“If you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention.” It’s a saying that’s been around for decades, though I can’t seem to find anything online that says where it originated. I’ve been saying it myself since I was in my early twenties. It is the companion slogan to “Ignorance is bliss.” It’s the reason I rarely watch the news anymore, for how can you see all of the horrific things happening in the world and not be outraged and sad all the time? In my younger years I was exactly that – outraged and sad by all the things I saw, heard, and lived through. People who smile all the time? I wanted to shake them and wake them up. I wanted them to be outraged, too.
There are so many reasons to scream from the mountain tops. Animal abuse. Childhood abuse. The homeless. Domestic violence. Rape. Murder. Children in third world countries starving to death. Women’s Rights. LGBTQ Rights. Politicians. And the issue at the forefront of all our minds these days – Police Brutality.
What happened to George Floyd was an atrocity. The real horror is that it wasn’t the first time something like that has happened, and it hasn’t been the last. There are people who say, “Not all cops are bad! It’s just a few bad apples!” And while it may be true that not all cops are bad, it’s also true that one bad apple can spoil the whole damn barrel. And when we’re talking about police officers – the very people who are hired specifically to protect the public – even one bad apple is too many. The cop who unnecessarily murdered George Floyd, and the other officers who stood by and allowed it to happen, were finally arrested. But too many times police officers get away with such barbaric behavior. And even in the cases where they are punished, the punishment doesn’t bring back the dead. The punishment doesn’t heal the hearts of the victim’s family and friends. The real problem is that it happened at all.
One night when I lived in Gainesville, Florida (somewhere between 2009-2013), police were called to a residence because the neighbors heard screaming. Police came, knocked, and when the man inside did not answer the door, they broke down the door and shot the man in the face. He was unarmed, sitting in the corner of his own home, not hurting anyone, obviously suffering some sort of mental health breakdown. And a police officer shot him in the face. The man survived, and it was later revealed that the officer who shot him was one of a group of police officers in the area throwing eggs at prostitutes. They were not fired for throwing eggs at prostitutes. Why? Because they were “just hookers” and not worthy of human decency? Nobody chooses to be a hooker. Nobody chooses to be homeless. Nobody chooses to be gay. Nobody chooses to be black. And if those police officers had been fired for throwing eggs at citizens, the man in the corner might still have his face.
Police brutality is real, and nobody is exempt. When I lived in Nashville, Tennessee, I heard from two different people about relatives of theirs who were pulled over and beaten on the side of the road by cops. Both of those victims were white men.
And it’s not just police brutality that’s an issue, it’s the system in its entirety. For instance, I called the police one night in Nashville because there was a homeless – possibly psychotic – man in the foyer outside my living room door. I could hear him jumping around, and when I looked through the peephole, saw that he was taking mail out of the mailboxes and ripping it to shreds. It was winter, and though Tennessee doesn’t get as cold as the northern parts of the continent, it does get cold, and I felt bad for him. My then-boyfriend and I gave him a pair of wool socks and a sweater. I probably wouldn’t have called the cops at all if he hadn’t been ripping up everyone’s mail and urinating outside my living room window. When I called, I told them there was a homeless man and asked if they could come take him to a shelter for the night. I waited a while and finally saw a cop car pull into the lot across the street. I watched out the window. Nobody got out of the car. Nobody came to check our building. Nobody came to talk to the man, take him off the property, or see if we were okay. They sat in the cruiser and then pulled away after a few minutes. I called back and said the man was still outside my door. I was told “the officers didn’t see anything.” Hard to see someone inside a building from your car across the road, isn’t it? A woman calls the police because a man hanging out in front of her door and urinating in front of her window at night are making her nervous, and she’s requesting the man, who appears homeless, be taken to a shelter on a cold winter night. The cops do nothing. This isn’t brutality, but it is certainly not cops doing their job, either.
To say “it’s just a few bad apples” is to blatantly ignore the problem. Cops need to be properly educated in how to de-escalate a situation. They need to be educated on mental illness, and how to recognize it and deal with it. They need to be educated on how a person ends up living on the streets, and they damn sure should understand what it means to be transgender, or black, or indigenous, or Jewish, or a woman. They need to be better educated and less empowered. And, until this changes, we should all be angry.