A few days ago, I witnessed a horrific car accident, where a bus ran into a car that turned into its lane while making a left hand turn at a major intersection. The bus spun the car completely around and then jumped a curb, rode a sidewalk and took out the main stop light pole. This all happened right in front of me while I was stopped at the red light. I immediately jumped out of my car with my phone, ran to the car that got hit, made sure the occupant was alive and then proceeded to call 911. A number of first responders, including police, ambulance and fire fighters arrived on the scene within minutes.
When the police arrived on the scene, there were 3 officers that I dealt with. I’m going to refer to them as Officer #1, Officer #2 and Officer #3, respectively. Officer #1 was the first one to arrive on the scene. He was a tall, physically imposing man who took control as soon as he got out the car. He walked up to me as I told him I was the one who called the police. He asked me if I had witnessed what had happened, which I confirmed that I had and so he asked me to stand on the sidewalk as the ambulance helped the crash victim and the police and firefighters cleared the area and conducted their investigation. It was a rainy, wet and cold night but I wanted to ensure the guy who got hit was okay and that I provided my statement. I waited for about 15–20 minutes before anyone came and spoke to me again, which was understandable given the circumstances. Eventually, an officer who I will name Officer #3, came over to me. He first asked me who I was in relation to the accident. I advised him I was a witness and that no one had yet taken my statement. He then apologized to me for me having to stand there for so long while they figured out what happened and redirected traffic. He then took out his notepad, and started taking my witness statement. Officer #3 was a total gentleman and made me feel very at ease. He was serious but laid back and calm in a way that settled some of the anxiety I had at witnessing the accident. When I provided my date of birth, he joked with me and said he was born in the same year. I looked startled as he was quite grey, so he poked fun at my facial expression and we shared a laugh at the fact that I looked like I was in my 20’s while he looked like he was in his early 40's with the grey. Just as he was finishing up taking my statement, Officer #2 walked over.
Now Officer #2 was interesting. He came out in a large reflector jacket, clearly announcing that he was a police officer and there on the scene, which I found interesting because no one else, including the fire fighters, ambulance and other two officers were wearing anything like that. But I took it in stride and continued engaging with Officer #3. When Officer #2 walked over to Officer #3 and myself, he walked up and didn’t say anything, while I was talking. When I was finished speaking, Officer #3 turned to him and started recounting what I had said. Officer #2 then turned to Officer #3 while I’m still standing there, and spoke directly to him as if I wasn’t standing there and said, “I’m not going to contradict what she said but we have everything on camera.” He then starts telling Officer #3 what happened based on what the dash camera footage revealed from the bus which they reviewed with the driver. There was one portion of the accident I didn’t catch because of where I was sitting, but the dash cam picked up everything, so when I heard what Officer #2 was recounting to Officer #3, I confirmed that that would make sense and that I wouldn’t have seen it from where I was sitting so I didn’t realize what had happened. Officer #2 barely looked at me, but wrapped up the conversation and walked away over to Officer #1. As Officer #3 and I were ruminating on what had happened, the father and a little while later the younger brother of the crash victim came on to the scene. The father went straight to his son and just held him for about a good 3–4 minutes, both of them visibly shaking and shaken up. He then walked with his son over to the car to inspect the damage and crash impact. The younger brother, who couldn’t have been more then 14 or 15 years old, came running past myself and the officers with insurance papers in his hands, clearly trying to get to his brother. There was a portion of the road that was caution taped off and the younger boy, not thinking, jumped over the caution tape trying to beeline for his brother. Unfortunately he did this right in front of officer’s #1 & 2. Officer #2 took this opportunity to bark at the boy and bring him to a halt. He asked the boy where he was going and the young man explained that he was trying to get to his father and brother. The officer, even now realizing that the boy was a part of the family of the crash victim, took the time to yell at him and berate him for jumping over the caution tape. He continued yelling at him no matter what answers he gave the officer and with a final insulting send off, allowed him to go to his brother. The other two officers of course stood there and allowed this to happen without saying anything. When the boy walked off, Officer #2 turned back to Officer #1 and said something derisive about the boy and then they both dispersed themselves. I remember feeling really angry and upset about the way he had spoken to this young boy, especially after he understood the context. This boy wasn’t purposely being an asshole or insubordinate. His brother had just been t-boned by a bus and the crash site looked horrific. He was visibly concerned and worried about his brother and was just trying to get to him. But instead of showing a tiny bit of mercy or compassion given the circumstances, the officer decided that berating and yelling was more appropriate…all because he could.
