What the riots tell us about policing in America

The rioting that’s taking place in cities all over America provides a glimpse of the kind of people police officers confront every day. I don’t deny Antifa’s involvement in the current chaos, but that group lacks the foot soldiers needed to carry out the widespread arson, looting, and vandalism our cities are experiencing.

The foot soldiers are local thugs. Police officers deal with them as a matter of course on a daily basis. As the prison population decreases, the police must deal with a growing number of them.

How many such interactions occur every day, nationwide? Hundreds, surely. Maybe thousands.

With that many interactions, it’s inevitable that some will end in violence. It’s inevitable that, on occasion, police officers will use too much violence. It’s inevitable that, on rare occasion, that violence will produce a wrongful death. Zero tolerance does not mean zero incidence.

This doesn’t excuse the individual officers who behave too brutality. Some level of drunk driving is inevitable. So is some level of rape. We don’t excuse drunk drivers and rapists, we punish them (or should). So too with police officers who brutalize those with whom they interact, including the thugs.

But the high volume of interactions between police officers and the kind of people who these days are rioting is relevant to assessing the overall performance of the police. It’s relevant to assessing claims that the police is out of control and that African-Americans “can’t breathe” because of police oppression.

According to the Washington Post, 19 unarmed African-American males were killed by police in 2017, and 17 in 2016 — an average of 18 per year. It’s unlikely that all 18 were unjustified, but let’s assume they were.

That’s 18 too many. But measured against the number of police interactions during the year with the kind of people who are rioting, and recognizing that there will always be some bad cops and some inexperienced ones, it’s a small number.

If American police forces were populated with an appreciable number of genocidal racists, or even just trigger-happy cops, the number of unarmed black males killed by police in a year would be much larger than 18. Indeed, if American police forces were populated with an appreciable number of out-of-control cops, we would be seeing a more violent response by the police to the rioting that’s plaguing our cities night after night.

After the dust settles from the current rioting, think about the day-to-day life of a big city cop. Think about what it must be like to confront on a daily basis the thugs we’ve seen on television the last few evenings. Think about the stress of the job. Think about the courage it must take to leave home every day to perform it.

The villains of the tragedy being played out right now are a few cops, two or three guys in Georgia who aren’t cops, and thousands of rioters throughout the country. American police officers as a class are not among the villains. If anything, they are heroes.

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