After covering Timothy Taylor’s family’s press conference to clear his name, watching the coverage of the Uvalde shooting, and remembering George Floyd on the 2 year anniversary of his murder, I am struck by the 1 thing that ties them all together: the role of law enforcement in each event. I was initially struck by what I thought was the complete incompetence of law enforcement across the country. After thinking, I realized that “incompetence” might not actually be the right word.
First and foremost, the word “incompetence” implies that none of these acts were intentional. Standing by as a gunman slaughters young children and instead choosing to “police” distraught parents who are bravely attempting to rush into the school to save their children certainly FEELS intentional. Pursuing an innocent young man for years while the real killer was right down the street certainly FEELS intentional. And, as the world saw and a jury decided, kneeling on an unarmed man’s neck, slowly suffocating him while he cries for his mother IS intentional.
Secondly, incompetence is typically followed up by an admission of a mistake. Not a press conference patting yourselves on the back for finally getting justice after the real killer confesses while failing to mention the injustices the falsely accused suffered. Not press conferences praising a “quick response” that fails to mention at least 35 minutes of inaction. Certainly not a police report that completely leaves out the 9 minutes and 29 seconds that an officer kneeled on someone’s neck. The definition of incompetence, according to Oxford Languages, is “the inability to do something successfully.” Intentional acts followed by executing a PR campaign certainly seems like police are succeeding at whatever it is they are setting out to do. This is not a failure of any kind. It is how law enforcement is designed to operate.
Now, as to what law enforcement is designed to do, let’s first start with what it’s NOT designed to do. For starters, prevent crime. This is actually a common-sense thought when you realize that you only call the police AFTER a crime has been committed. There have been studies that show there may be a slight reduction in serious crime with increased police presence, but this is often canceled out by police brutality and the arrest of people for low-level, non-violent crimes that result in these people not being able to get jobs. Secondly, the system is not designed to police equally.
The first modern police force actually evolved out of the slave patrols right here in Charleston, and little has changed in the color of the people they choose to pursue. There have even been studies that have shown officers’ tone of voice changes based on the race of the drivers in traffic stops. Continued targeting of Black and Brown populations by these modern-day slave patrols leads to numerous societal consequences, but also some conveniently skewed statistics that are used to justify this racial profiling. And, finally, law enforcement is not designed to protect and serve. If something is your job, duty, or responsibility, there are ways to hold you accountable if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain. If there’s no accountability for something, then it stands to reason that it must not actually be your responsibility.
Want to hold a police officer accountable for not intervening when you needed help? You can’t. The Supreme Court ruled, in Castle Rock v. Gonzalez, that there’s no constitutional obligation for police to protect you. In addition to that, police unions act as another shield that protects officers from accountability that they are actually subject to. So what is law enforcement designed to do? It’s designed to siphon funds from services and solutions that may actually reduce crime.
Spending on police has NOT been proven to have any effect on crime, so there’s really no harm in putting that money elsewhere. We don’t need a militarized police force when we already spend more money on an actual military than any other country in the world. Especially if police can, without any fear of consequence, stand outside and watch as ACTUAL public servants, teachers, sacrifice their own lives to save children. Most importantly, law enforcement is designed to be torn down. If reading that made you wince, please note that I didn’t say we don’t need public safety. We certainly do. However, law enforcement has little, if anything, to do with public safety. In fact, they are antithetical. To create a safer public, we must dismantle law enforcement as it is currently constructed. This will create a public without fear of life-ruining false accusations that allow real killers to roam free for years. A public without fear of being murdered because your Black skin is seen as a threat. A public without fear of having to watch as people we’re supposed to trust to save lives do nothing as our children lose theirs.