January 18, 2017 | Posted in ASH Online
By Guido de Bloois
So, some things happened in 2016. We all know a few, but to avoid crippling depression, let’s not go into detail regarding most of those. The past year and recent history beyond the bounds of 2016 have known their fair share of violence, hate, intolerance, and polarization within societies, and I’ve picked just one theme to say something about real quick.
One aspect of U.S. society consisted of arguably excessive use of force by the police against especially African American men (sometimes boys even), resulting once again in some of their deaths. Retrospectively, many victims were claimed to be innocent or unarmed, which is most likely and tragically true in several cases.
The media were not shy at all in their coverage of these mishaps and helped to paint a very negative image of American police officers throughout the country. That is because, as somehow often seems to happen, a large part of the public quickly tends to unconsciously assume that (inexcusable) acts of individuals are committed by the entire group that those individuals are from. Now, a lot of particularly African American citizens fear police violence, and many of us soft Europeans in our welfare states are appalled by the continuing police-related deaths in the savage land across the pond. Rightly so, I would still say.
This reaction has to do with the fact that most issues simply aren’t quite as big or deadly in our own little country of the Netherlands. We are famous for finding smaller problems within society everywhere, out of lack of bigger ones. This is what we call “ant-fucking” and we do it all the time; just spend literally one minute on social media.
Coming up with countless irrelevant problems does cause real problems to be overlooked. For example, it usually doesn’t really come to mind that fast, but we have our own issues with law enforcement here and they are far from similar to those in the U.S. Instead of concerning about police violence, many Dutch officers are concerned about their own safety. Especially towards New Year’s Eve. Some individuals carry out their deranged plan to attack policemen who are there to protect them, 2016 included. The officers have come forward several times now to claim that they don’t feel safe on the streets, because they are undermanned and under-equipped. Naturally, it is a problem when law enforcement isn’t confident enough to enforce the law.
It’s easy to think that our socialist European piece of land that’s half the size of South Carolina is so culturally divergent, and the big, bad U.S. of A. is so far away, but surely we can learn from each other? With some officers shooting up the place on one side of the spectrum, and the other side not being able to use their Taser without causing a national outrage, I would be inclined to feel that surely there is some middle ground to be found.
Maybe our police department could look to the U.S. when it comes to improving the availability of backup when needed, the effective use of (non-lethal) force, or police authority in general. Maybe American officers could take some inspiration from the Netherlands in regards to toning down the gun violence a little, connecting to local communities, or the public image of law enforcement in general.
This photo is from my own home town of Maarssen, where small kids were allowed to sit on police bikes and played little quizzes with the officers. In the back of a police truck, citizens were given the opportunity to express their opinion on the local police department, which was generally very favorable.
Of course, by writing this I paint a very rose-colored picture of the obscure hamlet that is Maarssen, and I casually speak of the “public image of law enforcement” as if that is something we can actively control. Nonetheless, I believe that we as a local, regional, national, and perhaps even international community do have influence over how our police officers are portrayed in society.
Yes, the media can be toxic when it comes to covering police-related incidents, especially in the era of instant news and catchy headlines of social media, but we as quasi-intelligent human beings have to be able to see through this. Some of us are quick to focus on all the negative aspects of today’s world and easily slip into a belief that everything used to be better “before,” and I have to admit that I sometimes find it hard to avoid being cynical in present times myself.
Maybe it is possible to change this by trying to highlight positive aspects in some occasions and trying to look for ways of improving our police departments, instead of continually bashing what is wrong with them. We could start changing our attitude and media-extremes by being a little less single-minded and moderating ourselves just a bit more when it comes to these issues. But then again, who am I but a suburban 19-year-old Dutch boy who practically never came into contact with the police at all?