'Good Cop' Stories Don't Make My Black Kids Any Safer

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
A protester holds his hands on his head in front of a formation of Detroit riot police,as protesters...

My social media feed is flooded with posts about George Floyd, defunding the police, and protests. Sprinkled among these posts are numerous feel-good stories about police dancing, hugging, and handshaking with protesters. The “look at the nice police” stories are posted by white friends who didn’t say a peep about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or Ahmaud Arbery. I’m not here for it.

I’ve called some of the posters out on it, stating that frankly, the warm-and-fuzzy photo ops do not help me sleep any better at night. In fact, they just make me more skeptical and vigilant. I don’t feel that my Black children are safer because a few officers did the “Cupid Shuffle” on video or held up a Black Lives Matter poster among a sea of protesters.

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White people are really uncomfortable right now. I know because I am white, as are many of my family members and some of my friends. The fragility is in overdrive, and many don’t know what to do with it. Instead of posting Black Lives Matter, reading a book on how to become a white ally, or checking in on their Black friends (if they even have any) some are opting to share a “good cop” article. I’m assuming that by doing so, they are trying to assure or absolve themselves of their white guilt. I see right through it.

Now before you tweet me that there are, in fact, good cops out there, don’t bother. I am not debating that there are police who swear to “protect and serve” and do just that. Pointing out “good cops” is a distraction from the real issue. Our country is in the midst of a global health pandemic, as well as an uprising, fighting for racial equity.

This is not about good cops and bad cops. This is about a long, violent history of oppression and systemic racism within numerous entities, including the justice system, the education system, the economic system, the healthcare system, and many, many others. Racism cannot be boiled down to good cops vs. bad cops. Oversimplifying the problem isn’t productive.

The other day, I was talking to a Black friend of mine, and I told her, I don’t know what to tell my two younger kids. She pointed out, like all little kids who grow up in the suburbs, a place where officers hand out stickers and candy, kneeling down and high-fiving kids, the police, just like firefighters and EMTs, are often idolized. My friend mentioned that here, emergency responders are often part of events that invite children to practice emergency procedures and explore emergency vehicles, such as watching them turn on the lights and climbing inside the back of the firetruck. Experiences with emergency responders are almost always fun and exciting.


I have to explain to my children that just like with any stranger, we don’t know their heart, their past, or their intentions. We have to err on the side of caution. The reality is, systemic racism within policing means Black people are often guilty until proven innocent—not the other way around. (Don’t believe me? Please watch Just Mercy.)

It’s easy for my white friends to say “hope for the best,” when my feeling as a mom of Black children is “prepare for the worst.” My concern, my focus, is keeping my Black children safe and educating them on how to respond when they encounter police. There’s the terrifying reality that even if they do everything right, everything they’ve been taught to do, they still may not be safe.

White people often say, if a Black person would just be polite, respectful, well-educated, and nicely dressed, they will be just fine. It’s the ones who are “thugs,” who have a criminal past, who talk back that are justifiably being detained by police. This is simply not true. And don’t get me started on white people labeling Black people as “thugs.”

A single look-at-this-smiling-police-officer-high-fiving-a-Black-protester doesn’t bring me any relief. Not one tiny bit. In fact, I question why that photo was even taken and circulated. It feels like a slap in the face when we know that officers destroyed a protest’s first aid station while others shoved down an elderly protester and left him bleeding on the sidewalk. Journalists have been harmed or arrested, one even on live television, while reporting on the protests.

Some have accused me of only wanting to see one side of the story. There is some truth to that. I’m uninterested in being distracted by a rainbows-and-unicorns moment when I’m scared for my kids’ lives. I can’t trust that the next officer they encounter is going to be one of the “good guys” and not one of the “good ol’ boys.” There’s almost no way to know who is safe and who isn’t.

The feel-good moments, documented by the media and readily shared, may bring white people some relief. But they are already relieved because their families aren’t the ones in danger of being profiled and brutalized. They are more readily lured by the shiny bait, highlighting it as proof that there are “many” wonderful officers who aren’t racist.

I’m not here for it. If officers opt to join, support, and protect protesters, that’s great. Isn’t that their job? I’m not even blaming them. Some may not be orchestrating the publicity. Who is to blame? Those who share the stories of unity but refuse to support the very lives that are in danger, and those who refuse to create policy changes that provide racial equity.

Our society has a long way to go. A single photo, article, or video, or even a handful of them, is not going to bring about the necessary systemic change. Do I believe there are individuals serving in police forces who are doing what is right? Absolutely. Do I know which ones those are and aren’t based on photos or videos? Nope. And when it comes to preparing my own children for life as a Black teenager and young adult, with the help of many racial mentors, we have no way of knowing which officers are safe and which ones are not. When the entire system needs an overhaul, we can’t trust the entirety and teach our kids that there are only “a few bad apples.”

Before you share a “positive” story, ask yourself if it supports the movement or if it superficially distracts. Does it bring real hope to the community who is being oppressed, or does it simply make you feel better about your whiteness?

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