The Fight To Decide Whose Life Matters

The Fight To Decide Whose Life Matters

Rethinking the role of police in our community is a perfectly valid, relevant and responsible reaction to what is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed, so why are Republicans so dead set against it?

By David Todd McCarty | Friday, September 18, 2020

Despite the propaganda from the right-wing media, the idea behind defunding the police was never an effort to abolish law enforcement altogether, but simply the idea of rethinking the role of public safety in our communities. There are many who would argue, and who did so vociferously, that this was a poor choice of words to represent what is otherwise a good idea. Proponents countered that if they hadn’t come up with something provocative, no one would be talking about wonky policy reforms in the first place.

There was never any reason for the idea of reforming policing to be partisan in any way, but there is little that isn’t these days. Pick even the most mundane subject these days, and we will find a way to connect it to our tribal beliefs that will result in us feeling attacked in a very personal way.

Photo: David Todd McCarty

For the Left, Police reform is an issue of social justice, where centuries of racist public policy has resulted in massive inequality and abuse. For the right, it is a public safety issue, and feeds off the desire to maintain stability within our communities—a fight for the rule of law over anarchy and chaos. But in reality, it’s an economic issue, one of determining how to allocate resources. But since money is power, and police departments make up the bulk of any municipality’s annual budget, police unions (which are the real force behind the opposition to any reform) do not want you messing with their gravy train.

Let’s assume for a moment, that all three of those factors are relevant, and let’s paint a picture of what influences our local governments when it comes to public policy. 

Police unions in America, overwhelmingly enjoy the support of the Republicans who fund lucrative police contracts and greater and greater budget increases. Even when they’re calling for cuts to other spending, they will increase the budgets for police departments and prisons. The police unions, in return, heavily support Republicans in their bid for election to public office. This symbiotic relationship represents not only the so-called principle of law and order, but the status quo itself, and should be deeply troubling to anyone expecting justice to be non-partisan in America.

For Republicans, the police represent the concept of safety and security, and in today’s us versus them mentality, a thin blue line against the intrusion of the other. The police are being used as proxies for the fight for White supremacy, because the police spend the bulk of their time patrolling poor, Black neighborhoods, intimidating and hassling the citizens, looking for excuses to make arrests, and making sure that whatever crime there is, stays out of white neighborhoods.

You can understand then, when the Cape May County Republican Party chose to hold a Freedom Rally on Labor Day Weekend, that they would use all manner of dog whistles to appeal to their base of support. They began with a prayer service that professed to support the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion, but really was just meant to show how the power of White Christianity could be used as a blunt instrument to discriminate against others with impunity. Presumably they could have invited members of other faith traditions, and maybe they even did, but it should say something that the only people who spoke were of the Christian faith, and most of them were white.

Middle Township Police Honor Guard. Photo: David Todd McCarty

They began the next segment of their day with a police honor guard, which consisted of three police officers adorned in formal dress uniform, pistols at their sides, and carrying the flags of the United States of America, New Jersey and that of their own force. They were honoring themselves and communicating in not so subtle ways, exactly where it is that they derive their power from. They have a license to kill, it comes from the highest reaches of power in the land, and all levels of government are involved.

The rest of their presentation consisted of Republican politicians rhapsodizing about freedom of speech while criticizing protests in far away cities as un-American. They praised the military, the police, and themselves, while condemning protestors as those who would desecrate the honor of those who had fallen in the name of freedom of speech. They railed against the Democratic governor for infringing on their God-given rights to assemble in church, run theme parks and pray wherever they pleased, for the audacity of trying to exert control over the public in the name of public safety. They were appalled with righteous indignation. 

Republicans in America claim they are merely defending themselves against attacks from those wanting to destroy their way of life, by which they mean simply, White Christian supremacy. This is not to say that every Republican is a virulent racist, goose-stepping around the county wearing a white hood. It just means when they fear their “way of life” is in danger, it means their place at the top. They want America to remain a predominantly white, predominantly Christian nation and if they were being honest at all, they wouldn’t even argue that point. They’d likely say, “What’s so wrong with being White and Christian?”

False equivalency is a logical fallacy in which an equivalence is drawn between two subjects based on flawed or false reasoning. This fallacy is categorized as a fallacy of inconsistency. A colloquial expression of false equivalency is “comparing apples and oranges.”

Arguing that all lives matter or that blue lives matter is a false equivalency because the very idea of the Black Lives Matter movement is based on the presumption that life matters, but that White lives shouldn’t be the only lives that matter. There is no question that white lives matter, because we live in a predominantly white society, one that presumably values human life. If you really want to get sticky about it, you could say Black Lives Matter, Too—but the message is the same. You can’t pretend to be a free society that values equality and personal liberty and then treat your racial minorities as inferior participants unworthy of your concern or empathy.

