Police Tropes

While reading We are Respectable Negroes today, I found myself drawn this to excerpt from "'Police are Heroes': The Cultural Mythologies that Enable Police Brutality Against Black and Brown Americans" (bold emphasis mine):
Police violence is justified and explained away by the following tropes.

"Police work is a dangerous job." While being a police officer may involve some level of risk, it is largely mitigated by training and equipment. On the macro level, in the United States police work is not included in the top 10 most dangerous professions. Sanitation workers, truck drivers, forestry workers, and professional fisherman are far more likely to be killed or injured on the job than police.

While the mass media and police unions are invested in projecting an image of police work as highly dangerous, thrilling, and adrenaline-filled, the number-one cause of death for police officers are vehicular accidents.

"Police have a difficult job that involves making split-second decisions." As research on implicit bias, racism and police use of force has demonstrated, cops are much more likely to make “split-second decisions” to kill black men. Yet, somehow the perils and fears that loom over police and their decision-making processes are suspended and lessened when they interact with white people.

Cliven Bundy and his armed group of marauders did not face a “split-second” decision by the police to shoot them. White men walking around neighborhoods with guns displayed in plain sight are not preemptively killed by the police. White men who have actually shot at firefighters and police are somehow miraculously taken into custody unharmed and alive. White teenagers who bring arsenals of guns and knives to their high schools are arrested and given bail.

Police selectively make split-second decisions about who to shoot and kill in America. Blackness is a trigger for violence; whiteness and white skin privilege are signals to deescalate.

"Police are heroes." Heroism involves a selfless act by a person who is not trained for such duty, or who cannot be reasonably expected to act in such a manner. Police have chosen their profession. They are trained and equipped for the task. Police officers are also well compensated both on the job and in retirement. They also benefit and receive support from a huge and powerful social apparatus that is designed to protect them from the consequences of their actions.

A given police officer may have a moment of bravery or courage. By themselves, neither of those deeds rises to the level of heroism.

The police who killed Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and who participate in a system that harasses and targets people of color for unjust punishment and harassment are most certainly not heroes in the best and most authentic sense of the word.

Instead of holding police (and others who are empowered by the state to kill) to a higher standard, America’s civil religion deifies police and simultaneously lowers their bar of accountability to one far below that of the average person—in all, what is a perverse paradox.


  1. I'm glad this point about "cops having a hard job" was brought up.

    I get annoyed when the police bring up that point. Yeah, we know that cops hard , stressful and dangerous job,but why does it have to equal to a high number of minorities getting harassed,killed and/or hurt by them? You see more White people committing mass murder more than other races of people yet only 9 percent of them are victimized by the cops. It's funny how you don't see Black and other minority cops have high incidents of killing White or even their own race of people. Hmmm....I wonder why ? * sarcasm* I'm quite sure their job is just as hard to them as it is to White cops.

    This article was spot on.

  2. Before "Common Law" (starring Michael Ealy) was canceled, I recall in one episode (might even be the pilot) that Ealy's character and his partner were chasing down a perp who ended up on a roof about to drop. And the cops were like, "Go ahead...less paperwork for us."

    And to think that was genuinely considered humor....

  3. Beautifully written, couldn't have said it better.

    Woman In Body Armor Chased By Cops After Shooting Spree

    It should be noted: this white woman was “Taken Into Custody without incident.” Not violently dispatched after waving her gun around, spraying the town with bullets as if it were the old west. No, white police officers find it almost impossible to shoot whites because part of their pathology lies in the eminence of white skin. No matter how dangerous... no matter how many people a white person has murdered “in cold blood,” chances are they'll be taken into custody (barring suicide by cop of course). Many will engage in gun battles with law enforcement only to walk away with only a few bruises.

    The funny thing is when officers are probed as to why they failed to put a bullet through this woman’s skull, -Despite the danger that she clearly posed- they credit their training (The Officer was able to assess the danger and act accordingly). By the same token, ask an officer why he shot/choked a black man/child and again, they credit their training (The danger was clearly apparent, so I acted accordingly.) "Race, had Nothing to do with it."

    Lest we forget, the rule of law wasn’t created just to remedy social inequities or settle civil/criminal complaints between white men, it was deliberately created by fearful/bigoted whites to protect themselves (and their interests) from people of color.

    1. Don't get me started on Julia Shields. Charles Blow's article on the Privilege of "Arrest without Incident" is on point.

      She was spraying bullets and she got taken in alive without injury. Uh...remember when half of California was hunting Chris Dorner, and cops were opening fire on vehicles that simply looked like his????

  4. She was spraying bullets and she got taken in alive without injury. Uh...remember when half of California was hunting Chris Dorner, and cops were opening fire on vehicles that simply looked like his????

    Girl mercy yes. They hunted that man down like the fox in a foxhunt. Furthermore, they did not relent until he was dead- dead...dead. Hypocrisy so thick you can actually taste it. No Arrest, No Jury and No Trial. To kill a white person police must be forced to defend themselves, that's the only way a white suspect suffers harm in this nation.


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