Just Seen: On this morning’s episode of Southland, a white police officer named John Cooper (who is, interestingly enough, a closeted gay man) threatens, intimidates, and assaults a young black boy on a bike, who wasn’t doing anything wrong. He yanks the boy off of his bike, accuses him of attempted murder of a police officer, of ditching a gun, and, finally, when those false allegations are simply too outrageous to stick, he tells the boy he’s going to bring him in on the trumped-up charge of obstructing traffic with his bike. Cooper’s partner watches incredulously. Cooper lets the boy go after he feels he’s sufficiently traumatized him. Cooper tells his partner, who is new to the police force, that he used that tactic to prevent the child from becoming a criminal in the future. He imagines that it is a justified and successful tactic. And Cooper’s partner, finally, smiles in agreement. They drive off—smug and self-assured.
This is illustrative of how real-life police officers engage children of color even though there is ZERO EVIDENCE that this tactic is successful, even though the evidence we do have indicates that what this does is foster resentment, depression, anger, antagonism, distrust of authority, anti-social violence, and a bunch of other negative behaviors in the children who are targeted.
Despite the evidence, the American criminal justice system continues to insist that this is a viable and necessary strategy for controlling crime. Few people talk about how this strategy is only employed in all communities of color and in certain poor communities. Few people want to talk about the fact that this strategy is nothing more than a way for the criminal justice system to safely engage in and employ concerted, public, blatant, and institutional racism. And few people want to talk about it because the criminal justice system has successfully convinced the majority of us, without a shred of proof, that the strategy is absolutely essential to ensuring public safety. And because we value this supposed safety over liberty (despite American narratives to the contrary), we are complicit in this racist paradigm. We will, in fact, argue in defense of this system when it’s called out and will deny any of the charges brought against it because we believe our personal safety can only be assured by preserving the racist status quo. And the racist status quo can only be preserved if we pretend—no, more than pretend, INSIST—that it doesn’t exist.
But it DOES exist. And I can SEE it.