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When people use the phrase “a few bad apples,” they mean that most police officers are non-racist, well-rounded people. The statement distances wrongdoing cops from rule-following ones. However, I believe a more appropriate phrase is, “the whole tree is rotten.” At first, I thought all police couldn’t be corrupt. I reasoned with myself. I’ve met cops, and they didn’t attack me, right? And then, I started to doubt my original thoughts. The truth, as I came to find out, is much more complicated than right or wrong. Many officers may be friendly, but what does it mean to be a “bad apple?” Why are there corrupt police officers?” And what does it mean that the whole tree is rotten? 

What Is A Bad Apple?

The phrase “bad apple” describes those few officers you see on television committing acts of police brutality. Daniel Pantaleo, who murdered Eric Garner over illegal cigarette sales in New York City, is considered a “bad apple.” Timothy Loehmann, who killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, over a — known — fake gun, is regarded as a “bad apple.” Brett Hankison, the yet-to-be-arrested murderer of Breonna Taylor, is a “bad apple.”

As you can see, the standard for a rotten officer classifies as one who has committed a quite severe crime. Fellow officers and law enforcement enthusiasts are quick to note that these murderous officers are mostly alone in their actions. Thus, claiming that the entirety of police officers nationwide are majority kind and non-racist people. I, however, believe that this standard to be considered a corrupt officer is much too high.

It’s Not Just The Apple; It’s The Tree

When I watch videos of all the tragic confrontations that I mentioned above and many others, I notice fellow police officers standing by. In George Floyd’s case, three separate officers stood by as a man gasped for air, using his last few breaths to call out to his mother.

To stand by and watch as someone as their fellow officers murder someone is just as criminal as the murder itself. And there’s a reason why I’ve never, and you’ve most likely never heard of a police officer stopping crime by another officer. And if it has happened — which I hope it has — it doesn’t happen enough. This lack of police accountability within the force shows that it isn’t a few bad apples on a healthy tree; it’s a few edible apples on a majorly rotten tree.

The criteria for a corrupt cop are not only murdering a helpless person or frisk minorities on the sidewalk, but it’s also defined by what you do when you see those things.

Photo by Nikolai Chernichenko on Unsplash
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Why Are There Bad Apples?

After blame is dealt and prosecution is adequately distributed, we cannot settle as a nation. While entirely responsible for their actions, police officers are merely fulfilling racist and oppressive policies put in place by our systemically racist institution. Policies that target and feed off the oppression of African Americans and minorities in general.

Slavery, in its most blatant form, is no longer present in the United States. However, slavery itself has gone nowhere, and our country benefits from it. I’ll run through the process briefly, but for more detail, I recommend watching The 13th on Netflix — which is where I learned all of this upcoming information.

Here’s where I’ll begin:

War On Drugs — 1970s

In 1971, Richard Nixon declared war on drugs, which involved crackdowns on a supposedly increasing usage of crack cocaine in Black and Brown neighborhoods. Meanwhile, increasing usage of pure cocaine in white communities went primarily disregarded. Nixon’s administration claimed that Black people were just hardcore drug users. The truth didn’t arise until Nixon’s top advisor admitted the administration’s wrongdoings. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people,” stated Nixon’s domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman. He continued with, “Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Richard Nixon officially “declaring war” on drugs in 1971.
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War On Drugs — 1980s

Then in 1982, Ronald Reagan declared war on drugs again. Reagan’s campaign used the word “super predator” to describe young black men, thus creating fear of black men. Reagan followed Nixon’s footsteps, over-policing Black neighborhoods, and imprisoning them at an extremely disproportionate rate.

Ronald Reagan declares war on drugs on October 14, 1982

Crime Bill — 1994

This last example is the Crime Bill passed in 1994 under Bill Clinton. The bill implanted many things, but most importantly, noted were the 3-strikes law and the $9.7billion funded to prisons. First, the 3-strike law means that anyone convicted of “two prior convictions for crimes defined as serious or violent” would get a life sentence for their 3rd offense no matter how minor. Prison populations skyrocketed once again, but this time with people spending life sentences for petty theft and other similar crimes . According to the Three Strikes Project, the 3-strike law increased a prison’s budget by $19 billion. Clinton claims he did not know that the Crime Bill would target minorities at a higher rate, but the fact that the bill already factored in $9.7 billion in funds to prisons, I find that hard to believe.

President Bill Clinton announces the Crime Bill in 1994.

During this period, businesses began making their money off the backs of Blacks, again. No, I don’t mean they put African Americans in fields. I mean, they put imprisoned Blacks to work for little to no pay. Major corporations like McDonald’s and Walmart both used prison labor as a major source for their products. Both have supposedly changed from the inhumane practice. But plenty of organizations still utilize the practice.

Knowing how the country benefits from the increased prison population, you can understand why a president’s agenda may include being tough on crime. All of this to explain how oppressive and racist policies utilize law enforcement. The apples are no less spoiled, but now you know that the rottenness doesn’t begin in the apple, it begins in the roots.

Times are changing now. The entire system is exposed, vulnerable to real, systemic change. So, let’s end it all for good. Remember: it’s a movement, not a moment, so never settle for anything less than equality.

Posted by:Cleveland Lewis III

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