I’m generally of the opinion that everything comes out in the wash. What you want to stay hidden probably won’t, so it’s generally a better plan to just own what you do and only do what you’re ready to own publicly.
The exception is the government, which I want to know nothing about me ever. But that’s not because I’m embarrassed or for any philosophical reason other than not wanting to be fined or imprisoned over bullshit.
I’m reading about Telegram chats becoming public wherein Puerto Rican public officials engaged in overt misogyny, homophobia while collaborating to undermine DOJ-mandated police reform. In June cops took Michael Picard’s cellphone from him but didn’t turn the video off. Now we have a recording of two officers discussing how to frame Picard.
This comes on the heels of the secret Facebook group I wrote about recently where current and former Border Patrol agents and higher ups shared racist memes. And now Philadelphia is likely to fire a few police officers for posting racist memes in Facebook groups. Across the country, it’s coming to light that at least ten thousand police officers belong to Facebook groups with names like “Ban the NAACP.”
Before Facebook and Telegram and video cameras in our phones we had to make our assumptions about government workers based mostly on the testimony of the victims of government abuse and corruption.
It was easy then for people to just dismiss the accounts of the victims, who tend to be less wealthy and powerful than average. To an extent, I don’t blame them. It’s really unpleasant and disturbing to think that the people who have a monopoly on violence are really bad people. Who wants to reckon with the reality that the people we’re supposed to call when things go wrong are going to try to shoot your non-threatening dog, miss, and shoot your ten-year-old instead and get away with it?
We blame victims and excuse perpetrators because our need to feel safe in the world outstrips our desire to acknowledge wrongs we feel mostly powerless to right anyway. That’s how I was anyway. It took story after story after story about how drug prohibition hurts vulnerable people for me to change my mind about it.
Feelings of safety are self-perpetuating. The vulnerable have to know not to trust cops for their own safety. But if you’re insulated from harm, you feel no great pressure to acknowledge how fucked-up things are for the vulnerable. In fact, the safer you feel to begin with, the more feelings of safety you have to lose.
Technology is making it impossible for the privileged to deny what is happening to the vulnerable. They can still excuse it or ignore it. But they can’t say it didn’t happen. Because now there are receipts.
For every instance of an unnecessary shooting, setup, collusion, or racist meme we know about there are millions more we don’t. I’m not saying “believe all victims.” But I am saying if we want to live in the truth, it helps to understand our biases. I believe most people are inclined to deny and excuse victimization of the less powerful by the more powerful because to acknowledge it is so unpleasant and frightening.
For people who consider themselves marginalized, most of these revelations are no surprise. I rolled my eyes at the video of the cops talking about how to frame the guy. The only thing surprising about the encounter was that it got filmed. We live in the truth of power relations because we have no sense of safety left to lose.
I guess what I’m asking from the privileged is that you allow the truth to penetrate your self-perpetuating insulation from grim reality.
Because videos and chats and Facebook investigations don’t mean anything until the powerful decide to care.