Trust the agents of the State. Obey the agents of the State. If agents of the State behave inappropriately, that will be determined later, by other agents of the State. Your appropriate role is not to question. Your appropriate role is to comply.
The words above are fiction. They are a ham-handed attempt at depicting the language and ideology of a fascist state. I’m not a fiction writer, and you can probably tell. The language I come up with when I imagine a fascist ideologue is too brazen. Real fascists would probably be more subtle.
So let’s try this instead:
How ’bout this? Listen to police officers’ commands, listen to what we tell you, and just stop. … I think the nation needs to realize that when we tell you to do something, you do it, and if you’re wrong, you’re wrong, and if you’re right the courts will figure it out.
That quote is nonfiction. It comes from Jeffrey Follmer, the President of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, at the end of an 8 minute MSNBC interview with Ari Melber . Follmer was incensed that Cleveland Browns Wide Receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a shirt during warmups that read “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford.”
For those who haven’t followed these cases, Tamir Rice is a 12-year-old African American boy who was gunned down by Cleveland Police Officers while holding a pellet gun. The police account of the event did not match disturbing video of the event. John Crawford was shot dead by the Cleveland Police while in a Walmart, holding an air rifle that was available for purchase in that Walmart. A city prosecutor has cleared the officers involved in both cases.
And to Follmer, that should be the final word. Any citizen voicing protest or concern is wrong, and should have to apologize for their wrong opinion. At minute 7 of the interview, Follmer testily replies, “These two were cleared by a city prosecutor already. This shooting was justified, and […] it was a tragedy that it was a 12-year-old, but it was justified.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this sort of language, either. This past August, as the nation grappled with the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO, Sunil Dutta wrote an Op-Ed for the Washington Post titled “I’m a Cop. If You Don’t Want to Get Hurt, Don’t Challenge Me.” Dutta is a 17-year veteran police officer with the LAPD. Dutta writes:
Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me.
If you don’t want to get shot… don’t threaten to sue.
It’s good advice, of course. Police Officers are agents of the state. They have the capacity to use deadly force, and they are placed in trying situations every day. As a rule for individual behavior, it is a good idea to be polite to police officers.
But Follmer and Dutta have stepped well past that rule for individual behavior. In the cases of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, and far too many others, it is abundantly clear that police officers are not held responsible when they make a deadly mistake on the job. Hell, they don’t even face a trial.
The American Public should be outraged. And Police Officers should be as well. The badge is not a license to kill without consequences. As we’ve seen recently, the justice system is biased against enforcing, or even investigating, those consequences. So we’re left with the weaker tools of public opinion and organized outrage. The police ought to be standing alongside that public outrage, engaging in a dialogue and looking for ways to do better.
The current state of affairs is that Police Officers can be immediately absolved for shooting a 12-year-old boy within four seconds of arriving on the scene, but the officer will then be forced to endure celebrities and citizens wearing t-shirts that call it an injustice. And officers like Jeffrey Follmer think the t-shirts are the problem.
Follmer’s ideology is too brazen for fiction and reality alike. It’s fascism, cloaked in the language of police solidarity. He’s telling us to trust the agents of the state, obey the agents of the state, and don’t dare raise questions when other agents of the state absolve them of wrongdoing. And he wonders why all these protests are happening…