There is a belief in this country that good intentions outweigh negative impacts. That can only go so far.
Impact vs Intent (2021)
I made these two drawings a month or so ago, before Derek Chauvin’s trial, before Daunte Wright was killed, before Adam Toledo was killed, and not about police violence (or even gun violence) at all. I was going to say something along the lines of, “now I can’t see them as being about anything else besides police violence,” but the truth is that the root issue is the same.
If you’re in the Puget Sound region you may remember what happened at Bellevue Art Museum about a month ago. The director made some negative comments about Tariqa Waters - the black woman curating the (incredible) show that was being worked on at the time. Those comments were, in their effect, racist. He then spent a great deal of time and energy lying , trying to cover it up, and avoiding responsibility - certainly never apologizing - and eventually resigned his position. He may not have realized how his comments were racist but that’s irrelevant. The comments were made and they were what they were and the subsequent actions made the situation worse and deepened the disrespect. The comments - as I am aware of them - were clearly disrespectful and the following coverups and avoidance of responsibility were childish and poor leadership regardless of the context, but it’s possible he may not have appreciated the racist undertones. The isolation that comes with privilege can lead to a significant lack of awareness (I also suspect people explained the situation to him and he didn’t listen because he was so used to being considered “right” and “smart” - further examples of privilege - but that’s just me making assumptions based on previous experience with other people). While these things may be true, they don’t in any way change or negate the impact of those actions and this disconnect is the point. There is a great deal of talk in white America (in my experience) about forgiving people if they didn’t mean to do something. There’s a certain extent to which that is important, certainly for single mistakes and accidents on an individual level, but that doesn’t mean those mistakes have no impact or that there shouldn't be consequences for them - especially when the impacts are significant and they’re in a systemic context like an arts organization.
Kim Potter thought she had a taser and didn’t mean for Daunte Wright to die. That doesn’t matter. He died at her hands - at the hands of the government. The impact is massive for many people and there must be consequences for that (I do believe she thought she was going to tase him, based on the audio, but how she made that mistake is also beyond me and says to me she had no business being a police officer). It’s quite possible that the officer who killed Adam Toledo genuinely thought Adam was about to shoot him. That doesn't matter. He died at his hands - at the hands of the government - with his hands up, not holding a gun. The impact is massive for many people and there must be consequences for that (and again, thinking a kid with his hands up is about to shoot him is a failure that indicates to me that he had no business being a police officer). It has happened again and again and again.
This is behind the idea of good or bad apples in police forces. I believe two things: I believe that there actually are a lot of people who sign up to be police to try to be helpful and a positive force for humanity (that is how police have been sold to us, in white America in particular, for generations) and I believe that the culture of policing is rotten and there is a festering combination of actively malicious bad actors, poor leadership, nepotism, bad training, distaste for change, love of power, and an existence that traces itself back to deeply racist origins. That second part apparently has the power to change - or at least silence - those bright eyed, idealistic recruits that signed up to help people and results in a lot of people being killed who shouldn’t have - disproportionately people of color.
Police shouldn’t be killing anyone at all. It isn't their job. It is their job to perhaps apprehend someone so they can stand trial in a court of law - tried by a jury of their peers - but it is not their job to kill anyone. That is rendering a verdict before a trial - not to mention that none of these people killed were committing capital offenses anyway, if they were even breaking the law at all. It doesn’t matter if officers were scared, people are dead who shouldn't be. If the officers aren’t able to keep a cool head in a stressful situation they have no business being police officers or handling weapons in stressful situations of any kind; and if they make mistakes with significant impacts there should be consequences - not for retribution, but for remediation and improvement. If a person is consistently not doing what they are supposed to as a part of an institution or organization they should be removed from that position - especially if their actions are causing serious harm on behalf of the institution. If institutions are consistently causing harm or otherwise failing to do what they're supposed to, they should be changed or replaced.
There is a common thread between all of these things and it’s a belief in being above responsibility. It’s a belief that because someone didn’t intend for the results of their actions that everything is fine, it’s just an unfortunate thing that happened, and the actual impact of the actions is irrelevant because, “they didn’t mean it.” It’s worth noting that this rarely extends both ways. That is the white supremacy that people are talking about. It’s not necessarily that every white person actively thinks white people are superior to people of color. It’s that - in the context of their own actions or the actions of their friends and community members - they think the intentions are more important than the impact of those actions. On the other hand, when a person of color does something they view the impact of those actions as more important than the intent behind them (even if the impact of the action was nothing more than spooking a jumpy police officer with a gun). Forgiveness is good when mistakes are made, but that doesn’t mean the impacts of those mistakes are irrelevant or that there should be no consequences - especially when patterns of negative behavior begin to emerge (and even more so in situations involving social systems like arts institutions, corporations, or governments). It’s time for responsibility in this country. For everybody. Especially people in positions of power, including the police - individually and as a system. People are being hurt and killed by their failures.
The impacts of actions matter at least as much as the intentions behind them.
Cool, relevant stuff to check out:
Martyr Sauce - Tariqa Waters' gallery and art space in Pioneer Square
Yellow No. 5 - The show in question
The open letter penned by Tariqa to Bellevue Arts Museum
An article detailing BAM's response and the director stepping down