No more pretending

“The violence of police officers at protests reveals their true role

The job of law enforcement officers, according to the authorities who have called on them in recent days, is to keep the public safe. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, for example, said in a press conference on Sunday that officers are “here to protect people and property.”

But the police, in many situations, have appeared to actively work against public safety. It’s hard to imagine how macing a child, or driving a car into a crowd of people, could possibly be intended to keep anyone safe.

Instead, the police seem clearly to be treating protesters — members of the public — as adversaries. As Mara Gay writes at the New York Times, “an army of public servants entrusted to protect Americans treated them as an enemy instead.”

This seems to be happening not despite the fact that the protests are about police brutality, but because of it. Previous research shows that police are more likely to use force against protesters when the subject of the protest is police violence, Shaila Dewan and Mike Baker report at the Times. Police are also more likely to use violence against protesters of color than against white demonstrators.

Now “there’s deep resentment on the part of the police that so many people are angry at them, and they’re lashing out,” Alex Vitale, a sociologist at Brooklyn College, told the Times. “Look at what we saw — people sitting on their own stoops getting hit with pepper balls. Anyone who looks at them funny, they’re attacking them.”

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The protesters attacked on camera by police in recent days have been unarmed. They certainly haven’t been carrying rifles up the capitol steps. Yet the police have treated them not just like a threat but like an opponent.

It’s clear that for many officers around the country, what’s happening in the streets right now isn’t an effort to protect public safety. It’s war.”


That Vox article shows up one of the great conundrums of our times: society needs a police force, but any police force becomes a body apart from society.

There is no group in the world like police. They have a culture that says hurt, blame, point out, accuse, wound or kill one of them, and the perpetrator is marked for life by all of them. They say this is a necessary attitude in order to protect themselves.

It looks as if that culture is now in play up there in the good ol’. In most places, they’re carrying out their cultural fight. Or, as the Vox article says, their war.