Police Violence: It Is Not Normal

People have a tendency to imagine that whatever is happening around them is normal. They get used to how things are and don’t always think about whether something could be done differently. I have recently heard a few American citizens insisting that cops need to be tough on crime or else the society will collapse. Or that cops need to shoot suspects or else innocent people will die. And here I am, living in a country where police officers do not routinely shoot or beat up suspects, where citizens aren’t scared or wary of the very people who are supposed to protect them. And no, just because cops are capable of restraining themselves and not acting like murderous monsters doesn’t mean that crime is rampant in Europe. Personally, as a European, I perceive the overwhelming violence perpetrated by American cops as unbelievable and horrific.

We recently saw plenty of videos of American cops attacking peaceful protesters. People are protesting police violence, and police officers respond by being violent towards the protesters. Yeah, this is certainly so going to work.

My own experience with participating in a few protests has been very different. A group of people gather in some public place with protest signs and chant some slogans. A few cops are standing nearby with bored expressions on their faces. After a while protesters go home. Nobody gets hurt or injured. I’m not going to say that participating in protests is boring here, but it certainly is uneventful compared to the horror I am now seeing in videos from the USA.

Personally, I haven’t really had many interactions with police officers. The last encounter I can recall happened a few years ago. I got somewhat lost at the Frankfurt train station. I must have looked like a totally lost tourist, so a police officer (or maybe he was a security guard, I don’t remember for sure) who was there asked me if I needed help. I smiled and said that I’ll be fine. That’s it. Basically it’s a story about how nothing happened.

Over the last few years my mother had two encounters with police officers. Several years ago the state passed a new law that all dogs must have a microchip and must be registered in a national database. (This is actually convenient—if a dog gets lost, people who work at an animal shelter can look up the microchip number in a database that has the dog owner’s contact information.) A few days after the law went into effect, my mother was sitting on a park bench, one dog in her lap, three others sitting next to her. Police officers approached her and asked about dogs’ microchips and whether they are registered. They tried to scan their microchips, but either their scanner didn’t work or they didn’t know how to use it correctly. It seemed like this was the first day these cops tried to use their new dog microchip scanners. The cops gave my mother some free dog poop baggies and that was it.

On another occasion my mother was walking our dogs early in the morning. Local laws state that all dogs must be on their leashes at all times in public places. Since it was early morning and nobody was nearby, my mother let our dogs from their leashes so that they could run around and get some exercise. After a while a police car showed up. Police officers didn’t get out of their car or say anything to my mom, they just stopped there and waited until she put leashes on her dogs, and then they drove away.

A friend of mine told me about how he once crossed a street in a place where pedestrians aren’t supposed to do so. A police officer stopped him and politely asked not to do this again. A few days later he was at the same spot about to cross the street. Then he saw the same police officer standing nearby and looking at him. The police officer smiled and waved his arm in a greeting. My friend greeted the cop and went further to an intersection and waited for the green signal.

In Europe, people’s encounters with police are generally stories about how nothing happened. People politely exchanged a couple of words and that was it.

When I searched online with “police injures” in Latvian as the key words, I mostly found news articles about cops getting injured at work. For example, in one case a drunken 15 years old boy beat up a police officer at his school. (In case you are an American reader wondering how something like this could happen—here police officers are reluctant to use physical force against people, especially if they are underage).

When I changed my search keywords to look for police shootings, I only found a couple of news articles. In each case police officers shot at a suspect only after the suspect had already badly injured somebody and attempts to resolve the problem peacefully had failed. For example, in one case police officers got a call to an apartment in which an aggressive man had beaten up a woman and her brother. When the cops entered said apartment, they saw the woman unconscious on the floor while the suspect attacked them with a knife. Police officer asked him to put down the knife. When that failed, he shot in the air. That didn’t work either, so the cop stepped back to the staircase. The aggressive suspect followed him trying to stab him. When there was no more space to step back, the cop shot the man. (Leaving the house wasn’t an option, because there were two badly injured people in the apartment.)

Here is a video in which an aggressive, machete-wielding man gets arrested by British police officers without anybody getting killed. For Americans who advocate shooting at the suspect’s legs as a better alternative than shooting at their torso, the actions of these British cops might seem weird. For me, however, something like this seems normal.

This is a video of Latvian police officers arresting an armed person who threatened other people with a gun and a machete, tried to run away, and resisted arrest. Notice that he didn’t get badly injured and nobody tried to break his neck, never mind shooting him.

What happens when people don’t resist?

Then they are politely told to get into the police car. Here is an example of a drunken Spanish tourist getting arrested for taking his pants off in public.

