Several times during the past few days, I have been asked how I feel about the many protest marches, defunding the police, and police brutality against people of color. These have caused me to do some deep thinking. I'm not at all sure that I have any significant insights, but I do have some thoughts about these matters.
First, we ought to look at the protest movement. Our first amendment rights give all of us the right to verbally express our feelings about almost anything, so I am not against protests of any kind. They cause us to re-examine our positions and help us create a better future. However, there is a certain mentality that sometimes overwhelms the people caught in a protest march. Too often, they become like a mob, something that most of the participants would never want to accept.
But psychologically there is such a thing as a "mob mentality." The group takes on an identity itself rather than a collective identity by its participants. First of all, all protests have to have an object to focus upon. In this instance, our police have become the focus of the pent-up anger of the protesters. Second, the focus greatly expands beyond the people actually involved in the problem and reaches out to everyone in the police arena. Never mind that most police officers are great individuals who actually agree with the protesters. They are police men and women and therefore guilty by association.
Thirdly, since strong protests arise more out of feelings than facts, it is not unusual for at least some of the crowd to go astray and begin taking out frustrations on buildings and stores. We know this is true from watching protest members desecrating and burning some of the stores owned by the very people they are trying to help. These people look for something or someone to vent their frustrations upon, and sometimes people with mob excitement also steal and plunder. This is one reason to carefully choose whom you protest with and to anticipate where and how far the protest might go.
Fourthly, it is significant to note that after the first wave of protesters there are calmer people participating who are able to bring peace in the midst of chaos. This is why most of the current protests are peaceful. It isn't just that people are forced to be peaceful; they are peaceful because that is the decent and practical thing to do. I am confident that most police personnel are in agreement with the major thrust of these protests.
Having said this about the mentality of a protest movement, let me venture to suggest several other things a bit more controversial. Obviously, our world was shattered when we watched a policeman put a choke hold on George Floyd long enough to kill him. It doesn't matter what the circumstances were; that was wrong! But I want to raise an important question: Was it the choke hold that killed Floyd or was it the man who applied the choke hold? I have to be frank here. Being a police officer today is a very dangerous occupation, and they are taught a great many different ways to survive being killed or seriously injured. I do not believe any of these methods are bad in themselves; they are bad when they are misused by someone, in this case, a policeman.
Whenever someone is killed by a gun, the cry goes up for gun control. I'm sorry, but I do not know of a single case where a gun killed someone by itself. Guns are tools, just as are any number of things that might injure or kill someone; and the focus should be upon the person who commits the crime, not some inanimate object. In a similar way, the focus upon racial injustice should be upon the people who commit such crimes against humanity, not the techniques used by the majority of police officers utilized for personal safety and the safety of others. Military personnel actually know a lot more about these matters than police officers.
Lastly, too often I hear people asking for police officers to be better trained. Again, I'm sorry, but my experience has been that our police officers are already well trained. It's just that some of them do not follow their training. I know that every police officer in Arkansas must take a course in profiling every year just to remain current. I may be criticized for saying this, but I feel that much of the problem regarding racial injustice among police officers actually resides in the command staff of the police departments. A strong command officer is not going to allow any officer to get by with these atrocious events. Offending officers should be weeded out of the department and replaced with good officers who follow their training.
In closing, let me say that defunding or eliminating the police is a farce. When a store is being robbed, someone is being threatened, a storm occurs or someone is threatened with a deadly weapon, we all want to call 911 and hear a sympathetic dispatcher on the other end of the phone ready to send out a police officer to help. Yes, apparently some of our police departments need an overhaul, so let's do it; but let's not allow crazy ideas to infiltrate the issues at hand.
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Robert Box is the former chaplain for the Bella Vista Police Department and is currently the Fire Department chaplain. Opinions expressed are those of the author.