Cop Memes

The question was put to me: If cops do not, in fact, disproportionately abuse blacks, then why don’t black people trust police?

A corollary question occurred to me: If cops are not disproportionately helpful to whites, then why do white people trust police?

Police really aren’t particularly trustworthy. Various forms of corruption are rampant in many departments, and this has historically always been a problem. Many police practices are really just “Sheriff of Nottingham”-style revenue collection, especially the egregiously abusive practice of civil asset forfeiture. Many of the laws police enforce are unjust, and police generally are not punished when they abuse their power.

This is not to bash cops as uniquely evil, but rather to point out that are not uniquely good. They’re people doing a job, just like all other people doing jobs. Sometime they are bad, and sometimes the job itself is bad. We have at least as much reason to be suspicious of a cop and his motives as we do any other person in any other profession.

But we don’t think of them as people doing a job. We ascribe to them unique qualities that we would not ascribe to other people. In black culture, they are ascribed evil qualities, malicious bullies looking to cause pain and loss, and they are assumed to be in the wrong in any conflict. In white culture, they are ascribed good qualities, heroic figures looking to serve and protect, and they are always given the benefit of the doubt.

Why? Why do we ascribe such strong moral qualities to members of this profession but not others?

My answer is that neither group is assigning qualities to police based on their actual experience with police, or by the application of any philosophy. It’s just a matter of which memes people are exposed to. In white culture, police are almost always portrayed positively, as noble, caring and competent. In black culture they are almost always portrayed negatively, as corrupt, callous, and foolish. People see these portrayals (generally as children) and assimilate them into their worldviews, then perpetuate them, so the portrayals become memes and self-reinforcing.

The influence of what you expect to see on what you think you see cannot be overstated.

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