Thousands of New Yorkers took to the subway last weekend to protest after video emerged of police officers using excessive force to arrest an unarmed 19-year-old after he evaded the subway’s $2.75 fare. Last month, a New Mexico police officer resigned after bodycam footage was released showing him wrestling an 11-year-old girl after she brushed against the school’s principal and took one too many cartons of milk.
When asked what the job of a police officer is, the most common response among folks is “to protect and serve.” However, this job description is not entirely truthful. After the tragic events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom dismissed a lawsuit by 15 students who said they had been traumatized by the massacre, ruling that, because the students were not technically in custody, the school district and responding police officers had no constitutional duty to protect them.
It was decided, too, in the 1981 case of Warren v. District of Columbia that police officers have no specific duty to protect or provide police services to citizens.
There remain issues, too, concerning whether or not police officers serve the public at large. According to a Gallup poll from 2009, 75% of Americans believed corruption was widespread throughout the government, and according to a separate survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, “only 17% of Americans today say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right.” And another poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found 64% of Americans believe their “vote does not matter because of the influence that wealthy individuals and big corporations have on the electoral process.”
Four out of 11 of the past Illinois governors have gone to prison.
These statistics seem to beg the question: are the police really of service to the public if the laws they enforce were created by corrupt politicians with the goal of servicing campaign contributors or corporations (for example, the tax laws that enforce taxes on everyday Americans, but let megacorporations like Amazon to cough up next to nothing of public service)? Were they of service when they enforced the body of laws which, over the last 30 years, saw the 1% increase their net worth by over $21 trillion dollars, but saw the bottom half of American society lose $800 billion? Or when they enforced the laws that sentenced thousands of Americans to years of incarceration for possession of marijuana, but gave Jeffrey Epstein an arguably lighter sentence for the child prostitution and sex trafficking of dozens of minors?
Forget the statistics that show an unarmed victim of a police killing is around twice as likely to be black than white, that black males receive sentences that are on average 20% longer than their white counterparts or that domestic violence is two to four times more likely to occur in police families than the average American family, that 52% of police officers say it isn’t unusual for officers to turn a blind eye to improper conduct, that law enforcement officers are convicted of only 1% of police killings compared to the 90% civilian rate, or any other statistic which calls into question the performance of police in performing their job.
The real question is whether the job itself is broken.
This is not to say all cops are bad, nor to say that officers offer nothing of service to the public, nor any other blanket statement. Rather, that police officers can be no better than the system of laws they’ve volunteered to enforce.
According to a poll by author and analyst Scott Rasmussen, 77% of Americans think the political system is badly broken. In an Ipsos poll, 64% believe the economy has been rigged. Therefore, whether intentional or not, law enforcement will continue to oppress working-class Americans until meaningful change occurs.
JUSTIN BOLTE is a senior at Newark High School. He can be contacted via Assistant Editor Julie Barichello at email@example.com.