Friday August 20, 2010

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You know what’s a harsh word to see in print? RAPE. I thought about using a euphemism in the subject line up there, but there aren’t really any that convey what the word means, and anyway — the NYPD officer who used it when explaining what’d happen in jail to a guy with a video camera who refused to stop taping him wasn’t looking for any euphemisms.

Down here in Texas, the police have an old saying — “You can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride.” Means that, guilty or innocent, those hours you spend in jail are going to suck, and it’s at the cop’s discretion whether or not you’re going to endure them. The “ride” in question is the ride in the police car.

And I guess, when you think about it, there’s maybe an implied, “Guys in jail are going to rape you” in that statement. I mean, way too much of America agrees that the rape of inmates is hilarious and just people getting what they deserve. It’s not like the police haven’t watched Oz or heard the “You’re gonna be Bubba’s girlfriend” jokes.

But all that’s theoretical, anyway, because we’re not just talking about whether or not police officers are aware of the stereotypes about what happens to men and women when they’re locked up by the state. (Remember: “the state” = you and me, who pay for all of this.) We’re talking about an NYPD officer who thought that “don’t drop the soap” was too subtle a message, and so — as a way to intimidate someone in the middle of the lawful activity of recording a dubious raid — went explicit, threatening to take the guy away and have him raped if he didn’t do what he was told. If you watch the video, the officer is gleeful as he explains that, whether he’s right or wrong, the guy with the camera will spend his three days in jail being raped.

I’ve been focusing on the police a lot in this blog lately, but it bears repeating: We don’t do the people who become police officers a service when we give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they’re probably justified in whatever they do in a given situation. We actually do them harm when we make excuses for behavior like, say, threatening to have a guy raped for an entire weekend if he doesn’t do what the officer says.

I’m of the philosophy that says that most people are probably good, at heart. By extension, that means that most cops are probably good, too. They don’t wake up as children thinking, “How can I get into a line of work when I grow up that will allow me to threaten people who are breaking no laws with being raped repeatedly for days on end just because they’re bothering me?” Most people, when confronted with that as an actual option when being annoyed would probably keep it in reserve. “I’ll save the rape threats for the guy who really deserves it,” they’d say.

But if you push ’em, and you tell them that they’ve got the hardest job in the world and therefore need to be given as much leeway as possible, and if you encourage the system in which they operate to hold them accountable as infrequently as possible, because they need a great deal of discretion and leeway in order to keep everyone safe, and they’re heroes, then even a good person can start to have a skewed idea of what’s appropriate.

They might start to think that, if they’re The Good Guys in everyone’s eyes, then whoever they’re in disagreement with is therefore The Bad Guys. They might think that, since no one is going to hold them accountable if they do, say, solely determine that the dude with the video camera deserves three days of unceasing anal rape, they’re actually doing the right thing if they make that decision. They might assume that if they’re given so much leeway, then they’d be doing the people they’re protecting a disservice to not use it (this is, I think, part of why police are so stoked to use their tasers, too). In short, the way we treat cops makes it awfully hard for them to be good people in what they do.

And that’s all too bad, because they probably are — or were — good people, at their core. But it doesn’t matter much if you’re a good person or a bad person at your core when you’re gleefully insisting to the guy who’s getting on your nerves that you have the right to see him locked up and raped.

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