by Ritt Goldstein
Copyright July 2010
Police abuse is in the news, and despite the publicity surrounding the Oakland, California death of Oscar Grant, and the torture related conviction of Chicago's Jon Burge, many of us appear to yet deny the possibility of substantive police abuse problems.
It was 2004 when I discussed some of America's 'nastier security issues' with noted Canadian-American psychologist Dr. Daniel Burston, Burston then observing that it "certainly seems that the world is going mad", and too often that does seem the case. However Burston, now the chairman of Duquesne University's psychology department, quickly added that a 'retreat' into "social fantasy systems" was a more accurate way to describe the psychology in play, psychology allowing 'nastier issues' to continue. But regardless of how these things are said, perhaps it's time to stop retreating and face some facts.
We Americans may not be mostly Hindus, but we certainly have our own 'sacred cows', and for too many of us our police are among them. Perhaps it's the multitude of cop shows and movies, or perhaps even a measure of the fear in our communities that causes so many to succumb to such blind adulation. Of course, the problem with blind adulation is, it's 'blind'. And no matter what else our police are, our police are 'only human'.
None of us are perfect, and I don't think we should expect our police to be, do you? So perhaps, just like the rest of us mortals, they have their own share of those who are good, those who are bad, and those who can be ugly. I think people call that human, and so denying it might best be called foolish, or perhaps even 'blind'.
This May I read a particularly good article in The Nation, "Believing in Justice, Blaming the Victim". The author noted that when confronted by concerns about our security, about that bubble of safety we create about ourselves and our own, it's effectively a lot more reassuring to blame the victims of misfortune for their own fate, so avoiding the unsettling thought that such tragedy could happen to us. We cling tightly to an unspoken assumption - or perhaps for many, truly a prayer - that since the world is 'just', we will be fine, so long as we do 'what is right'.
For those feeling less than secure, the difficulties of looking beyond such thoughts can be readily understood. It would indeed be comforting if all 'victims' were simply wrongdoers of some sort, miscreants that 'got what they deserved'.
The fear in our communities comes in many forms.
Unfortunately, the The Nation's article noted the considerable "psychological research" revealing that "those most attached to the belief that the world is fair are those most likely to reconcile their distress about unearned suffering by blaming the victims". And so, having been victimized, victims can then pay a further price so that many may reassure themselves that all is as it's wished to be.
Given such a devastating price, it's particularly tragic such reassurance is empty.
Police are only human, police abuse is real, and blaming our police abuse victims won't change that, but would seem to allow abuse and abusers to continue. If the perpetuation of abuse sounds like madness, I agree, and one can only hope that those who might have sadly retreated into "social fantasy" may yet realize the same.
Ritt Goldstein is an American investigative political journalist living in Sweden. His work has appeared in America's Christian Science Monitor, Spain's El Mundo, Sweden's Aftonbladet, Austria's Wiener Zeitung, and a number of other global media outlets. He is one of few contemporary journalists to have had one of their works read in its entirety upon the floor of Congress. He was also at one time active in US police accountability, and has himself been a police abuse victim.