As the murder of Tyre Nichols sours our souls as yet another example of over-amped policing, we are reminded that these officers were assigned to get “tough on tough people.” Memphis’ Scorpion unit, just like similar units in New York City, is the result of community pressure, and that pressure lands on people of color. Here in NYC, did we stop and think about how to define and enforce equitable justice before we launched “Stop & Frisk”? Predictably, arrests spiked. Terror works, temporarily. In the immediate aftermath of a crime, be it one of “quality of life,” property or life itself, our tendency is to demand that the cops be let loose, as a victim’s vengeful fantasies can rival those of a god. But reflex should not be policy, and those with the authority to put a posse in place need to remember where such gang warfare leads. We tacitly expect these squads to terrorize. Yet when something really bad happens, as it always will, instead of acknowledging our fatal mistake, we mutter about bad apples. We picked them, we pay them, we applaud them in parades, but if they pull one of our friends or family over, only then do we question.
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