Guilty by Association (Sometimes)

I was not sociology major, so there may be a term for grouping individuals and assigning them certain behaviors based on a small number within the group. It might be something like stereotyping. However, since it is wrong to stereotype, then we should never do it. (Unless there is a group that deserves it, right?)

In America today, we are bombarded with politically correct speech and are corrected when an idea begins to even creep towards an allegedly unacceptable position. For example, it not only politically incorrect to say that while many terrorists are Muslim, it is absolutely necessary to qualify that statement with, “but not all Muslims are terrorists.” This is a fair point of view and while the qualifier is not necessarily needed, we are in such a culture that one usually will have to provide it just to cover themselves from attack.

There is one group that seems to be assigned stereotyping with no qualifier and no concern for political correctness: police officers.

We have seen in the past year instances of police officers killing individuals that have outraged communities and much of the nation. To be very clear, anyone being unjustly killed should be an outrage.  However, there is not the same level of uproar for every killing. So far, in several of the highest profile killings, the police have been found justified in their actions.

There have been other, less serious instances of police action that brought outrage as well. In Seattle, WA and Berkeley, CA police officers were castigated by the press and, ironically, liberals (considering the cities) for using pepper spray on seemingly non-threatening targets. Again, just based on the video evidence, the use of pepper spray in these instances seemed over the top and wrong, even if they do not rise to the level of criminal use by police.

When looking at these groups, you see a clear, and unfair, guilt by association. A defender of Islam will state that while there are a billion Muslims, there is a very small number of those who are terrorists or practice jihad. Perhaps that number is only one percent. But that one percent would mean there are 10 million potentially active terrorists.

To use the same one percent when it comes to police officers that means out of the 900,000 men and women in blue, around 9,000 could be rightfully labeled as “bad cops.” As with Muslim terrorists who carry out attacks, these 9,000 bad cops are going to get the vast majority of press coverage. There are many stories about the police officers who help a child in need, the mother who didn’t have groceries, the motorist who was dragged from his burning car. These stories are usually covered locally as feel good stories, but are not “big news.”

When a bad cop does something wrong, even if it just an initial perception that they have done something wrong, it becomes front page, national news. The propagation of cell phone videos does not help this immediate public perception indictment of the police. A video of a police officer shooting an “unarmed homeless man” in Los Angeles gets around the world before an ambulance even arrives to help the man shot. The public sees this type of video (not knowing any of the other circumstances involved or actions prior to the start of the video) and not only judges the police involved in the specific incident but often times assigns blame to all police.

The other difference between Muslims and the police is the actions of those not involved in bad behavior. I would estimate, with absolutely no statistical proof, that while one percent of Muslims might be terrorists, most of the rest are just going about their lives with no intent on stopping the jihadi terrorists.

This is in complete contrast to what police officers do. In opposition to the one percent of bad cops out there, nearly all of the other police officers are actively engaged in helping the communities in which they work. They are not sitting back and being indifferent to bad cops, but instead they are in the community trying to lower crime rates, protect individuals and communities, and generally trying to be a positive influence in society.

If someone wants to argue that there are police who look the other way for bad cops or even try to cover for them, I understand that argument, but those who make that case miss one very important fact. Police officers must rely on each other, much as those in the military must rely on the other individuals in their foxhole. From the early stages of training, they are indoctrinated that they must protect their partners and are responsible for their safety and vice versa. If they don’t protect each other, the odds of bodily harm are exponentially increased. As they rise through the ranks, police officers don’t lose that sense of protecting each other. Therefore, the claim that the police cover for each other is often true and usually for the good of us all because it keeps more police safe and on the streets.

(How to fix police covering up for a bad cop is another article, but Politico has a great story about what they do in Wisconsin.)

Police officers have an incredibly difficult job. When they walk out the door in the morning, the vast majority of them are concerned if they will come home at the end of the day. On average, one police officer dies on the job every two days. Most Americans know that a death in their field of employment is extremely rare, but for the police, it is just part of the job.

We should be identifying bad police and getting them out of the force. We should also recognize that the vast majority of police are willing to put their own lives on the line to help their communities. They are pillars of strength in our communities and instead of being stereotyped as part of the problem because of the few bad cops, they should receive the benefit of the doubt in every situation. If, after investigation, they are shown to be bad cops or have participated in criminal activity they should be held accountable.

Police officers are in a rare career that actively protects America’s citizenry on American soil. They should be approachable, pointed out to children as leaders, and held to the highest standards. They should also not be lumped in with a small percentage that does the wrong things. They are the best of the best and should be recognized as such.