Sen. Bernie Sanders continues to perpetuate the myth that all law enforcement officers are somehow out to destroy black lives. When a student asked the presidential hopeful what he should do if he were pulled over by the police, Sanders said:
I would respect what they are doing so that you don’t get shot in the back of the head, but I would also be very mindful of the fact that as a nation, we have got to hold police officers accountable for the actions that they commit. I would be very cautious if you were my son in terms of dealing with that police officer, but I would also defend my rights and know my rights and make sure if possible that police officer’s camera is on what goes on.
This advice may have elements of truth, but ultimately not enough. Sanders is correct that the student should “respect what they [law enforcement] are doing,” for officers have a certain amount of authority over citizens by law. But law enforcement should be respected not out of fear, but because of their essential role in our communities.
Sanders Perpetuates the Narrative That Police Are Corrupt
Sanders would have us believe our nation is missing the mark on law enforcement accountability. His statement comes after two attention-grabbing incidents in which police officers committed illegal actions. How could anyone forget the cases of Amber Guyger or the Fort Worth, Texas, police officer who killed a woman in her home? The officers in question were, however, held accountable, amid a wave of public revulsion.
Studies show some black people have an unfavorable view of law enforcement performance in their communities. But the studies don’t ask questions about what influences these views. Have these black people actually had a negative encounter with an officer? In that case, a negative view would be more than understandable.
But what if, having never directly experienced racial discrimination from a police officer, they’ve been swayed by the biases of friends and family members? People tend to believe something is true if they hear it repeated enough. When they latch onto it, they dismiss any evidence to the contrary.
Sanders and leaders of predominantly black communities (and I would argue all communities) should encourage citizens to find more constructive and positive ways to interact with law enforcement, and vice versa. Does it not bring a smile to one’s face to see a video of an officer of the law dancing with children or playing sports with young people?
Of course, these things happen all of the time. But people seem to forget about them because we are inundated with news that only shows the worst of interactions between law enforcement and minorities.
Law Enforcement Is Not ‘Institutionally Racist’
Whenever stories emerge involving a black person being slain at the hands of an officer, people quickly move to the tired (but useful for some) “America hates blacks” narrative. Some people don’t need an investigation before they adopt this tone. They believe they know the truth: that the institutional racism of yesterday is the exact same institutional racism of today.
Anyone who questions that argument is deemed a racist. Any black conservative who questions it is an “Uncle Tom.” This is not to say every black person ever killed by a white policeman was guilty or that the shooting was justified. However, to assume every instance is because of “institutional racism” or to come to a conclusion before all the facts are out is a disservice to the truth.
Another consideration: Many tend to forget and even dismiss the reality of a police officer’s job. Theirs is inherently dangerous work, and they have to be on their toes at all times. Not everything is so black and white. Politicians are not always the best at breaking down the gray areas of life.
Sanders could have asked the student to picture what it would be like to be in this situation. A more meticulous approach may have been controversial, but it would have been far more beneficial to the student. Yes, know your rights as a citizen. Also, know the rights of police officers.
Citizens and Officers Must Show Mutual Respect
Those in law enforcement should also concentrate on possible strategies that could diminish the number of interactions between themselves and citizens. For instance, a recent video came out that displayed a police officer wrestling an 11-year-old girl to the ground. While this was taking place, her school administrator told the officer she was not a threat. Although this policeman, who later resigned, should have used common sense, it’s possible he was just not properly trained.
Sadly, common sense is not common to everyone. Nevertheless, if he had been given the tools to police his community effectively, this man would still have a job, the girl (and her family) might still respect law enforcement, and, ultimately, this little drama would not have played out and become a part of the long list of ugly exchanges between officers and black citizens.
Citizens should also concentrate on how to converse with law enforcement, even when disagreements arise. Cooperation and communication will lead to a better view of them overall. Additionally, don’t believe that every single African American has had or will have a negative and racist encounter with a police officer.
If you would like some friendly advice, here are some principles to adhere to — regardless of your skin color:
- Do not move suddenly when you’re pulled over. Turn off your car and roll down your window. Keep your hands on the steering wheel.
- When the police officer approaches your vehicle, do not get an attitude. If you have a problem with what he or she is saying, wait for your day in court to argue your case.
- When they ask for your license and registration, make no sudden movements. Ask if you may retrieve those items before moving. State what you are doing before you do it.
If you have done nothing wrong, you should have nothing to fear. The list above has not led this black driver astray yet.