How We Talk About Police Brutality
Here’s the thing about police brutality: it is never justified.
The police have an affirmative responsibility to engage with people in a reasonable way. What makes brutality brutality is when police behavior crosses the line and becomes unreasonable.
Police brutality is not predicated on police acting unreasonably based upon the crime the victim is alleged to have committed. Police unreasonably harming a murder suspect is just as intolerable as police unreasonably harming a jaywalker. Harming a jaywalker may be more disproportionate but it is not necessary for a person to only be suspected (or guilty) of a minor offense for police brutality toward them to be outrageous.
And it’s also not necessary, and in fact, harmful, to the discussion of police brutality to either minimize or attempt to justify the victim’s crimes. Their innocence, guilt, or any ameliorating factors are tangential, at best, to the discussion of the brutality that they face. It plays directly into the notion that only the innocent or justified are unfairly brutalized by police, or that if someone is actually guilty, they were either not actually brutalized or the brutality isn’t worth our attention and condemnation.
Additionally, when the champions of victims of police brutality fall into the trap of trying to protest the victim’s innocence or justify their crime, they open the door to a discussion of the crime in question, taking the focus entirely off of the police and their behavior in the incident. Attempts at justification also serve to unnecessarily alienate and further traumatize those who were victims of the crime, people who do not need, even by inference, to be a part of the brutality discussion.
If you’re not prepared to protest an act brutality on its face, on its own merits as an intolerable act against the victim and the public trust which police are given and without appeals designed to make the brutality victim into the “model victim” which doesn’t exist and only serves to reinforce harmful stereotypes, then perhaps you need to step back and let someone else take up the banner for the victim’s cause, because you are going to do more harm than good.