The Problem with Bad Apples

How exactly does the saying go? I will give you a moment to think, take your time. Ok, enough time, the saying is actually “a few bad apples spoil the bunch”. And now what does that saying actually mean? What’s the purpose of saying it? More importantly, why are so many people will to apply this popular trope to a police officer when he/she commits some controversial act?

Presumably, you have eaten a rotten apple at some time in your life? Do you plan to eat any more? Is it anyone’s intention to go to the grocery store and buy another bad apple? In autumn comes the harvest which means it will be apple picking season. Does anyone make a conscious decision to pick the most rotten, badly shaped, and possibly infested apple? Of course not and there’s a reason why. A rotten apple tastes bad, may have a parasitic infection, and will cause gastrointestinal distress if consumed. So nature tells us to stay away from and discard those apples or items which may cause us harm.

So why is it that many are actually defending the bad apples on our police forces? It is my contention that some are actually doing this unwittingly or unconsciously. Sure no one is standing up and declaring with a bullhorn that they support corrupt and abusive police officers. But their actions clearly state they support, at minimum, deviant behavior and sometimes racist ideology.

Far too often we are bombarded with analogies of bad apples in police work. The problem has rightly been addressed that one single incident shouldn’t taint an entire profession. The problem is what happens when one bad actor, is left in the barrel or the entire orchard. Eventually, many others will assume that’s it’s ok to behave that way. If one teacher molests a student and the rest of the members of the teaching staff see no negative consequences then others will be emboldened to emulate that or similar behavior. Being temporarily placed on admin duty, reassigned to another school or similar gestures to appease the public would not suffice. The permanent removal of the offender with criminal charges pending for a pedophile teacher would be demanded.

When collections are taken for the officer who killed Eric Garner have reached $100,000 then that says all we need to know about how divided our country is concerning issues of race and law enforcement. When people show up to at Charlottesville bearing a Bluelivesmatter flag, then we have a serious problem. When the head of a police union hints at a work slowdown over the firing of Garner’s killer then our problem is deeper than we are willing to admit.

The problem isn’t the one or two bad actors who certainly need to be disciplined. It’s those who are standing on the sideline cheering them on. The problem is those who watch and see how much the original actors get away with and see where the line is drawn. The problem is that there are people willing to stand up for and donate to a man who used a banned chokehold and took someone’s life. And certainly, the problem is with those who see a nexus between white nationalism, racist ideology, and blue lives. The problem, in short, is that the bunch are watching and rooting for the bad apple.

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