On Good & Bad Apples

There’s a growing cry going around on social media, in response to the litany of deaths to abolish police forces altogether, and for individual police officers to resign in protest. Personally, I’d rather not encourage police officers to resign: it seems likely that the better ones would resign and I’d rather not abandon the law enforcement profession to those who have no problem with the status quo.

I’m also not in favour of abolishing police forces altogether. Major reform, yes, and even looking at what armaments are really necessary for the average front-line cop–and budgets could certainly stand to be down-sized. But complete abolition ignores a lot of the good work that police officers do that we would sorely miss. Practically, too, law enforcement has been around in some form or another as long as there has been human civilization and I’d rather not return to a feudal system or protection racket.

That said, the argument of it’s only “a few bad apples” is missing the point. When the police look away from the harms of their fellow cops, they become complicit. The organizational culture discourages whistleblowing, and even preventative measures like seeking mental health support. In many ways, the organization expects its members to be inhumanly strong and then is surprised when that inhumanity manifests as wanton cruelty.

As a Christian, I see parallels here in how Christianity is viewed and portrayed. Christianity is seen by many as anti-intellectual, hopelessly corrupt and deliberately ignorant of reality. Indeed, for many years that was my opinion of the majority of Christians–and yet I’ve learned that Christians are as diverse as any other group. Churches as institutions differ in how much reform as is needed—but I haven’t encountered one yet that doesn’t need some level of reform to reach the vision of the kingdom of God.

I’ve been reflecting of late on a passage from a Star Wars guidebook in relation to my struggle around Christianity and my desire for reform in the church, but I think this is worth reflecting on for both police officers and members of any group or identity:

“When a Jedi behaves badly in public, an observer might think, If this Jedi is representative of the whole Order then plainly no Jedi is worthy of respect. On meeting a second Jedi, who behaves better than the first, the same person might think, Does this say that half of the Jedi are good, and half bad? On meeting a third Jedi, who behaves as well as the second, the person thinks, Was the first Jedi an exception, then? In this way, only by the good behaviour of several Jedi can the public be certain that the poor behaviour one Jedi was unusual. Thus, it takes many Jedi to undo the mistakes of one.”
–from Star Wars: Jedi vs. Sith: The Esssential Guide To The Force by Ryder Windham

I think this passage, though set in the fictional world of Star Wars, reveals a great truth: we tend to be easily persuaded of the negative character of a group of people by the actions of a few members of that and can only be persuaded of the positive character of a group of people by the actions of many members that group.

In the current discussion around police forces has been heated, many are blaming it on a “few bad apples”. And perhaps that in itself is a giveaway: for the proverbs and idioms about what a few bad apples meant has shifted over the years. It’s only in recent years that “There’s a few bad apples in every bunch” has been a plea for leniency over the old adage of “It only takes one bad apple to spoil the whole barrel”.

I don’t know where this debate will end, but I do know this: we all must be the best we can be, and we all must hold our fellows to account, if we are to get out of the quagmire of injustice we are currently in.

Published by Devin Hogg

My name is Devin Hogg. I was born and raised in Carnarvon, Ontario, Canada. I moved to Guelph, Ontario, Canada in 2009 for university and lived here ever since. In my free time, I enjoy reading, watching TV and movies, going on long walks, swimming, and practicing Chen style Tai Chi. I love to write poetry and blog regularly about topics such as mental health, sci-fi/fantasy series, faith, sexuality, and politics.

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