“The thing is, cops lie,” my friend says, looking at me sadly from across the table in the café. “They look you in the eye, and they lie to you, right to your face.”
My friend is a lawyer. His firm often represents the families of people who have been killed, or badly injured, by police officers. He has spent hours studying videotapes that most of us can hardly bear to see once, documenting what happened second by second, listening carefully for words spoken offscreen, reading testimony by police officers, looking for contradictions or inconsistencies to pull apart.
His firm knows how hard these cases are to win, even with solid evidence on their side. Juries are trained from childhood to believe cops. Judges believe cops. Even so, my friend’s firm wins a high number of their cases. They present indisputable evidence that police officers acted irresponsibly, lied about what they did. They win civil suits of millions of dollars which we the citizens pay in our taxes, and the killer cops do not suffer any ill consequences.
It doesn’t take a legal team scrutinizing data to know that cops lie. All of us see it regularly in the news. Police insist they had no choice but to shoot someone, until video from security cameras or random cellphones flatly contradicts what they say. We have seen it with our own eyes so many times that it is no longer even deemed newsworthy that they shot someone in the back who was running away from them, or handcuffed helplessly, or holding empty hands up. We have seen and heard them admit that they planted evidence, that they plotted out a scenario to create their innocence. Over and over, these stories are framed as “a few bad apples” in an overwhelmingly functional system. Yet with no consequences for bad behavior, it is hard to believe that the system genuinely condemns them.
Why, then, are cops still cited in news stories as primary and reliable witnesses? Why aren’t protestors’ points of view believed? Right now, looking at mainstream media, I would be led to believe that the police in St. Louis have no choice but to don military gear and hurt protestors, in the name of public safety. Yet, that’s not what the people on the ground that I know are saying. Rabbis, ministers, children, protestors, legal observers, medics, are describing police as out of control, assaulting them as they try to protest nonviolently, macing and clubbing and dragging and assaulting them even as they try to leave the area.
People talk about the all-white jury that did not convict Emmett Till’s killers as if that is an old story, told in sepia toned film, when coca cola cost a nickel and women wore poodle skirts. I wish. It breaks my heart that we seem to have learned absolutely nothing about justice since that time. It breaks my spirit that most white Americans seem willing to accept, as our President said, that protestors who insist on the humanity of Black people are as bad as nazis or white supremacists.
Just this week, the “Justice” department announced that they will cease monitoring the behavior of police officers. This, and the President’s pardon of the sadistic and lawless Joe Arpaio, make it clear that this administration would like to go back to the time when violent racism was the unchallenged norm and KKK members ran the city, state, and federal governments. I imagine the president is cheering for the St. Louis police’s needless violence and escalation, encouraging them to be even more violent as he encouraged New York police in a speech.
News sources say that the St. Louis police are chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” as they violently suppress free speech, turning a chant of the people, that affirms democracy, into the announcement of a military takeover of our nation.
I am hoping, my white family and friends, that we will refuse to accept this military takeover. Our silence is complicity in the racist, dishonest, story being told. We need to speak out honestly and bravely about what we see and know.
Also published on Medium.