County Freeholder Will Morey and Wildwood Police Chief Robert Regalbuto observing a Black Lives Matter March in Wildwood, NJ. Photo: David Todd McCarty

The blatant gaslighting that has occurred over the shooting of unarmed Black men in America should be enough to shame even the most ardent apologist, but white Americans seem to be okay with it. Black Americans are killed on the streets of America by the hands of the police on a scale that far outweighs their proportion in society, even among criminals. But it is the police that Republicans have rushed to defend, and not the victims of the abuse. It is the ranks of heavily armed and militarized law enforcement personnel who are under attack, not the mostly unarmed poor, bleeding out on the streets of America.

The law and order folks like to trot out the idiom that if you play with fire you are likely to get burned, but fail to recognize the parallel version that if you live by the sword, you may die by it as well. The fact that the police have put themselves in such a precarious position, to be so hated and feared by such a large portion of the population, that they become targets, should give them pause and provide a profound sense of the personal danger they have put themselves in. 

A recent gallop poll found that for the first time in 27 years (the length of time they’ve been asking the question), a majority of Americans do not trust the police. Despite the overall decline, the poll found that Republican confidence in the police had actually risen seven points, to 82 percent, while Democrats’ faith in law enforcement had dropped six points, to only 28 percent. Less than 30 percent of Democrats in America have any faith in those tasked with enforcing the law in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

With enough pressure, applied so unevenly and so willfully, eventually someone is going to snap and the police have made themselves not only the targets for hate, but willing participants and the very face of a war being waged against their own countrymen. In a country full of guns, they should not be so shocked when someone decides to shoot back.

Responsible Police reform begins with looking at what we expect from law enforcement in America. We need to honestly and coldly reflect on what we’ve asked them to do, and admit to ourselves and to each other, that we have given them an impossible task that is unfair to even the most well-intentioned officer. The fact that we have created an unsafe environment due to our refusal to enact anything resembling reasonable gun control, combined with decades of corrupt and racist economic policies, while at the same time granting unrealistic amounts of personal power to individual officers, including qualified immunity, means that when things go bad, they go really bad. 

Asking armed soldiers to act as social workers is a mistake, but assuming that we can send in a social worker to take down a terrorist is again, just another false equivalency designed to confuse the issue. Even countries that have few guns and a largely unarmed police force, still maintain the ability to dispense lethal force when necessary. But do we really need an armed police officer dispensing justice within an elementary school? As the President himself is fond of saying, the cure should not be worse than the disease. 

It’s been 21 years since the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado where 13 were killed. It’s been eight years since Sandy Hook elementary where 27 died, and just two years since 14 students and three adults were killed and another 17 injured when a 19-year old ex-student decided to shoot up Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In the twenty-one years since Columbine, there have been 231 school shootings, resulting in 304 deaths and 485 injuries, and not once was one of them foiled by a good guy with a gun. Not once.

The reality is that having SRO (School Resource Officers) on school grounds has had little effect on making schools safer despite the considerable cost. What they have done is resulted in an increase in criminal complaints and arrests against students, disproportionally against students of color, for offenses that would have previously been handled by the school. Instead of detention, or a phone call to the parent, you end up with a third grader in handcuffs.

Photo: David Todd McCarty

No matter who wins the election in November, we are going to have to deal with a system of policing in America that has ceased be effective in maintaining law and order according to the freedoms guaranteed to all citizens, regardless of race, color or creed, by the Constitution of the United States.

Here in Cape May County, it will apparently matter not whether the Republican Party (Jeffrey Pierson and Will Morey) maintains control over the local government as they have pledged their undying loyalty to the police, or if they are somehow unseated by their Democratic challengers (Brendan Sciarra and Liz Casey). Because what might be surprising to some and should be confusing to many, is that Brendan Sciarra, the Chairman of the Cape May County Democratic Party is running a campaign for County Freeholder that also pledges his support for what the campaign loosely calls first responders.

They could have chosen any topic they wanted to put on their signs—something that they felt would endear them to the electorate, or contrast them with those in power that they infer are corrupt. But what they chose was precisely the same thing as all the other white people in power chose. They chose power, too.

Voting matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters. We need to engage with whoever is in power,  and demand justice for all, at all times, for all people. We need leaders who will fight for equality for all, even if that means that they might end up with less power, especially when they have no power to give.

America is based on an idea, nothing more. When that idea no longer becomes viable, we are nothing more than the powerful ruling over the powerless and that is not sustainable.

We all want to matter, but if we’re playing a zero sum game where for someone to win, someone else has to lose, we have already lost when it comes to the promise of democracy. We can’t possibly all matter, if someone has to lose in order for us to be great.

Follow David Todd McCarty on Twitter @davidtmccarty and The Standard @capemaystandard

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