I was deep in thought this week when I was sitting in a car park waiting for my brother, who had gone to the shops.
Whilst sitting there with the window wound down, a few people passed the vehicle. They passed by so close that I felt as if they were going to strike up a conversation with me. I started to feel uncomfortable, but with all of these people passing by, not one started talking. In fact, it was rush hour, so most of them were rushing to get home.
Suddenly it struck me that all of us in that car park; whether walking, driving or standing, had at some point decided it was ok to trust others to be there. In other words, as humans, we trust that people driving in cars will obey the traffic signals and signs, but if one of those cars went through a stop sign, then an accident would most likely occur. That person would then be held accountable for their transgression. Now, let’s extrapolate on that thread and understand that children and teachers especially, in the United States, trust that each day children would come to school to learn and hang out with their peers. No day goes by when those same teachers or children think they will be shot and killed or injured by a student bringing an automatic weapon to school. But how often has that happened? And though the violence is frightening, so is the trust that students and teachers had in that student. You would hear things like, “I never expected him to do that,” or ” He was such a good student,” and so on.
The shock is the trust that has been severed between a person who understands the “trust” placed on him to obey and follow the unspoken rules of society.
The same example can be used regarding police killings and brutality. We place an unspoken trust in members of the police force to do their job; to serve and protect. But when that trust is broken, by the many killings of unarmed citizens or the brutality we have often witnessed, where does our trust go?
Trust is fragile, and once broken, it can never be the same as it was before. So, when primarily black and brown people are killed and brutalized at the hands of police officers, why is it surprising that those very people protest against it and no longer trust any police officer irrespective of their race.
But getting back to the school shooter incident above, there is no way that the killer would be allowed back in that school as if nothing happened because other children and teachers could not ever trust that child. Why is it then expected of black and brown people to trust any police officer after witnessing or seeing constant killings and brutality? What assurance do those people have that the next police officer will be “nice” to them? How do people tell the difference between a good cop and a bad cop when all that is visible to them is the uniform?
This goes beyond what bad police officers have done because every police officer in uniform represents the ones who have done bad things.
From the moment a police officer is within the vision of a black or brown person both in South Africa and in the States, thoughts of death or violence crosses that person mind.
There is no guarantee that the black or brown person will get out of the situation alive and intact.
Years ago, police officers used to target criminals, now they target citizens. Citizens that are often law-abiding like the late Breonna Taylor in the States and Collins Khosa in South Africa.
How do we, as law-abiding citizens trust police officers when we are approached by them? How do we know that the police won’t kill or hurt us even when we are on the ground? The answer is simple, we don’t! We don’t know because we are incapable of mind reading.
Can the trust ever be restored once it has been broken? I would like to think so, but it will take time and effort from the “good” police officers by not only calling out the “bad” police but by engaging with the people of the neighbourhood. They would have to become involved in neighbourhood meetings, in school activities, in church fetes, and so on.
They would have to by their actions show that they are committed to maintaining the ethos of protecting and serving the community.
The will or desire for change would have to be there, else it won’t and can’t work.
If they don’t want to be seen as murderers, alongside the ones that do murder and maim, then they need to forget about the “bro code” and focus on humanity.