Indian People, Black People, and avoidable deaths while in police custody
To the Editor:
My visceral sympathy favors the police, in a dispute. This I attribute to growing up in a neighborhood where there were no professional persons — not until college did I realize that doctors, lawyers, accountants, college professors and so forth were actually people with families who sat down to dinner every night and who had children that had no more natural talent or curiosity than did I. Before that, in my world, the person with the greatest prestige was the police officer. Some lived in my neighborhood.
The postman and the tradesmen (plumbers, electricians, etc.) were almost as prestigious, followed by women who operated beauty salons in their remodeled garages.
Once grown, I saw police officers as part of a larger society. To me, whatever faults they may have are ones that are common outside law enforcement. Those faults can be brought to the fore under great stress — and are difficult to remedy with rational discussion.
So, a cop has got to be really stupid or wicked for me to distance myself from him. An obviously “rogue” policeman is at odds with everything I knew as a child, or came to understand as an adult.
What puzzles me most, is that as a citizen I am expected to believe that somehow a secret purification ritual is conducted (by “Internal Affairs”?) that will rid the police force of these bad elements. That’s not exactly believable, if only because I am not privy to evidence. So what’s the real problem: Will the good police officers lose their jobs if they speak up? Is a “citizen review” board the only way to corral the occasional stray?
A few years ago I began to write a series of essays and stories about the avoidable deaths of American Indian people, while in police custody. The rate of such deaths is higher than that of black people — the rate of such deaths for black citizens is about 2.2 times higher than their percentage of the general population, but it’s 2.5 times higher for Indians.
After awhile, though, I thought better of the project. What good would it do? None. What new information would it reveal? None. I mention it now, here, to indicate that I am not naive about occasional police brutality, or about the continued existence of rogue officers.
My hope is that better minds than mine may find a remedy for the customary response to the racial divide: It’s the other guy’s fault — if he would do right, the trouble would disappear.
Samuel F. Reynolds
NOTE: Reynolds is an artist and writer who lives in Bethany.