Who Watches the Watchmen?

US Olympic swimmer Simone Manuel defied all odds by becoming the first African American woman to win an individual medal in swimming. Manuel tied for gold with Canadian swimmer Penny Oleksiak in the women’s 100 meter freestyle, with both athletes setting an Olympic record time of 52.07 seconds.  After winning her first gold medal, Manuel spoke to reporters about the significance of her accomplishment in light of both historical and recent events, including the recent string of police brutality and/or misuse of power afflicting the African American community. She told reporters that:

It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality. This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on. My color just comes with the territory. Coming into the race I tried to take weight of the black community off my shoulders. It’s something I carry with me. I want to be an inspiration, but I would like there to be a day when it is not ‘Simone the black swimmer.’

These statements hit a nerve deep inside many Americans who took issue with the fact that Manuel was not only singling herself out as an African American rather than simply an American but also bashing of our law enforcement officers in our communities while representing our nation on the world stage. According to these same people, Manuel– and other prominent African Americans who have spoken out against police brutality such as President Obama– are sowing the seeds of hatred and distrust towards police among the African American community and driving a wedge further and further between the two. Critics of our police officers are encouraging division in an already-divided nation. Rather than supporting police officers who risk their lives day in and day out, they dare have the nerve to criticize the job they are doing.

What boggles my mind the most about this whole situation the most is that the people condemning any and all criticism of our law enforcement officers are usually the very same people who support Donald Trump because he “speaks his mind” and has an utter disregard for political correctness– by which, of course, I mean human decency. They argue that these criticisms of law enforcement officers place a target on their back and incite violence against them, yet are too dense to see how Donald Trump’s vacuous, asinine, and down-right dangerous comments against Muslims, immigrants, and other minority groups could do the same. If they truly wanted to denounce vitriolic rhetoric, then they would start with their candidate.

In a perfect society, we would have no need for police officers– individual citizens would take it upon themselves to police their neighborhoods. Stable family structures coupled with educational and job opportunities would likely drive down crime levels to unprecedented lows, making the idea of self-policing neighborhoods entirely feasible. Neighbors would take care and look after each other rather than simply coexisting in a harsh, cold world where it’s every man, woman, and child for themselves. Crime would still exist, yes, but it would pale in comparison to what we see today.

But we do not live in a perfect society– rather, we live in one that is seemingly struggling to trudge forward. So for the time being, we do need an institution like our local law enforcement in order to prevent complete societal collapse; they play a vital role in ensuring that our country doesn’t go to hell in a hand basket. That’s not to say that the current judicial and legal system in place doesn’t need to be radically overhauled. Of course, not all police departments throughout our country operate in the same exact way; even the individual officers within these departments will not act the same way in similar circumstances. Yet there seems to be very widespread, perhaps even institutionalized, problems that plague some our nation’s largest police departments. We have seen too many instances of police officers abusing their power with impunity, too many instances of police officers savagely beating, sometimes even killing, unarmed civilians or suspects for simply refusing to comply, too many instance of these officers facing little to no punishment for their actions. As a society, we must demand more from our officers rather than simply giving them a free pass to do as they please simply because they are dealing with “criminals”. We live in a society of law and order where even the most heinous criminal is entitled to a proper trial before receiving their punishment, not a police state where suspects are summarily executed in the street.

Both sides are becoming more and more polarized with every incident of police brutality to the point where law enforcement officers are perceived in a binary of being either the corrupt state-sponsored attack dogs or as infallible heroes who can do absolutely no harm, with little ground in between. Yet this is an issue that requires community members and leaders to come to the table with law enforcement officials to discuss a path forward instead of simply spewing vitriolic rhetoric back and forth. No, Black Lives Matters activists are not cop-killing terrorists and no, police officers are not blood-thirty racists– a refusal to acknowledge and hear the legit grievances on both sides will only further divide us and increase tensions among us. However, I am skeptical that we will listen to each other– rather, we will undoubted continue lending credence to the same politicians and talking heads who manipulate these situations for their own benefit and ratings.

The downfall of the United States of America will happen not from some outside actor infiltrating our society; rather, it will come about due to our own collective inability to listen and talk with each other as well as our own proclivity to mindlessly drivel on about absolutely nothing rather than discuss the real issues which plague our society.

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