I’m willing to bet that Justin “Master Chim” Garcia has never been on the receiving end of an unjust police beatdown. Fortunately, neither have I; still, I’m not rushing to lay the responsibility of a beating solely on the shoulders of the beaten.
I have no doubt that this meme was inspired by recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. In case you’ve been avoiding all news, the trouble started with an altercation between an unarmed 18-year-old named Michael Brown and Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Eyewitness and police reports vary regarding what happened next, but within minutes of the start of the fight, Brown was dead with six bullets in his body. The community was outraged, not only at the apparently unnecessary death of a teenager, but also because the subsequent police response may have been tinged by racism. The citizens of Ferguson took to the streets: some protested peacefully, while others erupted into riots and looting.
Since the events in Ferguson are still unfolding, including an investigation, I’m not going to say much more about it at this time (but don’t worry…I’m sure there will be plenty more Stupid Bad Memes about the Ferguson story as it develops). Instead, I would like to address this meme from a more general perspective; to wit: What should one do to protect oneself from police brutality?
Maybe we should start by forming a working definition of police brutality. Police brutality occurs when a police officer uses excessive force or intimidation in a situation that does not require it. I’m not saying police officers should never use force: if a man is running through a crowded shopping mall waving a chainsaw around in an obvious attempt to decapitate innocent shoppers, I want the police to take whatever actions are responsible, nay, necessary to neutralize the threat before more people get hurt. But if a little old lady is jaywalking and a police officer threatens to hit her with his nightstick if she doesn’t clear the intersection immediately, that’s unnecessary and excessive.
Now you might be saying that most of the recipients of police brutality are not little old ladies (although some are), but big strapping teenagers who are on the prowl for trouble. If they didn’t want to have a whole can of pepper spray directed right up their nose, they shouldn’t have been walking around, looking suspicious, right? If this is your mentality, please answer me this: how is this any different from saying “If a woman doesn’t want to get raped, she shouldn’t dress provocatively and consume alcohol”?
That’s what this meme is: victim-blaming. Let’s take a look at Master Chim’s list of brutality bait:
- Don’t be a Sh*tbag. This is actually not a crime. If it were, imagine how many corporate leaders would have received beatings from overzealous police officers by now. No, being a Sh*tbag is our right, and certainly not a justification for police violence.
- Don’t be WITH a Sh*tbag. Also not a crime, or Justin Bieber’s entourage would have been arrested long ago. (Yes, I took a shot at Justin Bieber…I feel so cheap.)
- Don’t run if Questioned This could actually be a problem. If you run from a police officer who has addressed you, it could be seen as suspicious behavior and give the cop probable cause to place you under arrest. Nevertheless, it does not give the officer carte blanche to lump you up. The officer should exercise the same restraint when arresting you as you should have exercised when he first spoke to you. A police officer should always be the “better person”, so to speak.
- Keep Your Hands OUT OF YOUR F*CKING POCKETS! Why? This is the silliest thing I’ve heard so far. I would love for somebody to explain to me how the act of putting your hands in your pockets entitles a police officer to throw you a smackdown.
- If “Under Arrest”…COMPLY! This is good advice in general – if you resist arrest, you may reasonably expect the arresting officer to use force to subdue you – but this still isn’t justification for him to shoot you dead, particularly if you’re not armed.
- Your Volume = Their Paranoia Paranoia is generally not considered to be a positive trait in a police officer. If a police officer is paranoid to the extent that he would harm somebody for loudly exercising his First Amendment rights, then perhaps the loudmouth isn’t the problem.
- Don’t “GO BIG” Then Act Like A Victim. I’m not sure what Master Chim means by “GO BIG”, but I assume it means to put on a big display of bravado for the arresting officer – talking trash, becoming verbally abusive, etc. As I said before, being a Sh*tbag is not illegal. Beating or shooting somebody for being a Sh*tbag is.
I don’t want to give the impression that I distrust all cops, because I don’t. I think most police officers just want to protect and serve their communities. I realize that being a police officer can be a stressful occupation, particularly in areas where crime is rampant. I respect and admire the men and women who show almost inhuman restraint when dealing with the worst society has to offer. It takes a special kind of person to wear the uniform. But I want to make this clear, I do not think we should be cutting any slack to the bad seeds who dishonor the civilized society they’ve sworn to protect. And as hateful as the public can be, we cannot afford to excuse any behavior by the police that tarnishes their reputation as the defenders of the public. When you suggest that the victims of police brutality were asking for it because of their (non-violent) behaviors or attitudes, you’re making it too easy to shift the focus away from the real problem that needs addressing. If the police are to be trusted, they must be held accountable when one of them unnecessarily robs a member of the public of health and life.