In the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting by police, we’re all asking the same question, as the Globe puts it: “Why hasn’t the Mass. Legislature sent a police accountability bill to the governor?”
We support the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks players (e.g.) striking during the playoffs for justice in Kenosha. But people are out protesting police violence, not merely because it’s a bad thing to shoot black people in the back; but because of a stubborn police culture which casts – to put it benignly – a blind eye on racism, thuggery, and even murder. This is true in Kenosha (where cops thanked the young man with the AR-15, before he went on his rampage); in New York City; and in Massachusetts, where police unions are fighting even our very limited reform bills.
If police unions had wanted to play a constructive role in building trust with the communities they serve, thereby burnishing their reputations as public servants, they could have done so. They could have led with humane wisdom and connection, with “there but for the grace of God go I”. They could have helped lead reform efforts. Instead the police unions are running the old playbook of political intimidation. No doubt, every state rep and senator is hearing it from their local law enforcement officers. (Maybe they’re also getting calls from the folks with Black Lives Matter signs on their lawns, now-ubiquitous from Dorchester to Dover. Maybe.)
Police traditionally have enjoyed great esteem with voters, and so it’s not surprising that even now their unions act as if they’re invincible and unaccountable, forever. It is actually not good practice to force every advantage, to take every last penny on the negotiating table just because you can. In the case of public employees — teachers, bus drivers, cops — there is always an invisible third party at the negotiating table: The voting public. It might actually be better in the long run to make some concessions to the public conscience; to acknowledge shortcomings; and become partners in their own reform. They’ve been asked to do so, and they are replying with an unmistakable no. This response ironically confirms the necessity of moving on with or without their consent.
As the Maya Angelou quote goes, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Don’t police unions want to protect their own reputations, their brand? Isn’t that a part of their own political power that they’d do well to protect? This intransigence exposes an insular, entitled, aggressive culture among police — which surely doesn’t actively discourage racism. You don’t need to think that every cop is a racist thug to think that, if one were a racist thug, working in most police departments would be a sweet job.
As you’ve read about here at length, here’s Arlington Lt. Pedrini’s conclusion to his violence-endorsing, dehumanizing, xenophobic rant to his friends at the Mass. Patrolman’s Association.:
In closing, be safe out there, watch each other’s backs, and continue to get the job done. There really is a silent majority out there that supports us and our mission. Don’t let them down.
Was he right about that “silent majority”, who still think cops walk on water? It’s probably less true today than when he wrote it in 2018. But the unions’ position hasn’t changed.
The culture of impunity in police unions bleeds into other areas: Witness the egregious case of the former head of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Union, now accused of sexually abusing five children. Or the Mass. State Police union chief, indicted on racketeering and fraud for personal expenses on the union’s dime. Or the Somerville police union embezzlement case. It’s a pattern — one that can even victimize police themselves.
If police work is to deserve the esteem that it has traditionally received, it has to be accountable. Because of Black Lives Matter, our political culture is finally if haltingly expanding its definition of whom police work is supposed to “protect and serve”. The police are the legitimate power of violence of the government: Too powerful, destructive, and deadly to go unrestrained; too awful to be allowed to perpetuate our accursed racist inheritance.
How about we ignore the political threats, and just get this very mild legislation passed and signed?