The issue of race in both Canada and the United States is intimately connected to policing. Racism has been at the centre of the relationship between people of colour and the police in both countries. In a society in which race has played such an important role for centuries that would be unavoidable. That is particularly true when for so long the dominant group has denied that racism is real and has a profound effect.
Some things are obvious. There are good cops and bad cops. The bad cops must be eliminated. The good cops should be encouraged. The underlying system of racism in both countries must be attacked because it has poisoned both countries. I think most people now agree with that statement.
As a result of incidents that have happened recently there is now a strong movement, that some consider insane, to “Defund the Police,” but what exactly that means is less clear. It is clear that even whites are beginning to doubt that the police are blameless. Until recently, most whites took it for granted that the people of colour were at fault. Not any more. There is no longer such an assumption. So far, that is a good thing. But where does that leave us? We must not leave reason out of the picture. This is a time when we need critical thinking, not just emotion. Most of us believe that we need a police force to keep the peace. Are we wrong?
Andrew Sullivan a columnist for New York Magazine delivered a powerful rant on this topic on Real Times with Bill Maher. He was reacting to an incident that happened in Berkeley University in California—Liberal Land if there ever was any. The College of Music there apologized for allowing police officers to use their washrooms during a protest. That does sound pretty crazy. OK, it is pretty crazy.
This is more or less what he said (though) I have left out parts:
There are very practical things we can do to help police reform and we can get bi-partisan support for many of those things, but what has happened with the debate over the last couple of weeks is that fervour and moral panic has taken over and has helped people to lose their reason. This is all emotion. This is mob frenzy. This is precluding any kind of nuance, any kind of practical point. When I hear the cops in general, without any kind of distinguishing between the good and the bad cops, being described as “all cops are bastards,” when I hear the kind of rhetoric you are getting from people on the left about defunding the police, treating the police constantly as the enemy this is not how most Americans feel about them. (Or Canadians I would add.) They want reform. They don’t want to hear this kind of rhetoric of real hatred of the cops. The cops are doing a really hard job and in the past 25 years there has been an extraordinary decrease in crime. The most successful period of crime reduction ever and no one gives them any credit for that. It seems sometimes they just can’t win. I’m not excusing bad behavior in any way nor the misconduct of the few. But the left has gone nuts over the last couple of weeks and they need to calm down and stop demonizing the cops and stop running a campaign on defunding the police and stop this excessive rhetoric about how we all live in white supremacy and all white people have to confess their guilt. This kind of moral panic and orthodoxy that is taking place is unhealthy for democracy. We need to have open debate. We need to respect one another and there is a real McCarthyist feeling in the air right now in which dissenting opinions are not respected.
This is wise. Well at least some of it is wise. We need reason; not name-calling. We have to call out wicked cops. And there are many of them. More than most of us whites now realize. But we need rational debate or any change we achieve will not be good. It is clearly time for the attitude of cops not to change when they go from an all white neighbourhood to an African-American or Indigenous neighbourhood. Clearly that has not been happening. As Malcolm Nance, another guest on the show, said, “They can’t go into these neighbourhoods and treat it like Fallujah.”
According to Sullivan at this time there are a bunch of Woke activists who are holding the media by the throat and we have to sever that grip. This is not good for the left or the right. It will alienate the citizenry. It will destroy the noble cause. In the United States this could help elect Trump. Sullivan worries that the current left will lead people to abandon their current just cause and then, America can have a repeat of what happened in 1968. Anti-Vietnam War Protesters got so extreme that they helped get Richard Nixon elected. That would be unfortunate just when there seems to be a growing consensus for reform. Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good.
America and Canada both have done some wonderful things. They have brought in the vote for women and blacks and indigenous people, though with horrible deficiencies. The rights of the LGBTQ community have progressed astonishingly in the past 30 years. Both countries need deep reform but they are not hopeless.
Malcolm Nance said it well, “Forget the extreme voices on both sides. We don’t need militia men and we don’t need to defund the police.” But—and this important—the police need to treat African Americans and Canadians and Indigenous people like they treat white people. And that is pretty extreme too. It’s clear people of colour and their allies won’t put up with anything else much longer. The time for change has arrived. And it must be real change. Deep change.