I’ve read with concern that conservative outlets like The Wall Street Journal have put forth an alternative meant to distract us from a healthy conversation about how our public-safety tax dollars are spent. They want us to support busting police unions. But the suggestion that getting rid of unions — the Journal’s opinion quickly shifts from a focus on police unions to all unions — will fix institutional racism, is substantially flawed.
The concept implies that the bottleneck of bad cops who inflict atrocities on our citizens can be cured by taking away all due process for first-responders. But if you believe, as I do, that police departments across the country have a culture of supporting racist acts, removing due process for the officers trying to improve that culture means they will be the first to go — with the encouragement of every single bad cop on the force. Removing due process for officers who report on bad cops will create disincentives to self-reporting, not encourage it.
Having worked for a teacher’s union when I was just out of law school, I know that a union is as good, morally speaking, as its members. So why set up a system that retains undereducated, underskilled, and most importantly, undertrained people and expect it to be anything but an unethical mess defensible only with coded language and symbols like rear window decals. After all, slogans created to enforce support for racist police officers recognize and affirm an “us vs. them” mentality — the same one that props up racist police officers in every corner of our nation.
The best federal Bureau of Statistics information tells us that in America the average amount of field and classroom training for new police officers is about nine months. I’m six months pregnant right now. When I deliver my baby, an activity which my body is biased toward doing correctly, I’ll have gestated it as long as a person is trained and then expected to carry out the full function of interacting with, detaining, and assisting people from different cultures, neighborhoods and experiences. In other words, they will be put on the street and expected to properly and safely police in a manner they, like all of us, have a learned bias against doing fairly.
That’s probably why many other nations require much more training for new officers. And also a reason why they have much lower incidents of police violence than the United States. By the way, many of those nations have a strong tradition of police unions. The child I deliver in a few months will be the benefactor of much privilege. No training required for that.
Most people who don’t understand their white privilege think there is a silver bullet to cure institutional racism. Because to them, it’s a simple problem, one which they have no role in causing. They’re wrong, of course. But it’s no surprise then that those who don’t care about or understand that police violence against brown and black people is a symptom of a larger problem would latch on to the beliefs that have already developed to support their own privilege for generations in an effort to avoid addressing their role. One of those beliefs is that unions are bad. It’s time for those who hate unions to hate racism just as much.
Mary-Patricia Wray, of Baton Rouge, heads the lobbying firm Top Drawer Strategies.