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When I was a little kid I wanted to be a detective like my dad. I thought it was the coolest job ever. I wanted the gold detective badge with spikes sticking out, the New York State insignia, with the bald eagle majestically perched on a shield. You get to fight crime, find the bad guy, save the day. “My little troopers,” my Grandpa called his grandchildren, his voice lilting in a Trinidadian accent. As a first generation immigrant, my Dad took pride in that he was able to be part of what he saw as an elite order within American society.

Many of us children of law enforcement officers saw our parents as our heroes. We were wrong.

It is time for people of color with police family members, Black people especially, to reconcile with the fact that just because we love our family member doesn’t mean we have to agree with or support the police. In fact, it means that we probably should be fighting alongside the thousands of people across the globe against police brutality, against systemic racism in our justice system and to defund the police.

In order to do so, those of us with family or personal ties to police of color have to recognize these five things about the police:

1. All Cops Are Not White, But The Ones In Power Are

For many people when they think about cops, they think about the white boogieman cops they see on television and the news. This never rang true for me. My dad isn’t white, and certainly my other friends and family members on the force aren’t either. 

According to a September 2019 article published by the independent news organization The City, and contrary to popular belief, 55% of law enforcement officers in NYC are non-white, with 15% of those being Black. And yet, even with this diversity, almost 80% of the NYPD’s chiefs and deputy inspectors, and inspectors who hold a rank above captain, are classified as “non-hispanic white.”

The article delves into the existence of a racist and exclusionary system in place within the NYPD and other police forces that prevents cops of color from holding positions of power and authority, positions where they can affect real structural change. As cops of color continue to fight for a seat at the table, people are dying. Instead, they could be spending their time delegitimizing and defunding the police force.

2. There Is No Such Thing As A “Good” Cop

Yes, even though we may love our parent or family member, they are not an exception. Many POC become police to become the change that they would like to see, or to fix the system from the inside, but the issue with systemic racism is that it is enacted through policies rather than people. The idea of good cops and bad apples is unhelpful in that in a racist system, people will act under protocol, and if those protocols are racist, then their actions will reflect that.

There may be exceptions to the rule, but those exceptions will, by design, be few and far between. And when the rule is the brutalization and murder of innocent Black people, better to throw out the rules altogether than to try to reform them from the inside.

3. Abolishing The Police Doesn’t Mean Getting Rid Of Protections For Citizens In Danger

Our go-to argument for upholding our current system of policing is that they are still seen by many as the last line of defense for citizens in danger. Alex Vitale addresses this in depth in his book The End of Policing. In it, Vitale outlines how policing expanded “as a means for social control.” He counters, “Implementing policing alternatives — such as legalization, restorative justice and harm reduction — has led to reductions in crime, spending and injustice.”

Here is a link to a free copy of the ebook.

Not only are there alternatives available, but they have a proven record of being effective. By defunding policing and reallocating funds towards these alternatives, we may be able to fundamentally shift our criminal justice system.

4. Policing As An Occupation Has A Toxic AF History, And Is Still Toxic AF

In his book Beautiful Country Burn Again: Democracy, Rebellion, and Revolution, Ben Fountain unravels the dark origins of the police force as slave patrols, or paddy rollers. These were “groups of armed, mounted whites who rode at night among the plantations and settlements of their assigned ‘beats’” who would “seek out runaway slaves, unsanctioned gatherings, weapons, contraband and generally any sign of potential revolt.”

Hmmm … sound familiar? Fast forward to 2020, and many of the same practices are still in place. 

Not to mention that policing is a job with high stress, poor overall preparedness and training, lack of mental health counseling and, in some cases, physical danger that has documented negative impacts on a person’s psychological and physical health. Police in the U.S. are more likely to commit acts of physical assault, have higher rates of alcoholism and drug abuse than the general population and a significantly lower life expectancy.

Our current system of policing is toxic for all involved, y’all. You can quit being a police officer; I can’t quit being Black. Black police officers may or may not have good intentions, but are working in a system that has racism embedded and codified into its core, and that has negative ramifications for all.

5. Yes, It May Be Uncomfortable To Confront A Close Friend Or Family Member, But Do It Anyway

It is time to have these uncomfortable conversations. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor did not have comfortable interactions with police officers. Why should ours be? Our personal discomfort is secondary to the well-being of Black people. For the good of all people, we need to dismantle the police force, along with the racist criminal justice system that we currently have in place. It’s the least we can do for the thousands of lives we’ve already lost.

For more information about anti racism and defunding the police, check out this resource created by Victoria Alexander.