If you’re doing something that makes you angry it’s not sustainable.
Though it might sound trite, or overly simplistic, when I heard that statement I found it thought-provoking. I was sitting on the back patio of a Brooklyn, NY property in the heat of a summer evening in 2013. The person who uttered it — a longtime Copwatcher — certainly had lots of experience from which to draw on. Over the next couple of years years I found myself returning to his words and the sentiment behind them and eventually altered my own actions accordingly.
At the time, I was heavily involved with CopBlock.org, a project with the tagline “Badges Don’t Grant Extra Rights,” which implies that if an action is wrong for me or you it cannot become right for someone else because that person dons a specific costume. (For an even deeper unpacking of that tagline, see this recount by my colleague Joshua.) This message resonated with many people across perceived demographics. Especially those who experienced, witnessed, or grasped the frequency and pattern of police employee misdeeds.
But rather than make a case for reform, which many police critics have long pressed for, I worked to focus attention on the institution itself. After all, the current policing model relies on political jurisdictions to demarcate their “customers” which results in perverse incentives and such poor customer service that courts have ruled time and again that despite the claim to “serve and protect,” police have no duty to protect you! My ultimate goal when involved with CopBlock was to share ideas, tools and tactics, and to help folks connect with others in their area to help make more likely the demand for sustainable alternatives and the peaceful transition to them.
But the very positioning of CopBlock meant that it would be at most a counterbalance to policing. And much of my attention was directed toward staying abreast of the latest instance of rights-violations so that I could condemn the aggressor and strive for justice. After trodding this path for years I realized that I had become little more than a reaction. That was not making me happy. Nor was it healthy. So I made a switch.
I transitioned my focus to cryptocurrency, as I believe the underpinning technology can empower the individual in this moment, in that they can choose to engage in voluntary interactions without the involvement of an uninvited third party. But my years of activity in the policing world — from law enforcement programs in undergraduate and graduate school to my internship at St. Paul Police Department to my involvement with CopBlock.org — was latent. Thus was born Beyond the Badge, which seeks to speak with police employees, police supporters, and police critics on a productive level. By bypassing the traditional “us verses them” mantra that so-often accompanies such conversations, and instead, identifying common ground around desirable ends, the question then becomes what means might we use to get there? It is a more holistic approach, and thus one that I think has greater actual potential.
Does unaccountability within today’s policing model make you angry? Perhaps you too can pivot into a paradigm more sustainable and constructive. In doing so, you may find that you’re an even more caring and empathetic person as you come to recognize that like each of us, police employees and police supporters are each on their own journey, and for the most part do want to make the world a better place. Armed with this knowledge it’s almost as if you have a personal decoder ring that allows you to see through the superficial distractions to the mechanisms at work at the core of this issue.
No longer will every instance of police employee misconduct cause you to become irate and feel powerless. Instead, you’ll recognize such incidents — as unfortunate as they are — as symptoms of an institution based on flawed premises. You can stop living as a reaction — upset at the latest story or video — and start implementing positive, practical, sustainable steps.
Think about your interactions with police employees. Certainly, it can be attractive to lambast police carte blanche. But is it effective? Do such means achieve a more desirable end? Consider being in the shoes of a police employee. Your life, career, and friends are inculcated in the thin blue line culture. You’re constantly told that any non-police employee is not to be trusted, and that your primary task is to make it home after each shift. If you’re walking down the street or posted up at a protest and someone calls you a bastard, how likely would you be to deeply consider the rationale behind the statement? Probably not much. If anything, it may only serve to grow the division and reinforce the preconceived notions you already hold. In such a scenario no one wins.
Achieving a more just world, or a better world for the next generation, cannot be forged if everyone involved is led by hatred. Be the change you wish to see. A myriad of options exists for you to create a safer, saner world. This is achieved not by confronting police employees haphazardly but by using tools to maximize transparency, facilitate real-time emergency response betwixt those you trust, and by cultivating skills to de-escalate situations, render help, and make yourself less vulnerable to coercion and compulsion.
If you’re doing something that makes you angry it’s not sustainable. As you become more attune to this adage, your new attitude will place you in a more tranquil, constructive mindset, making your interactions — and the sharing of your views — more likely to be considered by police employees, supporters, and critics alike. Life is much more enjoyable when you’re happy. And I daresay much more likely to comport with desirable ends. This transition is incremental. It happens one mind at a time. You can help it gain momentum while helping yourself to greater life experiences.