Today's Washington Post has a startling op-ed from Sunil Dutta, LAPD police officer and university professor, who pins tragedies on everyday citizens rather than law enforcement. In an effort to sympathize with the Ferguson Police Department and law enforcement across the United States, Dutta unwittingly outs himself as an officer who idealizes unilateral, unbiased, unchecked police authority and the rest of us should just shut our mouths and take it.
Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don't want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don't argue with me, don't call me names, don't tell me that I can't stop you, don't say I'm a racist pig, don't threaten that you'll sue me and take away my badge. Don't scream at me that you pay my salary, and don't even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?
I could believe this if we lived in a world where law enforcement would never abuse its power, especially when interacting with women, minorities and poor populations. But we don't, and we never will.
Dutta's view is in serious need of a reality check and a dose of history.
Through a combination of privilege and hard work, I was fortunate enough to go to college and graduate school. My education offered me an opportunity that most police targets never got: constitutional law classes. Studying U.S. history and law taught me exactly what my rights are and what the police legally can and cannot do, especially regarding the fourth amendment. By living in Washington, DC, which is a very small jury pool, I also got to serve on two federal grand juries and one regular jury.
Both of those experiences taught me one thing: police regularly hope, assume, and act as though citizens aren't aware of their guaranteed civil liberties. Dutta assumes the same of his readers.
As an individual in this country, the law allows me to: deny a search of my car, object to a police officer who lays a hand on me, question the racial motivations of law enforcement, and scrutinize how my tax dollars are spent. So can anyone else. (I also know that my white privilege allows me to do this and minorities aren't so lucky, which is why they are targeted far more often than I am.) Dutta should have paid more attention in law classes because his views aren't making him a good police officer.
Dutta also completely disregards the experiences of Oscar Grant, Robert Davis, Rodney King, Michael Brown, and the thousands of minorities who experienced New York City's Stop and Frisk nonsense. (That's not even an exhaustive list!) Does he think these incidents were exceptions? All of them occurred in the last 25 years. I could go back further in history.
Does Dutta really not understand minorities' mistrust, fear, and anger of law enforcement? Or does he just not give a damn? I honestly can't tell.
To be sure, law enforcement's job is inherently dangerous even in the safest communities. No one is arguing with that. But civil unrest isn't about a bunch of unruly hooligans, as Dutta wants us to think; it's about decades of systematic discrimination, disenfranchisement, flagrant misuse of authority, race-based brutality, and civil rights violations inflicted on people who historically have been screwed by the justice system and who have little to no recourse.
Dutta's op-ed is nothing more than a perverse justification for cops to violate the Bill of Rights and other basic civil liberties all in the name of doing their jobs. He believes carrying a badge means nothing but good intentions and inoculation from all personal biases while the hoi polloi are nothing more than thugs just aching to commit a crime.
I'm not sure which is worse: this op-ed or "praying for peace".