My own experience with law enforcement has been a mixed bag. I don't believe most police officers are corrupt, but I do believe the profession attracts a segment of those who enjoy having control and authority over people's lives, and these are precisely the type who should not be allowed anywhere near law enforcement of any stripe.
There's also the problem of law enforcement as a boy's (and girl's) club where whistleblowing just doesn't happen and police look the other way when one of their own commits a crime. I remember the first time I discovered this. For awhile, I was quite the church-goer, and I belonged to my church youth group. Our pastor was also the local police chaplain. A nice man. In my senior year of high school, the youth group went to Florida for spring break. The pastor was driving the van, and he got pulled over for speeding twice. And both times he showed his badge, and it got him off the hook without even a warning. He didn't boast about it, but it was very evident that police tend to let things slide when it comes to one of their own.
I hadn't thought about that memory for a long time (it's been 30 years since that trip, and its been decades since I've graced a church for any reason other than a funeral). As relatively innocent as avoiding a couple of speeding tickets seems, the same attitude applies to much larger and more lethal issues of police brutality and corruption. "Internal investigations" cannot be trusted, and even other departmental agencies seem complicit in cover-ups. What else explains the autopsy discrepancies on George Floyd, with the county medical examiner effectively clearing the officer, while the independent examination places the cause of death squarely on the officer's actions?
I'm reminded of another traffic-related encounter with a police officer I was involved in. This took place about 10 years ago, as I was leaving work. I was pulled over and accused of ignoring a yield sign. I'd been making this drive for over a decade and knew no yield sign existed. The officer insisted it was there and wrote me a ticket--I believe he cited me for wreckless driving. I asked the officer if we could go back to the spot so I could prove to him the sign did not exist. This made him mad, and he wrote out the rest of the ticket with a terse explanation that if I paid the fine in advance, my charge would be reduced to operating an unsafe vehicle, resulting in fewer points off my license. Otherwise I could challenge the original ticket in court.
I'd vowed to make that challenge, but in the end I got talked out of it by someone who explained the process and said I'd almost certainly lose. There wouldn't be a jury, for example, and was it really worth taking a vacation day to sit at the city courthouse only to have my challenge dismissed in five minutes after spending four hours waiting? The city wanted its money, which is why the ticket was written in the first place, and my best bet was to just pay the fine and move on with my life. Which is what I did.
But in doing so, that police officer forced me into confessing to a crime I never committed--operating an unsafe vehicle. My car was only a few years old and in fine condition. There was nothing "unsafe" about it at all. I suspect many, many people have been in similar situations, and those of us who are white have tended to shrug it off as a nuisance and just move on with our lives. But again, that's the whole rotten mess in a microcosm. Law enforcement, for all the great things they do, simply cannot be challenged in any meaningful way when a challenge needs to be made, and we just accept it. I've been pulled over perhaps 8 times in my life. Compare that to many African American men my age who've been pulled over more than 40 times. I've described what I feel was a truly corrupt personal interaction with a police officer. A black counterpart to me may have had that experience 5 times over. Change the circumstances to a setting with much higher stakes, and you see the problem.
Or perhaps you don't. And perhaps I don't--not really. One of my favorite aphorisms comes from George Orwell--"To see what's in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle."
I don't feel like I've been struggling enough. I'm going to try to do better.