Cops

600full-picket-fences-screenshotI know I should write about #STEM careers. There’s a live chat happening on the Guardian from 1:00 to 3:00 PM GMT today, if you’re interested in making making a job switch to audiology or finding out what you could do with a degree in bio besides become a doctor. There are also cool new all-female scientist Legos to inspire you.

But I’m having a hard time concentrating on anything besides the sorry state of our criminal justice system and the … what’s a polite word? let’s say frayed relations between citizens and police.

So an officer used a banned practice that is known to lead to the deaths of people who are subjected to it? That certainly seems to satisfy the second condition of a second-degree manslaughter charge. And again, I have to stress that the entire incident was caught on tape. The evidence is unequivocal. And yet, no indictment. …

John Edwards was right: there are Two Americas. There’s an America where people who kill for no legitimate reason are held to account, and there’s an America where homicide isn’t really a big deal as long as you play for the right team.

That’s from the Federalist, btw, and helps support Vox’s contention that the right and the left, separated by #Ferguson, might be united in outrage over the violent death of Eric Garner. Still, when bodies are lying dead in the street, it’s hard to look for silver linings.

Growing up in DC, my parents taught me to respect cops, to stay out of their way, and not to trust them. Oh, in an emergency, sure, go to someone in uniform — but don’t expect the uniform to make a man a mensch.

My cousin Pedro, who lived with us for a while, regularly got harassed walking around my neighborhood by the people who were supposed to be in place to protect us. When a DC cop got my teenage babysitter pregnant, she married him even though he terrified her. Furious with her about something, he set their wedding invitations on fire in the driveway. Much later, when she finally filed for divorce, his coworkers closed ranks, testifying that she was crazy so that he would get custody of their daughter.

Weighed against this baggage, I have only some scattered positive images of the police from pop culture: “Picket Fences,” Kima on “the Wire,” Ann Patchett’s essay about going through the academy to impress her dad. Other people I know have dated cops, or have cops in their family, and so they have a fuller and perhaps fairer picture of the people taxed with keeping the peace. But it’s hard. I’m full of sorrow and anger and I’m struggling. I want to believe that most police officers are good people, folks who are paid relatively little to do a difficult and necessary job. I want to believe that maybe micro and macro reforms could help.

I want to have the strength to watch the video of Eric Garner fighting for breath, but I can’t; right now all I can think about is that the cameraman has been indicted while the policeman has not.

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