Law enforcement is a tough job, I won't pretend otherwise.
I would rank it up there with social work and emergency medicine with regards to how traumatic your day on the job can be. For the most part it will be boring...right up until it isn't.
The not boring days can be seared into your brain for a lifetime.
With that being said, there's a certain mentality that some cops have that makes their job considerably harder and more dangerous than it needs to be. When I say that it's more dangerous, I don't necessarily mean for the cop.
What I'm referring to is the so-called 'warrior mentality'. It's something that many cops are actually trained to have, especially in the United States, and it creates an us-vs-them way of thinking about the world.
Warrior cops are taught to view average people as flocks of sheep. They're the sheepdogs meant to guide and protect the flock.
Criminals are the wolves they're guarding against.
They're taught to think of themselves as warriors, protectors against violent enemies that want to hurt their charges. They're trained to regard every single person they suspect of being a criminal as a threat. Neighborhoods are warzones, and they are the soldiers marching out to root out the foe and establish order.
Do you see the problem? It's not hard to spot. You don't even need to squint, really.
Cities aren't supposed to be warzones. Nobody these cops encounter on a day-to-day basis is actually an enemy combatant.
This kind of thought-process divides up the world in ways that aren't necessary. It winds up turning what ought to be simple interactions into rapidly escalating confrontations.
A simple traffic stop should never be a death sentence. And yet, often that's exactly what ends up happening...more often than not, when it does, it's because there's an added wrinkle in the situation.
American police departments have a serious problem with racial bias.
Racism can make a person seem a whole lot more suspicious than they are. It can lead to someone being wrongfully labeled as an enemy, even when they're following all of the rules.
Remember Philando Castile? He was murdered in his car, with his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter inside the vehicle. What got him pulled over? He 'looked like a robbery suspect'. What got him shot? He was a licensed gun owner, and he made the mistake of notifying the officer of the fact while handing over his license and registration.
Legally, Philando was required to disclose the fact that he had a weapon to the police officer that he spoke to. He followed the law to the letter, he remained calm, he did not so much as twitch or raise his voice. He repeatedly attempted to reassure the officers that he was not reaching for the weapon, he was obeying their commands.
He was shot five times, point-blank. His girlfriend was arrested in handcuffs and she, and her four-year-old little girl were shoved into the back of a police cruiser like criminals.
All they'd done was witness a loved one being brutally gunned down by a law enforcement officer for no reason at all. From the cop approaching the window to him shooting a man dead, about 40 seconds elapsed.
All Philando did wrong was be Black, and be legally licensed to carry a firearm.
What the police officer did wrong, on the other hand, is quite a list. Firstly, he probably should not have attended a warrior-cop seminar that taught him to shoot first and ask questions never.
The rest of the list is pretty straightforward from there. Don't panic and shoot an innocent person who hasn't done anything threatening. Don't fire seven bullets into a car full of civilians, including a literal preschooler.
Actually, let me say that the warrior-cop training was his second mistake. His first mistake was becoming a police officer in the first place, given how absolutely terrified he seems to be of random strangers.
In case you think I'm being too harsh on this cop, dash cam footage has been released. As well, Castile's girlfriend livestreamed the shooting. If you want to watch it, it's very easy to find. Go ahead and judge for yourself whether the traffic stop and shooting were in any way justifiable.
Oh- and in case you think the presence of a gun in the car was the reason for the cop's panic, let me provide a transcript of his testimony. Testimony wherein he himself states that he's been in 'hundreds' of traffic stops, many of which included people carrying weapons.
Here's a PDF of the transcript. The discussion of prior traffic stops including firearms occurs on page 24 to 25.
If you opt to scan through the whole transcript like I did, you might notice something else- the cop's version of events is terrifically skewed when you pair it with the footage of the shooting. To drive the point home, let me end this section with Philando's dying words:
"I wasn't reaching for it."
Warrior-cop training is a cause of death. It creates police officers who go into work every day feeling like their lives are on the line at any given moment. It creates a culture wherein anyone even vaguely suspicious is a threat, and the right thing to do is to take that threat down.
If you think you're in danger, shoot. Don't hesitate, or you could die.
Do we really want trigger happy officers walking the streets? With racial bias so heavily dug-in to police interactions, is it any wonder that police brutality and extrajudicial murder is so incredibly common against people of color?
The culture of policing needs to change. For the families of the victims, of people like Philando Castile, or Breonna Taylor who was killed when police broke into her apartment without warning in the middle of the night.
People like Atatiana Jefferson who was shot through the window of her own home while playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew. People like Eric Garner, who was strangled to death during his arrest...his life ended, stolen from him, because he allegedly sold someone a cigarette.
Any single life lost this way is one loss too many. The thousands of people who have died this way deserve justice. And the people of the future deserve better than to have this be their fate.
Warrior-cop training needs to be banned. Full stop. It won't solve every problem...but it is a place to start.