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Where We Are

Looters and rioters should be arrested and prosecuted. They’re criminals and we need police to stop them. Period. Too bad that’s gotta be said.

These days, you say anything and you can sense you’re being sized-up. Sometimes peoples’ ey­es narrow and it’s clear they’re trying to figure out what “side” you’re on. If you are in support of protests, you shouldn’t have to offer a preamble. You shouldn’t have to say that looting is criminal. You shouldn’t have to say upfront that you do not support anarchy or spitting on cops. But that’s where we are.

It’s too bad we can’t compartmentalize. It’s too bad we can’t listen without responding with “what about…” Whataboutism might be the most dangerous ism there is.

A hundred years ago, women were given the right to vote. You know what that means? People were actually in opposition. Women had to fight for the right. People against, made actual arguments why women shouldn’t vote. It was debated back and forth for decades. Decades.

A doctor of some renown had big sway when he said voting and politics takes thought and if women exerted themselves with too much thinking, they might become infertile.  Another school of thought said married women would just follow their husbands and therefore it would be like giving a married man two votes.

Decades, this went on for.

Look it up. There was a protest march by women in favor of voting rights in 1913 in Washington. At some point, men broke through barriers and pushed, shoved, injured and spat on the women. More than a hundred had to go to the emergency room. Cops could do little to control the crowd. One account says a cop told the marchers, “You shoulda stayed home.” Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Maybe the women said mean things. But there was a riot.  Over what? Over allowing women the right to vote. It was seven more years before they could legally enter a voting booth. 

Looking back makes you say, how could it be like that?

While trying to make sense of things, I’m wondering how we’re gonna look back. “Bad apples” is something we’re hearing a lot about. Someone offered me an analogy and it seems apt. During the Catholic clergy abuse scandal, predatory priests were protected and shielded by some church leaders. The wicked behavior was allowed to continue, sometimes by moving the bad apples to different places and parishes. A culture was in place that permitted this. But no longer. It’s better now.

Similarly, bad cops are protected and shielded by union leaders, top brass, and fellow officers afraid of recriminations if they expose corrupt or abusive cops. The culture allows bad behavior to continue. It’s not as simple as “bad apples.” It’s more about dealing with, and getting rid, of these bad apples. The culture’s gotta change.

I have to pause to salute one of our Be Well columnists, Helen Kilgallen, who wrote a tough, difficult piece this week. She comes from an NYPD family, full of integrity, and you can tell she’s full of anguish. She stated a simple truth: good cops don’t like bad cops.

 So, what can be done?

At the height of the clergy scandal, a lot of good was still being done by the church. But evil still had to be rooted out.

As brutal as some cops have shown to be, the overwhelming evidence is that cops care, show remarkable restraint, and have very dangerous jobs. And we damn well need them. But if changes aren’t made, good cops will have to carry an unfair, dangerous burden.

And protests will continue. And those who come after us will rightly ask, how could it be like that?

By Keviin Boyle

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