The vilification of police in America

By Steven Gillard

(Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT)
(Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT)


On Saturday, Aug. 9, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead by officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department, causing the nation and the town of Ferguson, Missouri, to explode in protest.

Early accounts of the shooting painted a grim picture: an unarmed black man shot dead in cold blood as he tried to surrender to police.

While most protestors in Ferguson have been peaceful, others have engaged in rioting, looting and throwing Molotov cocktails, causing police to respond with tear gas and rubber bullets.

In light of the shooting of Brown and the police response to rioting, many have used the situation in Ferguson to decry the abuse of power and brutality demonstrated by the police, as well as the unnecessary “militarization” of police units.

Protestors were quick to take the account of Dorian Johnson, Brown’s friend, at face value. He claimed that Brown was shot while trying to surrender, a victim and martyr of the unchecked racism running rampant in the Ferguson Police Department. The Brown family’s attorney described the shooting as “execution-style.”

However, details have emerged suggesting that what happened that Saturday night was the result of more than just an abusive officer’s actions. Brown had been involved in a strong-arm robbery of a convenience store earlier that night. His autopsy revealed an entry wound in the top of his head, suggesting he was either surrendering or charging Wilson. Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson stated that Wilson was treated for injuries to his face from the altercation with Brown.

I am in no position to make a judgment on the guilt or innocence of Brown and neither is any other American who didn’t witness what unfolded that Saturday night.

However, to assume that the death Brown was an unjustified, bigotry-fueled murder is paranoia at its finest. Moreover, to condemn the response of police to those who have used Brown’s death as an excuse to riot, loot and vandalize, further undermines valid accusations of power abuse by law enforcement.

Police brutality exists; there is no denying that.

The death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black man choked to death by an NYPD officer on July 17, is perhaps the most current and glaring example of the excessive force sometimes used by law enforcement, and the officers involved in his death should be charged as criminals.

The fact remains, however, that police brutality is anomalous, and the vilification of law enforcement needs to stop. People who characterize police as the “bad guys” would call those same officers if they were victims of assault, battery, burglary or countless other crimes.

The police are not out to get you. Police officers are people, with families and friends, They are simply doing their job, which happens to be protecting the people of their community.

Of course, there are racists in the police department. Of course, there are those who abuse their power. But such is the case in any profession. It’s a flaw of humanity.

Back in March, after the infamous Blarney Blowout in Amherst, which ended in tear gas, pepper spray and 73 arrests, UMass students were outraged about the “excessive force” used by police. Students claimed that tear gas and pepper spray were unnecessary measures, and that the police response is a prime example of the inflated authority of law enforcement.

While the circumstances surrounding Brown’s death and the events that transpired in Amherst six months ago are vastly different, the sentiment is the same: an unfounded mistrust of those who try to protect us.

Whether protestors want to admit it or not, some of the police presence in Ferguson is a result of rioting and vandalism. Whether students want to admit it or not, the events that took place at the Blarney Blowout were the results of their own debauchery.

Before you take the moral high-ground and condemn every member of law enforcement as abusive and power-hungry, keep in mind the countless officers who, every day, choose not to stress their authority, giving you a warning instead of a speeding ticket, or, for the students of UMass, make you pour out your beer instead of arresting you. And that’s just the small stuff. Officers put their lives on the line every day, and many have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may live in safety.

Americans need to take a step back and realize that we aren’t living in a “police state,” as some sensationalists have claimed. This isn’t Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. The SS isn’t knocking on your door and your neighbors aren’t vanishing overnight for speaking out against the state.

This is the United States of America, where you can dial 911 and have an officer dispatched to your location immediately.  It’s okay to protest police brutality. It’s okay to protest racism.  It’s not okay to ascribe a single status to many based on the actions of the few, and it’s not okay to prematurely denigrate Wilson simply because such an interpretation aligns with larger, legitimate themes of bigotry and hate.

Steven Gillard is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]