Why "Not all Cops" Doesn't Matter
Updated: Jun 11
Every time a black person's life is taken at the hands of the police, we hear the same sentiment: "Not all cops are bad.” I'm here to say: yes, that is correct. However, it is not applicable, and frankly, it does not matter.
Does “not all men” do anything to support rape survivors or prevent 1 in 5 women from being sexually assualted? Does “not all cops” do anything to put emphasis on the value of black lives or stop the continuation of these senseless murders? These are empty, trivial statements used to minimize the prevalence of an issue and dismiss those who are affected. Let’s acknowledge the inherent privilege behind the phrase “not all cops”: does it matter that some cops are good if a black man or woman still has to fear murder at every traffic stop? The phrase suggests that black people must simply continue to play the game of Russian roulette with their lives. Can you say with confidence your neighborhood cop is objectively good, or is he simply good to you?
“Not all cops” is not applicable, and it does not matter.
Why? The notion behind these protests and public outcry is not that every single cop is inherently evil, and it never has been. The phrase “not all cops” enables the police force to deflect responsibility for the actions of the officers they employ.
Derek Chauvin had 18 previous complaints brought to the Minneapolis Police Department. Read that again: 18. Let me start by asking you this: Can you name another industry where you're able to receive 18 complaints about doing your job incorrectly and still be able to keep it?
I doubt it. That’s because all other industries hold their employees to a set of standards, and in an industry where you are given weapons and authority over other human beings, shouldn't you be held to an even higher standard than those of an office worker or restaurant employee? That is, if you receive eighteen complaints, shouldn’t your position of authority be terminated?
The Minneapolis Police Department released their record of complaints for Derek Chauvin, but we’re still not able to view the reasons or content of those complaints. We do know, however, that Chauvin received only two letters of reprimand in his file, despite all 18 complaints, and one verbal reprimand for his use of derogatory language. No termination, no suspension, no pay dock: just three slaps on the wrists.
Another officer, Thao, who was at the scene and complicit in the murder of George Floyd was the subject of a 2017 lawsuit in which he arrested a black man with no probable cause and left him with broken teeth and bruises. The city of Minneapolis paid $25,000 to settle it. Thao had six previous complaints.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard a news story with a black man pleading “I can’t breathe” as cops continue to pin him down and restrict his breathing. Actually, this isn’t even the first time a black man has been suffocated to death by a Minneapolis police officer. In 2010, 28-year-old David Smith died at the hands of a Minneapolis officer, who pinned his knee into Smith’s back for over four minutes. Yet again, the city of Minneapolis settled the lawsuit for $3 million, and the officer responsible faced no consequences.
The problem is not that every police officer is racist and cruel, it's that the police force has created a culture in which protecting one another is prioritized over putting a stop to their fellow officer’s abuses of power. It’s that the people cannot "police" the police - citizens consistently report targeting of POC, excessive uses of force and abuses of power, yet their complaints go ignored (Eighteen times, in the case of Derek Chauvin.)
The problem is that we know other police officers hear their “bad” co-workers’ hateful ideologies and witness the pleasure they derive from abusing their power, especially when non-white citizens are the subject of that abuse. We know they see those things because the officers who abuse their power display it so publicly and shamelessly, yet they still aren't held accountable.
The problem is that they aren't terminated at the first display of racism on their social media accounts: I, a 20-year-old woman in the marketing field, am held to a higher professional standard online than they are. I am warned against posting photos with alcohol because it will lessen my chances of getting a job, yet there are countless reports of offensive posts and memes on officers’ accounts. The problem is what's said behind closed doors is allowed to fester and grow, rather than be exposed.
The problem is that officers aren't held to a consistent set of standards within their profession - de-escalation practices are used with white lawbreakers, yet force and even murder is deemed necessary with black people suspected of breaking the law.
Where is the order? Where are the standards? Why aren't they holding their own people accountable, and why can we not report injustice and wrongdoing and actually be heard? I can get online and report my experience with Airbnb owners and Uber drivers, which others are able to see in a matter of minutes. Why do we employ this practice of reviewing and reporting? For protection. So that if any of these people have bad intent or are dangerous, we can protect the public.
Yet, records are often hidden and kept secret. New York’s Police Secrecy Law 50-A states that “all personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion [should be considered] confidential and not subject to inspection or review.” Why is it that police officers are evaluated exclusively by the police force without the help of outside agencies? Why is there no regard for the public's feedback, and why do they insist on keeping us in the dark about their evaluation process?
The problem is that the entire system is corrupt until it stops tolerating and allowing the "bad apples" to harrass and murder POC or only holding them accountable once the entire country is up in flames.
Justice is not letting one of your officers murder a black man, begging for his life, in cold blood on video and then walk free for four days. Justice is not ignoring the presence of three officers that sat idly by as Derek Chauvin kneeled on a black man's neck for eight minutes. If George Floyd was your brother, your boyfriend, your son, your family, would it still feel like real justice was served?
The police force’s blind solidarity and prioritization of protecting one another over their sworn duty to protect their citizens is blatant. It is blatant, it is unacceptable, and it should scare all Americans, not just black ones.
The police force is more than a group of individuals: it is an entity and a corporation, and it must be challenged as such until they commit to change from within. I know that there are good people within the police force. We all know that. However, at this point, we must hold the entire system accountable for the actions of some until they show they are able and willing to hold their own accountable. Even officers within the force who want to make change are paralyzed in their efforts until the long upheld, irresponsible system is dismantled and reconstructed. We cannot keep simply sending our prayers and hoping things will change - change isn’t a miracle, it’s deliberate, systematic and it must be demanded.
Do not tell me "not all cops are bad" the next inevitable time an innocent black man is murdered. Do not tell me “not all cops are bad” until you can say with confidence they are not all bad because they collectively hold their friends accountable, show a zero tolerance policy towards racist ideologies, protect and serve more than white men and women, and do more for and with marginalized communities than they do to them.
Petitions demanding justice:
Justice for George Floyd: https://www.change.org/p/mayor-jacob-frey-justice-for-george-floyd
Text "FLOYD" to 55156
The Legal Aid Society’s “Cop Accountability Project (CAP)” - a nonprofit’s mission to provide the public with their own centralized database of police infractions and complaints to counteract NY’s 50-A law: https://legalaidnyc.org/programs-projects-units/the-cop-accountability-project/
Cuomo on why the 50-A law needs to be reformed: https://www.law.com/newyorklawjournal/2020/05/31/cuomo-backs-reform-of-nys-police-secrecy-law-amid-protests-over-george-floyds-death/?slreturn=20200502140007
Campaign Zero: https://www.joincampaignzero.org/#campaign
George Floyd Memorial Fund: https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement by Matthew Horace
Called to Rise by David O. Brown
Policing the Black Man by Angela J. Davis
Chokehold by Paul Butler
The Daily Podcast by the New York TImes