Are Cops State-Sponsored Terrorists?

We condemn ISIS terrorists as hateful and rationalize racist cops as dutiful.

Americans are terrified of terrorism. According to a recent Pew Research report, ISIS continues to be our greatest concern with 80% calling it a major threat ahead of the economy, disease, and climate change.

Unfortunately, the fear of terrorism has also created a fear of both Islam in particular and Arabs in general. Some genuinely believe that all Arabs and Muslims are terrorists, but I doubt they're a majority. Rather, I think most Americans fear them because they can't know for sure who's a terrorist and who isn't.

Recent events have demonstrated that there are certainly ISIS sympathizers among us, so it's not an unreasonable fear. And while I don't agree with it, I understand why many Americans are wary of our friends in hijabs. Terrorists have not only ruined their reputations, they've strained their relationships with the rest of us.

The irony is that white people still refuse to see the power of fear in the black community. Our news feeds and other media sources have become saturated with "good cop" stories designed to pacify and dismiss the nation's unrest. We're told that it's unfair to perceive law enforcement as monolithic and racist, and that we need to respect the fact that most cops aren't like the ones on the news.

I don't know if most cops are more noble than bigoted, but what I do know is that this completely misses the point. Black people aren't afraid of cops because they think they're all racist; they're afraid of cops because they don't know which ones are.

A handful of feel-good stories doesn't change the fact that racism has been observed in law enforcement across the country. There aren't enough touching photos of cops embracing young black boys to cancel out the ones of cops putting bullets in young black bodies. Pointing out the good cops does absolutely nothing about the bad ones.

Black people shouldn't have to play Russian roulette every time they get in a car. A routine traffic stop for me could literally be a matter of life and death for them. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves not only for being silent but for chalking up their fears to paranoia at best and guilt at worst.

We should also be ashamed because our fear of ISIS runs so deep that many of us are willing deny entry to refugees. Some of us are even clamoring for the deportation of all Muslims. We're afraid too. Yet we mock the fear of black people after police shootings as inflammatory while we preach the apocalypse every time a gunman yells "Allahu Akbar!"

After 9/11, the U.S. government didn't tell everyone to calm down and cheer for Muslims. Within a year and half, they had reorganized many of the agencies to form the Department of Homeland Security. And since then, the DHS has implemented a number of strategies to address the threat of foreign terrorism:

  • Suspicious activity training for law enforcement
  • Passenger information for all foreign flights
  • Increased VISA security
  • TSA passenger prescreening
  • Enhanced explosive screening
  • Air cargo screening
  • Bio-surveillance systems

Last year, Black Lives Matter released a similar list of measures (Campaign Zero) they want implemented in an effort to reduce racial profiling:

  • Ending "broken windows" policing, which aggressively polices minor crimes in an attempt to stop larger ones
  • Using community oversight for misconduct rather than having police decide what consequences officers face
  • Making standards for reporting police use of deadly force
  • Independently investigating and prosecuting police misconduct
  • Having the racial makeup of police departments reflect the communities they serve
  • Requiring officers to wear body cameras
  • Providing more training for police officers
  • Ending for-profit policing practices
  • Ending the police use of military equipment
  • Implementing police union contracts that hold officers accountable for misconduct

It is not politically incorrect to apply the same level of prudence to the domestic terrorists who hide behind their badges. It is not prejudiced to expect the officers to whom we trust our lives to demonstrate their trustworthiness. It is not disrespectful to ask for more than just a cop's word when too many of those sworn to serve and protect have done the exact opposite.

It is responsible.

American law enforcement has failed to root out the rotten apples. Instead of diversified departments, we see DOJ reports documenting institutionalized racism in numerous cities. Instead of independent investigations of misconduct we see mayors paying off families and officers deleting evidence.

This is unacceptable. But as unacceptable as the state of law enforcement is today, how much more so is it that national outrage pales in comparison to a terrorist organization that has yet to accomplish an attack on our soil?

Sadly, we all know why it persists. If a bigot like Donald Trump can be considered a viable candidate for President, it's not far-fetched to imagine that Americans would wink at the bigotry in law enforcement as regrettable but necessary. God forgive our far-sighted self-interest.

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Photo credit: quinn.anya via / CC BY-SA