What does it mean to have a police force that will unleash weapons on its citizens at any whim?
It means that in late July, a Cleveland cop felt he was in his right to pepper spray a group of Black Lives Matter protesters, seemingly at random, not unlike the now-infamous UC Davis officer who crop-dusted a sitting group of occupiers back in 2011. In this case, the protesters were standing and walking, but they were nonetheless unarmed. They had apparently taken the street to protest the arrest of a 14-year-old boy who was unable to produce a ticket on the bus.
One could blame a lack of training for these situations; even in cases where departments are provided with military-grade equipment, it is unclear that they are given proper operating instructions. But the impetus to unleash force or arrest people on the basis of “disrespect” isn’t due to a lack of training—it’s due to a major problem with our culture.
Take Sandra Bland, who was found hanged in a Texas jail cell after being arrested during a traffic stop. During the initial interaction, she was defiant but cooperative, and had no shortage of biting rhetoric for the cop. Which is why, it seems, he felt it was necessary not just to arrest her, but to threaten her with a taser. Throughout the incident, Bland asked why she was being detained, but the officer never answered. All this time later, however, it’s clear: Bland was arrested, and ultimately lost her life, because she hurt the feelings of an authority figure.