This letter to the editor was submitted to LebTown. Read our submission policy here.
I am a white male. As such, I occupy the top rung of the ladder of privilege recognized by our society. When I enter a store, nobody watches me or follows me around. If I get pulled over by the police it is little more than an inconvenience. Throughout my life I have applied for jobs or loans with no consideration of anything other than merit.
Speaking as a white male, I know the attitude of most white people toward abuse of power on the part of police. It is generally recognized to be a problem of “bad apples.” Universal respect for the police is tempered by recognition of the few-and-far-between who abuse their power.
It would be presumptuous for me to say how black people feel about the police, but vanity intervenes so I will go ahead and do so. For people of color, police abuse of power is not isolated to any individual. To the contrary, it is systematic; it is predictable; it is institutionalized. For people of color, abuse of power by the police is not the exception, it is the rule.
This is why the letter of District Attorney Hess Graf was such a disappointing waste of an opportunity. She wrote that people hate the police “simply for choosing to wear a badge.” This belief system presents a simple binary choice – you are either with law enforcement or you are against it. If you sanction anything and everything police do, get on her side. If you dare to question any abuse of power by police, then get on the side of the thieves and looters. To this way of thinking there is no middle ground and no other choice.
Police are issued a uniform and a badge, but they are not issued a halo. They are not above criticism or oversight. In fact, the badge they wear makes them all the more subject to our scrutiny; the power we place in their hands must be jealously guarded. Hatred of police does not arise as a result of the badge they wear. It arises as a result of the manner in which they exercise the power that the badge grants to them.
Harry Fenton is an attorney who practices in Lebanon.