I’m afraid of the police. No lie: I’ve been afraid of the police for the past 10+ years due to witnessing police brutality and abuse of power. Over the past few years, I have worked on this, but there is still an unconscious response of anxiety when I happen to be in a convenience store and a police officer walks in, or when I’m driving down the road and a cop car pulls in behind me, or when I witness a cop pulling over someone else, or when I have to talk to the police for any reason. I’m a law-abiding, 20-something, white woman, yet my heart continues to speed every time I’m around police.
This shouldn’t be the case, and certainly one would think that a privileged, young, white woman wouldn’t have a fear of police… but I do. And the more police forces become militarized, the more I worry about abuses of power. My town recently had a “Police Appreciation Parade” and my house sits on the parade route (legit, my town has like 20 parades a year, and they are all in front of my house. I never thought I would hate parades until I moved here). The police department in my town has a lot of money that is partially funded by a huge, stinky landfill that you can smell from my backyard (about 4 miles away), so the police have a lot of toys. The parade scared the crap out of me. Police vehicle after police vehicle set off all of their ridiculously loud sirens, with officers armed in heavy duty SWAT team armor and scarily huge machine guns. The alarms were so loud and did actually scare me and my poor dog since I heard these before realizing that there was a parade outside my house. They weren’t just the regular police sirens, but were the alarms that have that high pitch beep and the one that says “This is not a test” and stuff like “Stay in your houses, we are on lockdown.” All I could think about was how traumatizing this probably was for veterans and people who have been in war zones. The end of the parade had camouflaged humvees and other war vehicles. The only thing that makes living on a parade route tolerable is the candy thrown to those watching the parade. Needless to say, there was no candy being thrown for “Police Appreciation Day.”
Now listen. I realize that most police officers are good people, people who want to legitimately make the world a better place. And for these people, I can’t express my gratitude enough. I cannot imagine what it is like going to your job knowing that this might be the day you don’t come home. I also can’t imagine the stress police officers are going through, knowing that now people are watching their every move and the blanket of criticism that has been laid on the police force since Ferguson (well, I mean, really since reconstruction, but Ferguson seems to be the easier chapter to look at for millennials to understand the effects of authoritarian policing and stigmatized racism). And rightfully so. We must hold our police officers accountable and make sure that they are not above the law. However, being overly critical probably is going to cause for worse relations between police officers and community members.
How I’ve dealt with my anxiety of police officers is consciously working on turning this fear into love. When cops pass me (multiple times) while walking my dog, I wave. I say hello when they’re drinking their coffee in the corner store. And luckily, I have a friend who is a great police officer, which helps me personalize police officers and confirm my belief that there are many good, hardworking police officers who want to make the world a better place and improve their community. It’s unfortunate when one bad banana spoils the public opinion of the rest of the bunch. However, speaking from experience after seeing police brutality up close, I’ve gained a strong distrust for police. I think this is an appropriate reaction: If the only interaction I have with police is negative, then of course my view of all police is going to be tainted. So when there are police departments that support a culture of racism and authoritarianism, of course people in those communities are going to have a hard time believing that the harmful police methods (ie: stop and frisk) will cease.
So yes, I thought I’d keep it short and sweet. Just remember: wear your seatbelt, be calm and courteous, and try to think of police officers as your equal, not someone who should be feared. Easier said than done.