Saturday, February 19, 2005

Police, and the Smallest Minority

Front page on Friday, February 15th's Pioneer Press Local News section, this story by Ruben Rosario about the Minneapolis police, its chief, William McManus and the arrest by St. Paul police of "a Minneapolis cop accused of abducting and raping a woman he met at a health club in St. Paul." (He has since been released from custody.) However my interest is not the facts and allegations in the case, but attitudes about our society and culture embedded in the story. Mr. Rosario points out that the arrest happened on Chief McManus' " year anniversary as top dog of the state's largest and perhaps most maligned police department." And that McManus spent much of the morning fielding questions about the department's latest black eye". (Italics mine.) How do the allegations concerning the behavior of one policeman, however shocking or mundane, illicit, immoral, illegal or whatever it may be, give an entire department a "black eye "? Does the arrest of one policeman give an entire department , a black eye? Stonewalling, denials and obfuscations, closing of ranks, yes, black eyes, worse. We see none of that here. I suggest that what has been given a black eye, is our idea of what we expect of police to be: honorable, possessed of great integrity and dedication; certainly not capable of tresspassing upon the law. They are human, not superhuman. And we should not expect them to be, or view them all with scorn or suspicion when we learn they are not. The difficulties, stresses and dangers faced daily by police are beyond what most of us will ever encounter. If anything, the equation should run the other way, weighted in favor of the police we never hear about, but depend upon to show up when we speed dial in a couple of numbers. Until all police, or police in great numbers behave with bad faith and bad character, then we may talk of black eyes on a whole group of people.
It is the bad idea of group identity at fault here. We should remember we live in a Republic whose laws define and protect the rights of the indivual, that smallest minority. The perfect, after all, is the enemy of the good. The imperfections of a single individual do not tarnish or negate all thoses dressed in the same uniform.
Addenda: Pioneer Press links can be fugitive. Try and search the archives. Archived articles by Ruben Rosario are here.

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