Before reading what I have to say below, I’d recommend taking a look at these piecese:
- Former Detroit police chief discusses his experiences of racism and police brutality
- A 150 year performance review of the Minneapolis police department, put together by MPD150
- A former Minneapolis mayor’s accounting of the present situation
- Police reform (defunding) in Camden, New Jersey
- A practical guide to defunding the police
- Why Baltimore’s protests are so peaceful
- A profile on the Minneapolis police union chief
- A Minneapolis police officer speaks out
I’ve had many friends talking about “the good cops.” I’m sure there are good cops. But I’m not sure the qualifications put forward by my friends quite capture the reality. To be a “good cop,” it is not enough to have personally resisted racism in your own actions. It’s possible you’ve done this and have been part of the problem.
I’ll focus this particular discussion on Minneapolis. The problems in the Minneapolis police force are pretty widespread. The Killing of George Floyd unveils the systemic nature of the problem. The killing was most directly committed by Derek Chauvin, an officer who was in his job even after more than a dozen complaints. From Chauvin, the problems emanated and spread quickly by a department which had led him to believe he would be protected. After the incident, the police department issued a statement about what had happened, stating that the incident would be investigated but suggesting wrongdoing only on the part of the dead George Floyd. Claims in the statement were later flatly contradicted by video footage of the killing. The systemic nature of the problem is further underscored by the fact that one of the other three officers involved, Thomas Lane, was hired in spite of former criminal charges. Lane and a third officer were in training at the time (Lane being 4 days on the force). Presumably, they were directed by MPD to learn from Chauvin because the department believed he had a lot to teach them. The police union chief (elected and reelected by a majority of MPD officers) soon after the killing called Floyd a violent criminal and called for the reinstatement of three of the fired officers. It took nearly two weeks for a group of current MPD officers (14 of about 800 officers) to publicly speak out against Chauvin, and they did this only after the Minneapolis City Council had committed to “defunding” the department.
Twin Cities residents have been sharing their own stories about the police in recent days. I’ve heard from friends about a marked difference in the response between the National Guard and MPD. During one protest, a friend in the Guard peacefully removed a man from an Uber stuck in traffic who was on crack. Members of MPD came to arrest the man and told my friend, “You know you could have beat him up, right?” My friend was shocked. During the day, MPD tear gassed women and children sitting in the grass during protest, and at night they gassed and shot peaceful protestors. It wasn’t until the National Guard stepped in that we got peaceful responses to protestors form law enforcement, which correlated with a decrease in looting and violence in the cities.
Nationally, instances of police brutality and violence have been heavily documented over the last couple of weeks. So far, there are more than 600 such incidents:
- Article here
- List of about 300 incidents against reporters in the last two weeks here
- List of 600 incidents against civilians over the last two weeks here
What people are concerned about are the systems that have perpetuated violence and abuse of power by police.
There are certainly good cops. But the above information shifts what it means to be a good cop today. To be a good cop in this environment, it is not sufficient to just follow your assigned duties and to resist racism in one’s own actions.
It may help to view the situation through the lens of Catholicism’s clergy abuse crisis. There are certainly many good priests. But “bad priest” is not a term limited to those who directly abused children. “Bad priests” are also the priests who knew what was happening and didn’t do anything, who tried to ignore the problems, who stuck their heads in the sand for the sake of their careers, and who didn’t forcefully speak up.
Some police have spoken out publicly about issues of race and racism in their departments since the killing of George Floyd. But they should have been doing that the whole time. It’s like the many priests who overlooked, dismissed, or downplayed the clergy abuse crisis until the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report came out. A condemnation of abuse at this time is valid, but what about all those years while abuse survivors were trying to be heard and you did nothing? Why did you need international outrage before you could address it?
The “good priests” and the “good cops” aren’t the ones who are just doing their jobs. They’re the ones most outspoken about the abuses that have taken place in their profession. They’re the ones who spoke out before May 25. Silence is what enables the perpetuation of harm. To be a “good cop” in this situation is to actively speak out. To have been a “good cop” is to have already done so.
- A required reading list, published by US Catholic
- 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice
- Anti-Racism Resources for White People
- 10 documentaries to watch about race instead of asking a person of colour to explain things for you
- 7 things Catholics can do to combat the #CatholicRacismProblem
- More of my own writings on race here
Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops.