Across America, police departments are facing the same problem: a quarter to a third of their employees refuse to get vaccinated (against this particular coronavirus exclusively; none of those employees seems to have balked at any vaccination before this one) and are willing to walk off their jobs if that means staying unvaccinated. Let’s please, please agree: these cops aren’t worried about any science. This bizarre stance doesn’t flow from any positive human impulse, rational thought process or real world situation. It is entirely manufactured within the heads of its adherents. It is defiant ignorance for defiant ignorance’s sake. Hmmmmmmm… now, why does that feel so familiar to us? Probably because it flows from the same toxic, tribal belief cesspit as racism. And bigotry and misogyny and every other ignorance-born way of thinking. From a Human Resources POV, this reflects two distinct hiring pools: cops who accept new information and cops who don’t. From a sociological POV, this reflects two distinct types of human: hard core conservatives and everyone else.
Politics shouldn’t play any role here. It’s obscene that they do. But both sides didn’t put politics into this conversation; only one side did that and we ain’t just talking about their anti-vaccine attitudes. One side of the American political spectrum relentlessly puts politics at the center of everything. They have to if they’re going to accomplish their goal of permanent minority rule. When Republicans gerrymander a Congressional district, their goal isn’t to see that district’s population represented regardless of their politics, it’s to do the exact opposite. Because politics. When Republicans suppress Democratic voters by writing bullshit, anti-democratic, unconstitutional legislation, their goal is political — even as they behave criminally to achieve that goal.
Every time a Republican infringes in whatever way on another American’s right to vote? THEY’RE BREAKING THE LAW. They are. That we’ve been slow to see it that way — and prosecute it accordingly — that’s not the law’s fault, it’s ours. The rule of law can’t enforce itself — and it can only reflect our best efforts at creating a country where everyone really does get equal treatment before the law. Equal enforcement of the rule of law would create an environment more conducive to a truly level playing field where every American truly has the same opportunities to achieve “the American Dream”. And to hold onto and build the wealth their hard work has earned them. And to hold onto and build upon the political power that wealth invariably brings.
Of course, when most everyone has a similar level of comfort (via “wealth)) and no one is struggling to get by or just eat, our society as a whole will benefit. It’s not hard, either. President Biden;s Expanded Child Tax Credit reduced poverty in America and spurred the economy at the same time — exactly as universal basic income always does whenever it’s battle tested. But, what if our problem is that some Americans WANT other Americans to remain in poverty — with zero political power? The impulse to pay people as little as possible for their work stems from the same impulse to enslave people. Slavery’s bottom line is stolen labor. It’s the entire point of the exercise: you get their work product for nothing (except the costs of housing, clothing and feeding a slave). The American south was always agrarian. The three big cash crops that established and then became the entire basis for the Confederacy’s economy were cotton, sugar cane and tobacco. All three demand a lot of field labor to plant, tend and harvest. If the plantation owners who grew those plants had paid a fair market rate for their labor, that would have directly impacted their profits.
But stolen labor is stolen money. The money that should have gone into fieldworkers’ pockets went into everyone else’s pockets instead. At no other stage of the sugar cane process as it went from seed to consumer did anyone NOT get paid — except the people who physically touched the plant itself. The reason slavery’s descendants are entitled to reparations is because something very real was stolen from their ancestors: their pay.
Though slavery ended in practical terms, the economic impulse to steal labor never did. Here in America, white money has always tried as hard as it could to steal the labor it needed for its businesses (non-white labor especially). The reason we have a minimum wage is because without it plenty of bosses would economically abuse their workers. What’s happening today though — where businesses are struggling to find workers willing to work for them is because pandemics historically change the economics of the eras they ravage. The Black Death destroyed feudalism. Here, today in America, the same thing is happening. Slavery is feudalism and feudalism is a perverse form of slavery. Just as bubonic plague decimated the work force as it ravaged 14th century Europe — throwing economic power to the workers (being in such short supply) — COVID is throwing economic power from those who need work done to those needed to do that work.
Here’s the takeaway: if pandemics can change whole economic systems (as they have), it’s probably possible for them to change how people treat and value other people non-monetarily too. We don’t have to be racist (or bigoted or misogynist or hateful in any way). We choose to. Just like we choose to hire cops who we know are racists even as we hire them.
George Floyd’s murder changed our national conversation because the proof of what Derek Chauvin did to him was, well, so clearly evident. Eight minutes and forty-six seconds during which Derek Chauvin knowingly and willfully executed George Floyd while a crowd watched and begged him to stop while they videoed him. “I don’t care” shines like a beacon from Chauvin’s eyes. “No one — NO ONE — is the boss of me”. That’s what Chauvin’s whole demeanor shouts.
Take this to the bank: Derek Chauvin didn’t show up for work that day having never behaved that way at work. This was how Derek Chauvin practiced policing because he still believes that that is what policing is. Policing in America began with slave patrols. It’s never stopped thinking of itself that way.
Here’s the problem: racists are good at not questioning things they should question. They walk in the door totally convinced that white people really are superior to all others. That’s not based on anything substantive. It’s all feelings and zero facts. Racists, once triggered, become zombie-like, driven by whatever those feelings tell them to do — attack peaceful, prosperous, productive Black communities, for instance, as a white mob did in Tulsa on May 31, 1921 when they destroyed the Greenwood section of town.
In jobs where we need people to “follow orders”, we still need them to follow orders sensibly. Soldiers or cops who’d follow a leader literally off a cliff won’t be around long. We’ve built a moral obligation into our military laws just so soldiers and cops don’t have to do that. We’ve made following morally repugnant orders a choice not an obligation. But, we never turned away from hiring — as cops or soldiers — people who would follow morally repugnant orders. That’s not on them — they are who they are and who they’ve always been. It’s on us. We don’t have to hire people we know (yes, we DO know!) are either racist or feel sympathetic toward racists. Being “racist adjacent” is the same as being racist.
The anti-vax cops nationwide are doing us a favor and we’d be stupid not to let them.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder (and Eric Garner’s and Michael Brown’s and Tamir Rice and Walter Scott and Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and Stephon Clark and Breonna Taylor among too, too many others!), America finally saw policing and its police departments in the light in which policing in America should always have been seen. Because we evolved policing from slavery — from recapturing escaped slaves — policing in America has always held onto its compulsion to keep Black people in line. Policing still thinks of Black people as someone’s property — three-fifths of a man some “full man” owns.
We need police officers to keep the peace. We need them to help mitigate emergencies and to be part of any dangerous situation’s first response on our collective behalf. We need them to do this work in order to have order. But, we’ve heaped a lot of other jobs onto “policing” that don’t belong to them. How we solve that is a whole other series of conversations. For starters though, we need to stop setting ourselves up for failure by constantly returning to the same hiring pool for police officers when that hiring pool consistently produces problems for us.
Perversely, over the last two years, nothing has killed more police officers than the coronavirus. If one was a cop, you’d think that fact alone would cut through the bullshit and force you to see sense. Ah, but racist brains don’t work that way. Neither do anti-vax brains. They sure seem to be one and the same.
In hindsight, my bet is, we’ll connect those dots. The same cops who think violence is policing also think not getting vaccinated against a demonstrably deadly virus proves their loyalty to… what? What are these people being loyal to? What’s causing them to choose stupid and selfish over doing the right thing for the right reasons?
Maybe our problem isn’t just the hiring pool itself but those who keep returning to it. What do they expect to find there (aside from a hire they need to make)? Maybe, perversely, the coronavirus is doing something we haven’t the courage to do for ourselves: remove racist assholes from every PD hiring pool in America.