Recently I read that of the 12,000 police officers in Chicago just over a hundred were responsible for a third of the misconduct. This points to the obvious question of “What are they still doing there?” But more important is how many good police are being dragged down by a few.
The police officer I met today was one of the unrecognized majority. I was waiting for a tow truck in the rain and had long since used all my quarters in the meter. It had been flashing “Empty” for over an hour so I’m expecting the police sooner or later and desperately hoping the tow truck arrives first. My heart sinks when I see the uniform heading my way, and I jump out of the car to explain that the truck should have been there by now.
Before I can open my mouth she asks, “Are you alright? I just wanted to make sure you’re alright.”
The concern on her face touched me and settled my agitation like a tonic. I told her my story and she nodded sympathetically.
She says, ” You want me to get you a tow truck?”
Like a magic wand blasting away my mistaken assumptions, her solicitude spread around me like a sheltering wing. That was what I always liked about Sheriff Andy of Mayberry, his attitude toward the town was protective, everyone a real person and not a category. By his gentle interventions he rebalanced situations before they turned worse. I thought his type had disappeared but I was wrong. The fact that she was standing out there in the rain offering to help me set things right soothed my spirits when my mood had begun to deteriorate badly. Gratitude is healing and gratefulness for her caring stimulated ripples of gratitude for all the systems that support me. I thought of all the police officers who probably view their jobs like she does, who offer a sense of security to an area they know well enough that they can solve and defuse problems before they arrive. Like Andy’s, their goal is a peaceful community. The misconception that leads us to expect the police to brandish their authority grows from the misrepresentation of police behavior on the news. By playing the same incidents over and over the images are reinforced in the circuitry of our brain creating negative expectations whenever we see a uniform. Lots of people have probably had similar experiences to mine and know differently, but it’s personal knowledge. Where there is no first hand experience there is nothing to contradict the distorted view given the public mind, planted by repetition of the worst.
I wonder what would happen if the news restricted itself to what actually happened that day. It’s because they repeat the same stories and footage for weeks the impression is made that the police are a brutal force that treats the neighborhood in their care as “Other”. But how much of real day-to-day policing is actually more like my experience. But for the repeat-fortified mental circuits created by negative images, we could see them as sources of help and not sources of danger.
Recently I heard a Ted speaker suggest that violence is catching in the same way as illness, that being surrounded by it increases the chances you’ll act violently. Media should be accountable for the misrepresentation created by the repetition of the same incidents day after day, building the unconscious impression it happens all the time. Creating a climate of goodwill might have the same power, with emphasis on alliance and cooperation instead of antagonism. If my officer had been wearing a body camera, the footage of her generous spirit would have lifted people up just like any good example does. Maybe such a large part of the public wouldn’t be reaching for politicians that feed on their fear if the more accurate picture of human goodwill was part of our daily news.