Consider a hypothetical scenario. A police officer, a seven-year veteran of the force, is responding to a call about a domestic disturbance. A woman has contacted 911 because her ex-boyfriend is at her house and is not supposed to be there. He has allegedly stolen her keys and wants to take her vehicle. He is wanted for sexual assault and domestic abuse. There is a warrant for his arrest. The officer pull ups in his police cruiser and gets out to confront the suspect. Though he doesn’t notice it initially, now he can see something in the suspect’s left hand, a knife. The officer tries to deescalate the situation with words. Next he tries to take control of the situation physically, but the suspect fights back, putting an officer in a headlock. A taser is deployed to no effect. Another taser, again no effect.
Then the suspect starts moving towards the vehicle. Is he going to grab a gun? Is he going to steal the car and drive away? Is he going to take it and run someone over? There are kids inside. Will they become hostages? Will they get injured in a car chase? Will he kill them? These possibilities all race through the officer’s head in the span of five seconds, maybe less. There is little time for deliberation. He yells for the suspect to stop. He yells again. Now the officer is pointing his gun right at the suspect, ordering him to comply. It’s no use. The suspect opens the door. The officer grabs him. The suspect makes a move to climb inside or reach for something. The officer is out of time. He shoots.
Now, who in this scenario would you say acted in a potentially justifiable and understandable way? Who made choices that you could see yourself making in a similar situation? If you had to launch a moral or logical defense of either person, which would you choose? Far be it for me to make assumptions about you, but I would guess, and certainly hope, that you can relate to, defend, and understand the police officer. The other man has his reasons for acting the way he acts, but it’s hard to imagine that they could be good reasons. His behavior is simply not defensible or understandable.
And yet, in this upside down world, it is the suspect, the alleged criminal and aggressor, who gains all of the sympathy. It his name that is cried out in grief and mourning. It is for him that every professional sports league in the country speaks out in solidarity. It is his name that ends up on the murals and the poster boards and the t-shirts. The other man’s name — the police officer, who made choices and behaved in a way that most decent and rational people on Earth, if they were to stop to think about it for two seconds, would at least find comprehensible, perhaps admirable — is anathema. He is cast in the role of villain. The dastardly foil to our hero, who also happens to be credibly accused of serial abuse and rape.
Granted, some of the above scenario, as I have described it here, is speculative. But it is the scenario that emerges from a combination of the video, the police scanner audio, the criminal complaint filed against Jacob Blake stemming from his alleged sexual assault of his ex-girlfriend in May of this year, and the testimony of the Kenosha police union. The other scenario, the first one we were given, and the one that the media would still like for us to believe — that Blake is a family man and good samaritan randomly gunned down by a racist cop for the crime of breaking up a fight between two women — has no credible evidence to support it. (I am counting as decidedly not credible the supposed eye witnesses who initially claimed that Blake wasn’t behaving aggressively at all and only took his girlfriend’s keys and went to her car with guns trained on him so that he could “check on his kids.”) All of the credible evidence points to what I have described. And the allegation of the sexual assault is just that — an allegation — but it was made by a woman who called 911 on the day of the alleged crime and trembled with fear as she recounted what had happened to her. There is no good reason to doubt her.
The point is that, from everything we know, and in light of all of the credible evidence, the police officers were responding to a situation of Jacob Blake’s own making, and doing what they could to protect all of the innocent lives involved. There is, at this juncture, no reasonably plausible version of the story that vindicates Jacob Blake. And yet, again, he is lionized, and canonized, and mourned over, while the officers are castigated as attempted murderers and racists — and those accusations rain down from some of the most visible and powerful perches in society. In other words, it’s the same old story, playing on repeat, over and over again. Indeed, the story is apparently repeating itself this week. This time protests have erupted in DC over an officer-involved shooting of an alleged gang member who can be seen on body cam footage running at police with his gun drawn. Once more, all of the available evidence, when viewed through the lens of basic common sense, appears to vindicate the officers. Yet they are condemned and harassed and hated for doing what almost anyone would have done in the same situation.
How is it possible to be a police officer in this environment? The moment a (non-white) suspect resists arrest, or goes for a gun, or tries to kill you or someone else, you lose. No matter what. You go to work every day to serve communities that despise you. You risk your life for people who wouldn’t dump a bucket of water on you to put out the flames if you were on fire. In fact, they probably set the fire. In the most intense and life-threatening situations, you are left no room for error. Even if you don’t make an error, the video that someone captures, and cuts, and clips, and posts online, may make it seem like you did. If you end up in a fight for your life against a violent sociopath, you may go to prison for winning it. Some of the people gathered around to watch and film the incident will almost certainly lie about what happened. They will inexplicably defend the sociopath and call for your head on a platter. They will say that they live in fear for their life because of you, but it is the sociopath and people like him who are responsible for almost all of the killing and violence in their community. And yet the mob will choose him over you, like the crowds shouting for Pilate to release Barrabas. And if he dies, they will mourn the loss of a man whose absence makes them all safer.
This attitude is not confined to any town or city. It is fostered at the highest levels of society. Powerful politicians and athletes and celebrities are all dedicated to a narrative that is completely disconnected from reality. They tell lies about you and your line of work, and they do not care if those lies get you killed. And while your worst and most difficult moments are broadcast to the entire world and dissected by idiots and charlatans who’ve never in their lives faced a situation as volatile as the kind you encounter every day, your triumphs are ignored. Law enforcement officers in Georgia just completed a two-week operation that successfully recovered 39 missing children, 15 of whom were sex trafficking victims. This news was covered in a perfunctory way, because it had to be, but it was not plastered all over the headlines or shouted from the rooftops. Only your mistakes — or things that can be made to look like mistakes — get that kind of treatment.
It seems impossible to deal with this. And yet thousands of police officers do deal with it, every day, by choice. This does not mean that police are always right, or that injustice at the hands of law enforcement never happens, or that we should adopt an uncritical attitude towards agents of the state — far from it. But they are doing a job that society needs done, and one that is only made more difficult by the day. So, I figure, I owe them the respect of at least listening to their side of the story, and trying to see it from their perspective, and considering all of the factors and the entire context, before labeling them bullies or murderers for the choices they make in situations I have never encountered, while doing a job I rely on, but would never want to do myself.