If my father were still alive, he would have celebrated his 76th birthday today. I spent the morning with both children; I spent the evening with my son. We watched baseball and ate hot dogs. My son ate ice cream. We had a great day.
I have wondered what my father would have thought about this year's election and the recent police protests/ shootings. My father worked in law enforcement. He did not like politicians. He did not like many people, and his sense of humor was dry. I assumed that he was a "good cop," but he kept many details of his job from me. Even if he had been a good cop, I know his job was difficult.
How does someone in law enforcement do good work in a bad system?
When a police officer is asked to enforce unfair laws, can an officer be a good cop? Is it possible? Was it possible to be a good cop during slavery? Would a fugitive slave feel better if a "good cop" apologized when arresting a fugitive slave? During legal segregation, how did the good cops arrest people who violated Jim Crow laws? How did the good cops enforce the laws the stopped black people from voting in the 1960's? What did the good cops do when women demanded the right to vote?
How do the good cops "stop and frisk?"
When I attended UCSB, my roommates and I had a poster of a UCSB protest from the early 1970's. A Bank of America was burned in Isla Vista. Law enforcement officers from neighboring jurisdictions were called to help. My father was one of those officers. If I had been a student during the Viet Nam protests, I would have been on different sides than my father. When he worked, however, he was not choosing a side. He was just doing his job. If I had joined a protest, it would have been my choice.
I think my father would have understood the police protests. He still would have gone to work, because it was his job, but he saw the inequity. (He might not have used some of the same terms that I use.) My father also saw how some communities used the law to their benefit. He knew who was more likely to hire a lawyer and fight a DUI arrest. He knew who would complain more about a speeding ticket.
This last year, white families have remained quiet while African American parents have revealed that they have "the talk" with their children. White parents have a talk too. It just sounds different. (I don't even know if white folks know that we have our own talk about how to deal with police.) What do we tell our kids about driving the speed limit? What do we tell them about obeying traffic laws? What do we tell our kids about parking tickets? What do we tell our kids if they are ever arrested? Our kids know that we are allowed to break the law, fight the police and use the system to our benefit. We teach them how to get out paying consequences.
When it comes to larger issues, we hear the Dallas Police Chief call for more support for our communities and we launch ballot initiatives against Big Soda. We aren't even willing to fight Big Cappuccino.