I have witnessed so many interactions like this with police and people of colour. In this case, there were three white officers and the family was Middle Eastern. It plays out something very similarly in each case. There’s usually one officer who has authority issues and tends to project whatever their biases are on the public they interact with. There are officers who have been trained in tactics of aggression and aggressive behavior that are not needed in every situation. I am not a police officer nor have I ever been in any form of law enforcement. I cannot imagine how mentally stressful it must be to have to sometimes engage with people who are out to do harm, for whatever their reasons. I do believe there is a time and place when police officers need to be aggressive when dealing with the public as I have seen times when people have openly disrespected what was being enforced. However, officers are trained (or should be) in deescalation procedures. As an officer, you need to be able to assess your environment and probability for harm and danger. None of this was necessary at the crash site, where a young boy was just trying to get to his family. I have observed in many a police officer this arrogance and condescension towards people of colour even in the most innocuous situations. There is not even an attempt at civility or decorum. They will speak to you however they want and if you have the nerve and audacity to get upset then you now become the hostile target and they look for reasons to engage with violence. I have seen this play out in the Black community too many times. But in reference back to the incident, there were two other “good” officers there. These men were not mean, rude or condescending towards me at all. One even engaged me in a fun conversation as we tried to find the humor in the night. I was treated with complete and total respect. By no stretch of the imagination would I have deemed them to be “bad cops.” And yet, like me, they had witnessed their colleague berate a civilian for a pretty illegitimate reason…and did nothing. While this was a minor incident hardly worth mentioning, it is this kind of behavior and this kind of police officer with this kind of attitude that gets Black people and other people of colour killed. Every single time. Because when it’s more serious matters or if this had been a traffic stop with some young Black boys in the car, I can only imagine how Officer #2 would have handled speaking and interacting with them.
There is a hyper sensitivity that BIPOC have in regards to law enforcement. We have had way too many interactions with police officers like Officer #2 to know that this is beyond just a “few bad apples” in a department. In my experience, about 1 in every 3 officers are like this. The difficult part is that there are decent and kind officers out there who observe this behavior, just like the two officers that night did, and yet do absolutely nothing to address it with their colleagues. Maybe part of it is the “Blue wall of silence”; this idea that police officers don’t hold each other accountable when they should because it is seen as snitching. I think the other part is because policing is pushed as a “fraternity” and “brotherhood,” there is a long and ancient tradition of not breaking the “bro code”; again, another social system designed to muzzle anyone who would dare say anything against the unhealthy behaviors other officers may be engaging in. I remember watching a documentary on a number of NYPD officers who blew the whistle on racist and corrupt going on’s within the police department and they all had to quit as they were being threatened in and at their jobs. There is a very real problem within law enforcement whenever unsavory behavior takes place. When “good” cops try to do the right thing and hold their colleagues accountable they are often black balled and pigeon holed into certain positions, or worse their lives are made a living hell.
