Police Protests

The Right says it’s bad to even criticize—much less protest—the mistakes made by public servants who are trying to do an extremely difficult and thankless job under impossible conditions. After all, the “mistakes” were probably just someone’s best judgment in the heat of the moment under incredible pressure, and second-guessing by people who just saw a quick video and weren’t even there and don’t have all the facts is just uncalled for. Right? That is, unless the public servant is the President of the United States. In that case, get your “facts” from Fox News and protest, call him names, vilify him, do everything you can to delegitimize him and his job. That’s fine. That’s your patriotic duty. But don’t criticize the police. So, tighty-white rightys, why is it open season on the president? Oh yeah, he’s Black. And you wonder why they’re in the streets protesting.
Now, it should go without saying that shooting people that piss us off—like just happened in Dallas to the police (or in street corners around the country to “suspects”)—is a bad thing. But I’ll say it anyway. Kids, don’t shoot your neighbors, don’t shoot the police, just don’t shoot people, ok? No matter how good you think it might feel, life is really going to be better for everybody, including you, if you knock that shit off.
Now, keeping a leash on every nut case who’s been hiding under a flat rock collecting grievances and firearms for a few years is admittedly a bit of a challenge. So I’ll defer that one for another rantatorial. But how about the police? Yes, yes, tighty-rightys, most of the time they shoot people that pretty much deserve it. But if you had a guard dog that most of the time didn’t bite your kids, would you be cool with that? “Oh, Cujo keeps thinking Timmy’s a burglar when he comes home late from choir practice. But most of the time he just growls. Timmy only gets bitten 3 or 4 times a year.” And if you don’t care about your kids, pretend it’s your girlfriend he’s biting. No, you’d be going for a zero error policy (or a new apartment).
And unlike the problem of deranged individuals, there actually are some reasonable solutions for police. Like, remembering that they work for us. And not in some vague metaphorical sense. They literally work for us. We hire them, pay them, tell them when to show up for work and what to do when they get there. And we can discipline and fire them. We can make them do stuff we want and not do stuff we don’t! That’s what bosses are for. At least that’s what my boss seems to be for. Making me do stuff. Now if I run over to the office of the Procurement person who won’t answer my 6 emails about this contract I need and scream at him and pound on his desk and threaten his pets, I’m going to be out of a job before I get back to my own desk—especially when it’s turns out I wasn’t even yelling at the right guy. So why can a cop pull up in a squad car, jump right out and shoot a 12 yr-old boy carrying a toy gun and nothing happens?
Well, I think it’s because the police are where doctors were 30-40 years ago. Time was, if a doctor did something wrong—something really wrong like ignoring a big lump that even the mailman thought looked like cancer, or cutting off the wrong leg—all the other doctors would circle the wagons (actually, Cadillacs) and solemnly intone what a difficult job it is to practice medicine, how much pressure there is, how we shouldn’t armchair quarterback what the expert did on the scene, and blah blah blah, doctors are never wrong no matter how bad it might look to amateurs.
Well, this blind defensiveness has fortunately died away (though not out) because doctors realized a couple things. They realized the profession as a whole looks bad when it pretends errors are ok. And it actually looks good when it condemns screw-up docs and doesn’t tolerate even unintentional errors with really bad outcomes. They realized criticizing errors is not criticizing all doctors and all of medicine. It is making medicine better. Zero error may not be achievable but it needs to be the goal when life and death are concerned. Do you see a certain similarity here? When police stop defending the indefensible, call and condemn errors for what they are, and do not tolerate those amongst them who give the profession a bad name, they will return to a place of pride in society’s eyes—and fewer innocents will die, including police.

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