Violence is a problem, right? No? Depends? Depends on who’s doing it and why, the ends justify the means, greater good and whatnot? Wait a minute, I need to start again. An attitude like that will get you nowhere.
Deep breath, and a pause.
In our society, the police are intended to be a force for good, set against the forces of all things bad, that is, crime, larceny, violence, all manner of negligence. Of course, it works as well as anything that we force; it “works” as well as forceful discipline of children works, which is to say that it “works” in these ways –
- It works best on the criminals with the least intelligence. That is to say, a child of one or two can be fooled that the only way to avoid the penalty is not to misbehave – but by three or four, they know better. Many criminals re-learn this lesson when they escape the consequences of their very first crime, because discipline works best when there is a certainty of being caught, and it begins to fail when as soon as that certainty does.
- It works best on the criminals with the fewest resources, which is to say, it can be difficult for a poor policeman to punish a rich criminal, like the poor gardener hoping to control the rich employer’s child, who may wield more power to adversely affect the life of a poor and dependent adult more than the adult can the wealthy child.
- It works on particular individuals in particular incidents, and stops the particular individual’s crimes from continuing, at least during the period of their detention.
Of course, it “works” in these ways, because of the force the police bring to the task. Adult criminals, especially violent ones, are not likely to line up for their punishments because they are politely requested to. Along with detection and investigation, force is what the police get paid for. I’ve made the point elsewhere that no amount of force will ever be a permanent solution for society’s ills, that in fact, force and violence exist on the “causes” side of that equation rather than the “cures” side, despite that the “good guys” are doing it. Having said that, and bearing in mind that most of us don’t agree with that thought, the police are the folks that we pay to use force and violence for good. And as long as it works, it’s all good.
Well, as long as it works well, as long as the police can’t be shown to have crossed the line and used too much force and/or violence so that a conviction can’t be obtained on a guilty suspect. As long as the police don’t use even the normal, acceptable amount of force and/or violence on an innocent (or apparently innocent) suspect who can afford a lawyer or get the attention of the media. Then it’s Police Brutality, and we’re all properly shocked and horrified. I’m not saying we’re hypocrites, just . . . uh, conflicted.
We are conflicted as regards violence generally, but mostly specifically in this way: we think it’s good and bad at the same time. At once we think it’s bad, and it’s a problem, but when we cast about for a solution, there it is again, violence – here to save the day! At once we see the damage it causes, the never-ending cycles of harm spiraling down through the years and the generations – and yet still, every problem looks like a nail. We still somehow think everything can be solved with the hammer.
(There’s a Freudian joke in there. I didn’t intend it as part of the argument, but maybe he wasn’t such a dope . . . but we’ll save that thought for another conversation.)
I’m not saying I have all the answers, of course not, but I wouldn’t be alone in history if I were someone who thought he could at least indicate the direction we need to go. The direction we should go, the place we need to work toward if we are ever to create the sort of society we wouldn’t be lying about if we could describe it to our kids in family-friendly, positive terms is this: less violence, not more. Less violence – and I want to make this perfectly clear – less violence, even from the good guys. Less violence, even towards the bad guys. Because the truth is, Police Brutality, the bad, shocking kind, and police brutality in lower case, the sort that we like, the sort we think we need, they both feed the never-ending cycles of violence.
These seemingly eternal cycles are persistent, and it’s not for no reason. They persist, because half of our conflicted selves love violence and force; it is we who are preserving the cycles, and it simply due to a failure of reason, a misfire in our minds. The truth is, abusing the bad guys is no more helpful to society in the long run than abusing the good ones. We know abuse often turns good guys into bad ones.
What we need to realize is that it moves the bad guys in the same direction, from bad to worse. Yes, even when it’s the good guys doing it.