As more cases of police violence emerge in our media, we find ourselves repulsed by the violence, by the unprovoked viciousness exhibited by those chosen to protect and to serve. For many of us, our immediate reaction is to call for punishing those using excessive force. We want justice for Michael Brown and so many others brutally abused, beaten and murdered by police officers. We want to stand with the citizens of Ferguson demanding change.
But, the root of the problem is not the police. Our police are only a symptom of the underlying disease. This nation has engaged in one illegal military action after another, fighting one former ally after another that we armed to fight some other supposed enemy. And many brave and patriotic young men and women have felt duty bound to defend the principles of this nation by serving in the armed forces. But after their traumatic experiences, they return home physically wounded, emotionally bruised, and desperately in need of help. And we turn our backs on them.
The way we treat our combat veterans should be a matter of national disgrace. The rates of suicide and homelessness among our veteran population should be a top priority in Washington. The failure to provide these courageous men and women with the physical and mental health treatment they need is beyond appalling. I worked in the hospice unit of a VA hospital and saw the remnants of our fiasco in Vietnam and it grieves me beyond belief than we will be treating thousands more like them for the next 50 years.
Our police are no different. These brave men and women put their lives on the line every day to protect our manicured lawns and allow us to sleep soundly on our posturepedic mattresses. But, we raise our children in a world that still condones racism, sexism and homophobia. Our boys and girls grow up learning that violence is a solution and that a gun conveys power and authority. Our youth learn quickly that intimidation is the American way and that force trumps diplomacy.
So, is it any surprise that a handful of our police are bullies? Should we be shocked when an officer goes quickly to deadly force when facing a person who is the “other?” In a world of political extremists and religious fundamentalists, why should the violent reflexes of a police officer baffle us?
The root of the problem is not bad cops. The root of the problem is our tolerance of hate, our acceptance of prejudice and our parenting that teaches a child that other children are somehow less human because of their social status, skin color or identity.
So, for now, we should punish anyone who abuses their authority. But, we must start treating the disease underlying the symptoms. We must heal the sickness of bigotry; we must refute our gun culture and rape culture; we must start loving each other unconditionally until the death of one is felt equally by all.