Not All Cops Are Bad Cops

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men. – Lord Acton

YET

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.  – Gandhi

I was reminded today that locally the case of the Fairbanks Four is sometimes misunderstood as a broad attack on police officers. I need to clarify that it is not. Injustice requires many players – jury members, reporters, bystanders, police officers, judges, attorneys – human beings.
Life is not all black and white, right and wrong, good and bad. In the story of the Fairbanks Four, truth is king. It has to be. And the truth is that this story has quite a few villains and not enough heroes.
Police Officers Ring, Grier, and Kendrick and District Attorney Jeff O’Bryant made some terrible mistakes in 1997 and throughout the trials. Officers who watched an injustice happen made terrible mistakes with their silence. In this story, cops are sometimes the bad guys. But we need to make it clear that their mistakes do not mean they are horrible people. Maybe they are, maybe they are good, most likely they are flawed, just like the rest of us. They had a lot of power, and may not always have used it for good.When this life ends and we go to the other side, they will be judged on substance of their souls. Not here.

More to the point, their actions are not necessarily a reflection on the Fairbanks Police Department today. Is the Fairbanks Police Department perfect? No. Absolutely not. It is made of humans, and humans are not perfect. Is the Fairbanks Police Department adequately aware of and sensitive to the Native community? No. Not yet, but someday, I hope.

Most little boys who grow up to be police officers do not dream of oppression or mistakes, of misuse of powers or errors that devastate. They dream of helping people. Saving people. Taking away bad guys. Bravely entering into dangers most would run from to rescue strangers. Dreams of being the person that holds a hand out to another person at the most difficult moments of their lives. They grow up to be men, ordinary people with lives and families, and some of them hold onto that dream. And what memorable heroics have come from it – think of the many who gave their lives on September 11th. Think of the crimes solved, the people saved, the good. Good happens, too. What an admirable dream.

Like so many dreams in life, of course it is not that simple. Sometimes things go awry. One or two bad cops can make a legion of people who are risking their lives to save others look bad. So please, remember that to support the Fairbanks Four is not to declare war on the police in our town. That things are not perfect but they have improved since the 90’s. Cop-bashing without cause will make us look foolish and lead us into the same mistake that put the Fairbanks Four into prison – to assume something about a person’s character based on preconceived notions instead of facts.

Our responsibility is to educate, to recognize corruption when it happens and expose it, to know our rights, to hold people accountable when they do not act properly, to monitor how power is used, to seek justice, to correct injustice, to work together toward a better future. To take positions of power if we are able, and to encourage others from our community to step into powerful roles. Participate. So many of us were raised to fear the police, while they as young people were trained to see that fear as an indication of criminal behavior. All involved are human. No question, some have more power than others, that power corrupts some who have it, but we can and will change that.

Great harm comes from hate, great change comes from love. So ease up on the hate, spread the love!

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