The events in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights and Dallas have shaken the country and threaten to divide our already polarized country. But this doesn’t have to be our path forward. There is a path that can simultaneously embrace Black Lives Matter and uphold good police work.
This post is admittedly late-coming. I struggled to find the words to describe my feelings. My hurt and outrage over the loss of Philander Castile and Alton Sterling were palpable. But as I was digesting this and listening and reading the words of people more eloquent and involved in this movement, the events in Dallas unfolded like the scene of a horror film. Patrick Zamarripa, Brent Thompson, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith and Michael Krol lost their lives doing their job; protecting and serving. These officers were observing and peaceably mingling with BLM protestors in the city when they were mercilessly gunned down by a man who will be intentionally unnamed in this post. This served to further scramble my already addled mind.
For a long time, I reflected on what had happened, digested information from media and social media and tried my best to listen. As a gay white cis man of relative privilege who can easily pass off as straight, my life has been radically different from the lives of young black men and women in this nation. So for a period I absorbed their stories, their words and their experiences to attempt to understand their lives in what limited way that I could. Though I wanted to speak out it wasn’t until I happened to watch the movie Zootopia that I began to understand what message it was that I wanted to convey.
The animated movie surprised me in opening a door to understanding the complicated issues of race and policing. The protagonist of the story is Judy Hoppes, the first rabbit in the Zootopa Police Department. The movie sets up the society that seems to clearly posit “prey” animals (such as a rabbit or mouse) in a more stereotypically white frame whereas the “predator” animals (ox, wolf, fox etc) were posited in a more stereotypically black frame. This was especially clear to me in the fact that the prey seemed unnecessarily scared of the predators since Zootopia had been integrated peacefully for some time and the fact that many predators seemed to reside in Zootopia, a clear reference to white flight from the cities and into the suburbs.
Judy Hoppes understands that this prejudice is silly and unnecessary and joins ZPD and is assigned to traffic duty in the city. The main plot point of the story revolved around the fact that several “predator” animals have gone missing. Hoppes and her criminal-turned-sidekick Nick Wilde (a fox) soon discover that these animals aren’t missing; but have been kidnapped and turned feral. This fertilization of the animals leads to a crisis about the true nature of “predators” which seems to echo the conversation on crime that happened in the 1990s. In the end, Hoppes and Wilde solve the mystery and put to bed the “predator” issue.
Hoppes is also the quintessential “good cop”. She cares for others and always wants to do the right thing. She isn’t perfect, but strives for it and readily fixes her mistakes. She never ceases to be compassionate and dedicated, even when that means bucking the police chief or the political establishment of Zootopia.
The movie for me highlighted the need to see the rights and wrongs of both sides. No side is perfect. There are good cops and bad cops. Good activists and bad activists. It is only when we are empathetic toward the needs of others; of seeing life through their shoes that we can actually come together. One side will not always be right. But both can be.