shylock; if you prick them, they do bleed.