This is written in response to a group of young (and less young) progressive types who I chat with online, in response to an argument that given the state of police departments as a whole, most individual police must be evil.
So I’ve written a lot, and unapologetically, about the need for police reform – like here, and here, and here too – and I stand by everything I’ve said.
But that’s not the same as saying most police are evil.
Have any of you ever read Frederick Douglass’ autobiography? “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”? It’s an amazing book, in which he tells the story of how he grew up a slave, managed to teach himself to read, and then escaped to be the nation’s leading orator and abolitionist leader. It’s incredible testament to the story of the human spirit and our capacity for greatness.
The only problem is that it has been used by … oh, let’s say less than sympathetic elements … to suggest that all slaves should have done this. “Hey,” they’ve said. “His story proves that if a slave really wanted to, he could educate himself and escape. So slaves who didn’t must not have really wanted it.”
It’s a batshit crazy argument, but it’s the kind of argument that comes up in a lot of contexts. Most recently in Republican Presidential Candidate Ben Carson (it’s really hard to say that with a straight face) when he argued that the problem with the Jews in Germany was that they didn’t arm themselves and fight back. Why didn’t they do that? It’s like they wanted to be exterminated.
It comes up in other contexts too. Are people homeless? Well, the fact that some people were able to work themselves out of homelessness must mean that the people who didn’t really want to be homeless.
(Living in San Francisco, one often hears about the homeless “Why don’t they just learn to code?”)
Continue reading A note to my internet friends who say police are evil