Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bad Apples

There's been a lot happening on the Valdosta State campus in the past few days.  First a series of protests involving walking on a U.S. flag.  Then a publicity hound got in the mix, stealing the flag and giving the group publicity they never could have achieved on their own.  With the media now paying attention, we found that the protesters were affiliated with the New Black Panthers.  And then yesterday, the University police discovered a backpack apparently belonging to the leader of the protesters, Eric Sheppard, that contained handgun.  An arrest warrant has been issued, and Sheppard is now a fugitive, and presumed "armed and dangerous."

Now, the most probable case is that all this true, that Sheppard is an amateur would-be terrorist (or at least an angry young thug), and when the police eventually catch him, they'll be removing a dangerous animal from the streets.

But I can't help being a little suspicious.  Consider the number of stories of police planting evidence.  The many examples of institutional racism in law enforcement.  And of course, the inflamed passions on VSU lately, as the police were forced to defend someone desecrating a flag - a very unpopular decision locally.

Then consider how odd it would be for Sheppard to leave that backpack just lying around.  I mean, come on - who leaves their gun lying around like that?  Isn't it just a bit too convenient that the police not only found the backpack containing the gun, but that they also found "unmistakable evidence" that it belonged to Sheppard?

This is why "a few bad apples" really are a problem.  Most police officers are trying to do a difficult job honestly and properly.  But there's a few doing it wrong - and worse, those bad apples have been left in the barrel for _decades._  It's hard to trust any police officer at this point, because there's no way to tell which ones are bad, and no confidence that even the good cops will report them.

Last, consider that this is coming from a privileged, white, upper-middle-class male.  I've never been stopped by the police unreasonably (a couple of traffic stops, each one deserved); never been mistreated by a cop; never even been the subject of rude behavior from a cop.  And I still have trouble believing this convenient discovery.  How much harder is it going to be for people who get harassed on a regular basis?  Who are the same color as all those unarmed men that have been shot to death by cops in the last few years?  In a community where a black high schooler was found dead, rolled up in the middle of a wrestling mat, and the death was ruled accidental?

I don't expect this to end well.

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