I’m not exactly sure what about this needs to be further explained to some people in order for them to realize there is and has always been a problem with policing. The foundations and history of law enforcement and how it came to be are racist from their inception in both the United States and Canada. The original police were slave catchers and their sole purpose was to catch, collect and sometimes kill enslaved Africans who were attempting to gain their freedom. The fact that we in 2020 North America want to overlook this history and pretend like it didn’t exist instead of looking for ways the system can be completely torn down and rebuilt properly will be the downfall of the baby boomer generation. My generation and the generations after mine will be the ones who have the courage and bravery to dismantle the entire structure of policing and law enforcement and rebuild it. The current system has not, is not and will not work for BIPOC. It was never designed for us, therefore it was never designed to include us. As a matter of fact, it’s sole purpose was designed to keep us out of society and progress and to remain in bondage and modern day forms of slavery. The fact that most white people in North America do not do their homework to understand the history of policing and why we as people of colour say it doesn’t work for us is the reflection of why the entire system needs to be torn down and rebuilt.
We are no longer in the age of being able to turn a blind eye to injustice or throw money at problems and think that is going to solve it. As global citizens and as people who are privileged to live in North America, a land that was stolen from the Indigenous people’s of these countries, raped and gouged by corporations for our natural resources and then parceled off to the highest bidder with little to no consideration for the Indigenous people’s who lived here first, it is incumbent upon all of us to undo the wrongs of our ancestors. Period. If we are receiving any kind of benefit from living in either the United States or Canada, then it is our duty as tax paying citizens to protect our country from threats, both foreign AND domestic. Our tax dollars literally pay for the salaries of the police and our government institutions. We hire via elections the officials we believe are best aligned with our beliefs of how our tax dollars should be spent. We have the power through our vote and who we elect into office to determine the course of both of these amazing nations. We as a society need to start electing people into office who are aligned with our vision for a more fair, just and equal country. We need elected officials who have the courage to redirect police budgets into preventative measures like community policing programs, job creation programs and mental health assistance resources instead of increased fire power and tactical army gear for interactions with the public. We need proper psychological examinations for police officers that go beyond whatever they are performing now. There needs to be federal standards for policing and felony consequences if those standards are broken. We need police unions to be broken up and/or completely revised with major sweeping reforms and limits to the powers they have. We need police union lobbyists abolished. Period. There should be no need for them. Whether or not all of the above mentioned ideas can be implemented successfully to me is a moot point. Point blank, we need civilians who have the courage and bravery to even get in the ring and try.
The fact of the matter is, we need radical change. The issues that plague North America because of it’s original sin of the genocide and stealing of lands of the Native and Indigenous people’s coupled with the participation in the Transatlantic Slave Trade that brought millions of African enslaved people to the shores of both Canada and the United States, needs to be addressed and reconciled fully. We are now starting to recognize that because that reconciliation and acknowledgement of the 401 years of pain and suffering that Black people from the African diaspora have endured has never happened, the spiritual rot of that has been seeping through the cracks and manifesting deep holes in the foundations of North America. The police are just one part of this problem, but they are a very big part. They are the part that interacts with citizens every single day. These citizens pay their salaries and have a right to be treated fairly and equally under the law. No law enforcement officer has the right to dehumanize a person simply because they are having a bad day. We hold doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to extremely high standards because they are not only educated to handle very stressful situations, they are also paid to do so. The same applies to law enforcement. This is not a volunteer position the way fire fighters are. Police officers apply for a job, interview and are granted that job by someone who supposedly did their due diligence. Asking an officer to treat the public with basic decency and respect should not be a hard ask. It should not be met with people justifying unhealthy behaviours simply because of the job itself. Doctors and nurses are not allowed to take drugs at work even though they have easy access to them, because they are having a “bad day.” They are expected to conduct themselves with a higher level of responsibility because of who they are and the credentials they hold. We would never say it is ever acceptable for a doctor or nurse to be working under the influence, or for a fire fighter to do something inappropriate while on the job. Why are some of us, mostly white, willing to make such excuses and provide such leeway to police officers? I completely understand that they have a very difficult job to perform. But so does every other first responder. They all are important and they all need to ensure they are handling themselves at all times with professionalism and respect towards the public. Period.