Three Bay Area police union presidents issued a public letter last month calling for “constructive dialogue” about … well, it was not clear what they thought it was about. They felt “vilified” by protests. They did not contemplate the possibility of legitimate complaints behind the protests.
I called all three presidents to commence the “constructive dialogue.” I hoped for a Mandela-style Truth & Reconciliation Commission. But they would not talk to me, a comedian!
Instead, the San Francisco Police Officers Association launched a Facebook ad in which President Marty Halloran complained about having to wait six tedious hours to give his scant two minutes of public comment LIKE A COMMON CITIZEN. Ultimately, he denounced Supervisor John Avalos' police accountability resolution. Halloran was right. I watched his testimony and it was not worth the wait.
If my gracious invitation for constructive dialogue had been accepted, I would have asked:
Is any criticism of police “vilification”?
Do incompetent, racist and violent cops even exist?
What does it take for a cop to get fired?
Calls for “dialogue” and petulant outbursts like #BlueLivesMatter reflect the false equivalence that there are two sides. It is not black people's job to face police. Black people, or anyone else, do not have a choice about whether police shoot them. People do decide to become police, knowing what the job entails.
There are certain risks involved in policing, in consideration of which we the voters deign to compensate police with respectable salaries and pensions. While it is undoubtedly tragic when anyone dies at work, police officer is not even in the top 10 most fatal jobs, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet Jet Blue does not offer free flights to funerals of people with the actual riskiest jobs: our heroic fallen loggers, farmers, garbage men, fishermen, construction workers and truckers.
The job of police is to maybe get shot at. The job is to be able to handle mentally ill people, people freaking out, people who do not want to be arrested or an angry mob. And most importantly, officers must be able to instantaneously know the difference between being shot at and all these other situations.
That is the job a person chooses when they become police.
Although I have watched the first two “Police Academy” movies many times, I confess to not being an expert on how to train law enforcement. Nevertheless, I am going to suggest that anyone who cannot perform the basic requirements of the job without shooting and maiming others is not qualified.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement has been galvanized by police not being indicted for killing people. While criminal indictment is a high bar, a grand jury is not involved in firing a cop who is bad at his or her job. You would only need to meet the basic due process seven tests of just cause that protect every unionized worker. Just cause stops a boss from firing an employee for being uppity, but not for being inept.
Halloran's statements give the impression that all cops are infallible angels and anyone with the hubris to hint that bad cops exist or suggest that we consider any reforms is divisively vilifying the entire profession. Maybe overly violent and racist cops do get disciplined, suspended, fired or demoted in San Francisco. Maybe SFPD is the very model of sensitivity and oversight, and the killing of Alex Nieto in March was a freak anomaly that is being rigorously corrected. I do not know.
But as long as the fuzz shouts down anyone who asks to talk about it, we have no way of knowing. “Take my word for it” is not satisfactory in a democracy. And anyone so thin-skinned that their forehead veins explode when criticized probably should not be armed.
It would be nice to have it all out in the open. It would even be refreshing to hear a law enforcement leader say publicly that police should not kill people.
So Mr. Halloran, we're all waiting for you to begin “constructive dialogue” …
Nato Green is the country's only semifunctional hybrid of comedian and union organizer. Follow him @natogreen or doing standup every Friday with The Business at the Hemlock Tavern.