In crime fiction, we tend to portray the police as the good guys. Our characters are dedicated investigators bringing perpetrators of serious crime to justice. After all, that’s what our readers expect to find in a murder mystery. They’re not looking for stories of police brutality.
Unfortunately, what we’re seeing in real life is examples of the police as perpetrators of violent crime. We’re seeing videos of police officers murdering people on the streets of America. We’re seeing footage of heavily armed officers brutally attacking peaceful #blacklivesmatter protesters with batons, rubber bullets, and tear gas.
It’s tempting to see what’s going on as an American problem. It’s not. It happens in too many places, across all forms of government. It’s happening where you live, even if it’s not happening to you.
Most of us live in low crime jurisdictions, but our police are armed and trained as if we live in dangerous places – war zones, in fact. I suspect the root cause of the militarisation of our police is the policies of so-called law-and-order politicians, who pander to our fears instead of addressing the social injustices many are now in the streets protesting.
Interesting that this has come to light, yet again, during the great pause generated by our response to the covid-19 pandemic. We’re all being given the opportunity to pause and reflect on what’s important in life.
Question is, though, will we take collective action to address the social injustices and prejudices that foster the mistreatment of people of colour? Or will we sit on our hands and pretend it’s all a media beat up and fake news? Will we insist on more law and order?
What we’re seeing is the exposure of some inconvenient truths. We have failed to hold police accountable for abusing their powers. We have allowed police to be used as instruments of state sponsored terrorism against people we’ve decided are not like us and, too often, we’ve looked the other way – comfortable in the knowledge that it’s not going to happen to us.
If we are to make progress towards treating all members of society as equals, holding police officers accountable for the misuse of their powers needs to be a first step.
Disarming and defunding police forces needs to be another of the steps we take as we re-engineer those forces to become what we expect a professional police force to be in a civilised society.
I don’t want to live in a society policed by armed thugs. I want to live in a world where the police are the good guys – like they are in the crime fiction stories we all love.