Support for peaceful protestors means being “against the police.” That is the lie I hear every single day in Trump’s America.
It is a myth perpetuated by this President and his party and by people like them: white people who don’t want to address the systemic racism embedded in law enforcement or the persistent brutality against people of color on display—and who attempt to push people to the very opposite of poles in order to avoid talking about it:
“Choose Black Lives or Blue Lives,” they say. “Those are the options.”
This choice is not only unnecessary, it is rooted in a fundamental falsehood: the existence of Blue Lives.
There is no such thing as a “Blue Life.”
Law enforcement officers are not a race and they are not a monolith, either. They come from every disparate part of this nation; out of many families of origin, religious traditions, sexual orientations, and political affiliations, when they choose this work. It is among the most dangerous and stressful and volatile work on the planet—but they do choose it.
And when they do, they take an oath to protect and serve humanity in its fullness. That is the job description. It is the very heart of the calling. It is the singular purpose they exist: defense of all life under the Law, a Law they represent and embody.
There are expectations we have for those choosing to put on that badge and that uniform:
They are expected to defuse combustible situations, not exacerbate them. They are expected to use wisdom and restraint instead of emotionally exerting force. They are expected to withstand provocation without responding in kind.
They are expected to be beyond prejudice and above biases that would deny another human being’s inherent worth. They are expected to uphold the civil rights of every person in their path equally, without caveat or condition or excuse. They are paid by American citizens – including citizens of color to do this chosen work on behalf of the public who they are accountable to.
And when they are off-duty, members of this diverse community can remove the badge and uniform and they can escape the hazards and the threats of their jobs, and live fully into their other “non-Blue identities,” except for the black and brown police officers.
People of color can’t take off their skin to avoid the taunts that come with it, they can’t be undercover or off-duty or take a break from the demands of their difficult reality. They can’t step out of their pigmentation in order to sidestep the violence it brings every moment of every day.
They are not black or brown at some portions of the day or some days of the week or when they clock in, which is why the supposed #BlueLivesMatter movement isn’t an equivalent advocacy of life in response to the call for people of color to be treated with dignity, it is an insult. It is a white excuse to avoid confronting discrimination against people of color, to distract from the difficult conversations, to deny the systemic sickness, and to stop all conversation.
This is something far beyond citizen on citizen violence, this is violence initiated by those with both the power of the Law and weaponry in their hands. That means they are subject to even greater scrutiny because the stakes are higher and the impact on communities is profound.
It is not an attack on law enforcement to name and to condemn police brutality, or to demand that those who comprise its ranks are of the highest standard as human beings—it is a reiteration of its value as an entity.
And it is not anti-American, but the essence of patriotism to responsibly police the police; to ensure that they are living into their oath with regard to all citizens, because every human life literally depends on them doing so: at traffic stops and in city streets and in public parks and in their homes.
And as citizens of this country, we don’t have to apologize for our standards and our expectations of public servants. That’s part of the gig. Law-abiding, tax-paying Americans are not accountable to violent police officers. Violent police officers are accountable to law-abiding, tax-paying Americans. It is not incumbent on us to avoid criticizing them, it is incumbent on them to listen and to respond to valid criticism.
It’s not asking too much to insist that officers not only protect people of color as passionately as they protect white Americans, but that they not actively harm them. It’s not unreasonable to expect them not to kneel on a man’s neck for over eight minutes until he expires, not to shoot a man seven times in the back, not break into a woman’s bedroom and murder her, not to beat peaceful protestors, not to knock unarmed old men to the ground, not to allow a young white man with an AR-15 to run past them while being alerted to his murderous presence.
Being furious when police officers do these things is not an act of hatred against law enforcement as an entity—but against the acts of hateful cowardice committed by some that pervert it and cheapen them all.
I am not for Blue Lives, I am for human lives, and the human lives that continually find themselves brutalized by those entrusted to protect them are black and brown—and Americans need to name and confront and own this because until we do, we will continue to conflate outrage at inequity, with attacks on the perpetrators of this inequity.
The good people of this country fighting against brutality will not be defined by the calculated lie that to be for Black Lives is to be against the police. We simply demand that the police be for Black Lives without exception — or we demand they no longer be police.
The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com