President of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association Michael Leary publicly denounced the Black Lives Matter movement this Monday in a now-removed letter. He described the movement as an anti-police organization that unfairly demonized the union’s members, thereby making them feel unsafe. Leary justified the claim by pointing out the movement’s tendency to generalize about the police force.
But Leary is not innocent of that conviction either; his argument relies on an egregious oversimplification of a social movement and its actions. Black Lives Matters is not anti-police. Its supporters are fervently advocating for the very thing the police force represents: justice. However, what they will not tolerate is violence perpetrated on black and brown bodies as a result of racial profiling.
That anger over being repeatedly targeted for the color of their skin is what culminates in the lashing out against individuals who represent a racist institution, regardless of whether he or she is actually racist. In this climate where black and brown bodies are in peril every single day, labelling the party that speaks for them is not going to inspire any confidence.
These people recognize the danger that comes with this job, but there is little precedent for Leary’s victimization of the police force. If they fulfilled their civil duty of delivering justice with humility and objectivity, the relationship between people of color and police officers might have looked significantly different than how it is now.
The fact that these people in power feel threatened says a lot about their understanding of power relations in this country. Again, if police officers are doing their job correctly, they should not be fearful of ordinary people. Moreover, they definitely should not be criminalizing these same people for exercising their civil rights as citizens.
These circumstances could be improved if Boston rounded out its police ranks with a diverse group of people. The cultural nuances they would bring to the job will make the job less fraught along racial lines. If anything, it would lower incidences of police brutality as compliance will naturally come along when the lines of communication are open. This is the dialogue Leary must take part in if he so desperately wants the public to perceive the police force in the same way he does.
Diversifying the police force, among all ranks, will not fix the overarching issues of racism and racial profiling that have been deeply entrenched in American institutions. But it is a step in the right direction.
Combined with body camera usage, necessary race-sensitive training and acknowledgement of its blind spots, the police can take on the cape of justice it so desperately wants to wear.