How Did Anti-Police Sentiment Become So Popular?

In the United States, anti-police sentiment has become incredibly popular and even trendy. Millions of people now showcase antipathy for individual police officers as well as police organizations, and movements to defund police departments have garnered significant traction.

How did we get here? And what could we do to change this momentum?

The Dangers of Anti-Police Sentiment

First, let’s acknowledge why anti-police sentiment is so dangerous. Police officers exist to help keep the peace, stop crimes in progress, prevent crimes with their very presence, and generally assist others. 

When people don’t trust police officers, they can’t do their jobs properly. When people don’t like police officers, fewer people volunteer to become police officers. And if people have active hatred or resentment toward police officers, police officers become even more endangered in the line of duty – which is already filled with dangers.

Certain organizations, like the National Police Association, have made a concerted effort to fight back against anti-police sentiment. These organizations often confront and dispel myths responsible for inaccurate beliefs while simultaneously attempting to build relationships between police officers and the general public.

How Did We Get Here?

How did anti-police sentiment become so popular in the United States?

·       Police misconduct. While the vast majority of police officers are good-hearted, hard-working people, there have been many examples of police misconduct that have been elevated in visibility over the years. When people draw from examples all over the country of police officers using more violence than necessary or inappropriately treating suspects, they may become less trustful – and they may eventually develop disdain for the entire profession.

·       Public perceptions of militarization. Police departments in the United States have become somewhat militarized in some areas, getting access to more advanced equipment and weaponry. While there are certainly many reasonable opinions to have on this development, we must acknowledge that some people view this as a problematic evolution. Most people want to engage with police officers as peers, rather than as a military force. They view the militarization of police as intimidating and unnecessary.

·       Race relations. Race relations in the United States are a complicated topic that has been around for more than two centuries. Suffice it to say that certain police departments have been perceived as treating minorities unfairly, and many individual officers have been accused of racist actions. It only takes a few incidents to make the average person see police officers as a group differently.

·       Pop culture presentation. It doesn’t help that there have been many pieces of pop culture from the past few decades that have accused police officers of being racist, violent, irresponsible, or all three. Many albums, films, and works of art have implied that police officers do more harm than good or have highlighted examples of police misconduct and police violence, magnifying them in the public eye.

·       News media focus. Another major culprit is the news media’s focus on problematic police activities. Every day, millions of good police officers do good work and genuinely contribute positively to their communities, but these people generally aren’t highlighted on the evening news. Instead, journalists and commentators focus on the worst elements of police and the most outrageous occurrences that have unfolded. This has caused misinterpretation on a massive scale.

·       Social media amplification. Social media also plays a role in amplifying problematic police activities. Very few people actively share and watch videos of police officers doing mundane activities and treating suspects better than they deserve. Instead, the videos that go viral are typically ones that present police officers in a negative light. Anger and outrage are commodities on social media, so negative videos get more attention.

·       Timing issues. Oftentimes, situations are judged before all the facts are revealed. A short video showing a police officer committing an act of violence against a person can circulate among millions of people, leading those people to instantly assume the police officer is in the wrong. If it comes out later that the police officer was justified in responding with violence, most of the people who watched that video will never even hear about it.

·       Echo chambers. An extension of the social media problem is a problem associated with echo chambers. Once people make up their minds that police officers are bad or problematic in some way, they typically seek out like-minded individuals. Eventually, they gather in communities that reinforce stereotypes and beliefs – and they propagate anti-police sentiment further.

·       Morale and retention problems. Anti-police sentiment has also been affected by a vicious cycle of low morale and low retention. As people trust police officers less, fewer good people want to become police officers. This leads to problems with recruiting and retention, making it harder for police departments everywhere to do the good work they want to do.

Toward a Better Future

Anti-police sentiment in the United States may be at an all-time high, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. There isn’t much we can do about people who are lodged in echo chambers that continually reinforce their problematic beliefs. What we can do is temper our judgment when we see reports of police violence or police misconduct on social media or on the news. We can also reach out to our local police departments and form better relationships with the police officers in our respective areas. In time, we can create a better future for police officers and civilians alike.