It’s not JUST a “Bad Apple” Cop
This post is part of our Silence the Violence series in commemoration of National Silence the Violence Day on July 24th, 2010.
On Thursday July 8, I stood at the corner of 14th and Clay in downtown Oakland as lines of police officers marched through the streets like an endless trails of giant ants with hard hats, armor and guns. Their very physical presence coupled with helicopters streaming the air created an impression of a war zone. I couldn’t help but recognize the very sense of fear and anger circulating in my own body, let a lone the streets of downtown hours after Mehserle was lightly convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Across the street, I could hear the rage and disappointment in the voices of Latino and African American youth yelling at the steady stream of officers. The Bay Citizen reported that 15 local law enforcement agencies and over 2,000 officers, including the entire Oakland police department were out in full force.
Standing between the police and youth of Oakland that night made me realize how deeply rooted fear and distrust has driven the divide between cops and community. Sadly, I feel as if community and cops have become each other’s nemeses, upholding processes that completely dehumanize each other and do little to address community violence. Yet, when there is anger or range at brutality or mistakes made by the police, the tendency is to label them as one bad apple by which the larger police system, should not be judged.
The time has come to stray away from bad apple cop syndrome and recognize that police brutality and racism are structural realities. As long as police officers continue to be trained to shoot guns and racially profile youth of color, violence and murder in our communities will persist. It is no coincidence that just 9 days after the Mehserle verdict, another man was shot by a Bart police officer near the same station Grant was murdered.
While we can and should be angered by individual police officers who utilize brutal force, our energies need to be directed at the larger processes of surveillance and militarization that serve to contain and control communities of color. Locking Mehserle behind bars doesn’t change the misguided policies and agendas that inject more money into policing communities instead of empowering them. It is an injustice when 75% of Oakland’s budget is spent on police and fire service. It is an injustice when the starting salary of an Oakland public educator is $39,456, almost half of the $71,841 starting salary of an Oakland police officer. What does it say about our priorities when we can’t invest in the education of our children equally, if not more, than in policing our communities?
We must demand that the media and our elected officials move away from the bad apple approach to police injustice and start to recognize and shift entire systems. Freedom fighter Ella Baker reminds us that, “In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed... It means facing a system that does not lend its self to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.”
In order to stop the violence and create lasting change, we need to be organized and do it together! If you feel a need to act and transform Oakland systemically, please join the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights at the Camp Wellstone Training in Oakland July 30-Aug 1. Get involved, get active, get moving for the love of Oakland!
Alicia Caballero-Christenson is the Soul of the City Campaign Associate at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and a graduate student within the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University.