I had a conversation recently on Facebook with someone over a video I posted. In the video a police officer was attempting to unlawfully (by all accounts so far) take a blood sample from a patient. He didn’t have probable cause or a warrant, a fact that was confirmed by other officers in the video. A nurse was protecting the patient’s rights by refusing to allow this to happen. The nurse was then dragged out of the hospital and arrested, later to be released without charges.
The discussion centered on the fact that all police aren’t like this one officer and they shouldn’t be represented as such. I never made the claim that all police are like this one person and don’t think the video did either. I agree with the idea that all police aren’t abusive and willing to take advantage of their positions. That doesn’t mean that some aren’t. This one in particular was and deserved to be called out for it. That was my point. Whenever someone in a particular group is abusive, commits a crime, or takes advantage of their position and gets notoriety for it there are people willing to jump to the defense of the group. “Not all of us/them are like that” they say. True, but some are and that needs to be known. Especially for groups in a position of power or privilege such as the police. Defending the group obscures the point. The point was that specific person did something illegal and took advantage of their position of authority. He needs to be held accountable for those actions.
This is the problem with the All Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, and Not All Men movements. They completely miss the point. It’s not that black lives are more important, that cops lives are not important, or that all men are rapists and abusers. The issue is that we live in and accept a culture of systemic violence inflicted on women and minorities every single day and it is not being addressed in a meaningful and effective manner. I define violence very widely here. Verbal, emotional, physical, and legal abuses are all violence. To defend the group seen as under attack (when really it’s only the offenders and the broken systems that are rightfully under attack) is to continue to allow that systemic violence to flourish. Calling out an instance of wrong behavior or problems with a system is not an attack on everyone in the group of which the offender is a member. That’s a distinction that needs to be recognized. If it’s not then we set up a system in which no one is guilty of anything if everyone isn’t also guilty. It’s the opposite of guilt by association, it becomes innocence by association. We can’t recognize anyone as having done something wrong. They will always be part of a group that’s not entirely made up of criminals and so those people will rush to the person’s defense, feeling their whole group is being attacked.
I’m 5’6” tall and weigh 140 pounds. Objectively I don’t present much of a threat to anyone. But we don’t live in an objective world. We live in a world where violence is perpetrated against women all the time in explicit and subtle ways. I don’t take personal offense if a woman walking alone a few hundred feet in front of me at night crosses to the other side of the street. She has legitimate cause to do so based on our culture and statistics. She has to assume I could be a threat and protect herself. And that fact that she has to make that consideration makes me angry. The people (the men in this case) who continue the culture of violence are the ones I am angry at. I don’t feel any anger towards women who call out the problem of violence against them. It’s something they have to deal with every day. I want to join them in making it culturally unacceptable to be violent towards women in any way. That’s why I love the videos of women confronting men who catcall them. Those men not used to having to defend those actions and face the consequences for those actions. When forced to do so they are at a loss. They either get angry and stomp away like scolded children, or suddenly realize that what they are doing is not in fact complimentary but abusive. It’s an abusive wielding of the privilege males have in our world. We shouldn’t accept a world in which men don’t understand that is violence.
So what is the answer? I don’t know. I don’t have answers. I have a start though. One of the main reasons systemic violence continues is because it is tacitly accepted. When we see someone perpetrating violence against another we rarely call it out. That needs to change. And it especially needs to be called out by the members of the group of the perpetrator. In the video I had posted there were a group of other officers in the area with the man who was abusing his authority. They did nothing while this man broke the law. If we can’t depend on the police to self-monitor against people like this then we have good reason to distrust the police as a system. When individuals in a group to which we belong use their privilege to commit violence we have to speak out. If you’re a member of a privileged group (law enforcement, whites, cisgendered, males, straights, to name a few) pay attention to the behavior of others. We need to build a culture that doesn’t accept violence and abuse as a norm. It is not acceptable and should not be ignored. Creating cultural strictures against this behavior that impose harsh consequences on anyone breaking these norms is a start. If you don’t want someone misrepresenting the group you belong to then speak out against those people who commit violence. It’s not the ones criticizing the behavior that are doing the misrepresenting. It’s the ones committing that behavior. When you see someone who looks and sounds like you doing something you would be embarrassed or ashamed to be associated with then say something about it. Stop defending your group and start calling out the ones who abuse their positions.