All across America, cop-watchers like Austin’s Peaceful Streets Project shine a spotlight on police malfeasance by organizing to record the police. Catching cops behaving badly on camera has proven a powerful way to draw public and official attention to systemic flaws in policing. Their justified outrage at systemic violations of due process in their communities fuels derisive and abusive rhetoric directed at not just at “bad cops” but at every soul behind a badge.
This often unhinged rhetoric works to discredit the platform they earn by exposing corrupt or brutal police actions that end up reported in main-stream local and even national media. It’s hard to be calm and kind in the face of brutality and abuse. After seeing abuse after abuse by people in “good guy” uniforms, it’s easy to lump every man and woman who wears a uniform into the same category.
As someone who has personally experienced illegal actions performed by peace officers, and even met a cop who later choked his wife, I believe police reform is needed. Which is why I really wish local police reform organizations would recruit a few PR volunteers to manage their blogs and social accounts who understand that an air of respectability and authority is helpful in speaking truth to power, the media, the masses. Calling peace officers, bad and good alike, “Pigs,” and much worse rings disingenuous, and does not enhance that authority and respectability.
Plus, it’s not true. All police officers are not “pigs.” Sometimes very bad people, or very crazy people, do very harmful things. Peace officers are here to protect us from those people. Officers run toward this danger, not away from it. Most are willing to lose their lives to save others if necessary. Calling them “pigs” rings insincere, and frankly offensive, to many who might agree with the fact that there are problems that need fixing in American policing. Heck, many peace officers agree that there are problems, but do you think they want to “talk change” with people heckling them as “pigs?”
Often, harmful behaviors perpetrated by cops are “lawful but awful,” the result of ill-considered or non-existent policing policies and practices (Stamper). “Bad apple” cops, as Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall dubbed them in a recent Texas Tribune Festival interview, comprise about five percent of her force, by her own estimate. The problem, however, isn’t just the “bad apple” officers.
It’s not right that some people have to feel afraid of the police when they are doing absolutely nothing wrong. Good cops like Chief Hall agree with police reformers on that. Listen to Hall speak about her own son and her own fears. Does she sound like a “pig”?
Directing anger at every cop does not get at the root of the problem or help solve it. The root of the problem can be traced to flawed policing policies and practices, like those that sometimes render it difficult or impossible for law enforcement leadership to remove what Chief Hall terms “bad apples” from their ranks.
In To Protect and Serve: How to fix America’s Police, retired San Diego and Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper calls current police culture a “rotten barrel” environment in which “a fresh, healthy apple will quickly turn…” Fixing what Chief Stamper terms the “rotten barrel” requires finesse, not name-calling. It requires talking, not shouting. Police reformers can and should be on the side of good peace officers. They are not all pigs, not even close.
Many police reform advocates have experienced so much police abuse that has not “gone viral” or been picked up by the news, in addition to the acts they catch that do get exposed. They have seen that even when they do expose blatant abuse, the system often covers for the abusive officers. They may justifiably be somewhat jaded and may truly see all police officers as “pigs.”
Still, the hate-rhetoric directed toward all peace officers needs to stop. Police Reform is too important an issue to squander platforms that gain public attention by exposing true corruption by filling them with hateful, false, anti-cop rhetoric. Name-calling may help blow off some legitimate steam, but it does not help the cause of police reform nearly as much as “staying classy” in rhetoric even in the face of gross atrocity and refraining from EVER lasing our at innocent or even hero cops with nasty name-calling.
The Golden Rule is to treat others how we want to be treated. Regardless of how they treat you. That said, many peace officers put their lives on the line for those they love and their communities, are decent people, and deserve respect as people and professionals. Even the officers that don’t act professionally are more effectively exposed when the police reformer exposing their unprofessional conduct remains calm and professional in doing so.