While searching for cop videos, I found this one. It’s pretty funny and features Amsterdam cops during their uneventful patrol.

In Europe cops have different equipment, they are trained differently. Here’s a comparison of what gear UK and USA police officers have. Now spot the differences! It’s easy.

Reforming American police departments doesn’t require coming up with something new or reinventing the wheel. In civilized countries we already have police officers who don’t just kill people for no good reason just because they appeared scary. Here are some basic common sense suggestions about where to start:

– Decriminalize sex work and drug usage.
– Ban civilian gun ownership.
– Invest taxpayer money in mental health and social welfare.
– Outlaw stop-and-frisk and similar nonsense.
– Train police officers to act nonviolently and deescalate conflicts.
– Punish cops who abuse power and unnecessarily hurt suspects.
– Train various cop units to do different tasks. One and the same cop should not chase violent criminals on Monday and walk around a public park talking with citizens who fail to pick up their dog’s poop on the following Tuesday. Different tasks require different mindset and training.

And this ought to be obvious but I’ll state it anyway: stop being racist. Police officers should not get away with hurting some groups of people because of the visual appearance of their bodies.


  1. says

    And here I am, living in a country where police officers do not routinely shoot or beat up suspects, where citizens aren’t scared or wary of the very people who are supposed to protect them.

    I mean, that’s also true most of the time in the US… if you’re white. It’s absurd to suggest that the cops need to be so violent, when clearly they do not towards white people.

    Thank you for the perspective from Latvia. I wish people in the US would pay more attention to how policing is done in other countries.

  2. Allison says

    However, the law enforcers can get pretty violent against white people, too, if they feel that their supremacy is not being respected. I think that explains the violence of police reaction to the recent protests, and the tendency to use violence in situations where doing nothing would be more effective.

    It’s not just the police. There is an addiction to violence and conquest throughout USAan society. IMHO, it explains US foreign policy.

  3. lakitha tolbert says

    It seems that police in other countries are tasked with simply maintaining the peace, and keeping some form of quiet order, for the most part, whereas in America the police are tasked with “enforcing the law”, and doing so by maintaining arrest quotas, not just for their own promotional purposes, and to avoid harassment from other cops, but to keep the privately owned prison/ industrial complex full of bodies.

    Really the entire culture of policing in America started out from a bad premise (patrolling for escaped slaves) and just continued piling one bad thing on top of another. More than a little of our current predicament has to do with the worst parts of American culture, which many Americans absolutely refuse to acknowledge the existence of, or even attempt to solve.

    My bar is set so low that i’ll settle for removing the mechanisms by which the police can express their anti-Blackness. White Americans absolutely do not like to change things, especially when so much of their personal identities is wrapped up in the status quo.

  4. says

    Taiwan cops are up and down. You never know if it’s kid gloves or brass knuckles.

    Two weeks ago they showed a woman on a subway (refusing to wear a mask) more patience than she deserved. She hit them with fists for several minutes before they detained her without injury. And earlier this week they shot a mentally ill man through the hand after he had attacked and injured several with a machete. A tolerable use of force.

    On the other hand, they sometimes use lethal force without thinking. In the second item on the link below, they shot and killed a passenger in the car of a drunk driver they were chasing. Three years ago, a cop needlessly shot and murdered a Vietnamese migrant worker whose visa had expired, and got only a three year suspended sentence. The Vietnamese man was evading capture and working illegally, but he was not violent nor a threat to society. Foreigners and Taiwanses were both appalled.


  5. StonedRanger says

    I cannot imagine what it would be like to live somewhere where you dont have to fear being killed, or being otherwise harmed by the police. I envy you more than you might know. I grew up being harmed by the police because my father was cop who used to physically abuse us and his cop buddies turned a blind eye to things they personally witnessed that would have gotten anyone else arrested and jailed. But because he was one of them they allowed it go on from the 50’s until he retired in 1980. All cops may not be bad cops, but if you allow shit to happen that you could have stopped, then that makes you a bad cop too. Justice is not blind because those who mete out the justice do so with open eyes.

  6. says

    StonedRanger @#5

    I cannot imagine what it would be like to live somewhere where you dont have to fear being killed, or being otherwise harmed by the police. I envy you more than you might know.

    Yeah, looking at videos from the USA, I am horrified. I’d be scared to live in such a country. I can only hope that Americans will manage to improve their police departments.

    Years ago, when I first heard Americans complaining about how they dislike their cops, I was puzzled. Why would anybody be dissatisfied with cops and dislike them? Policing is a necessary job, and most of the time cops do their job well. Sure, I had heard some news stories about the occasional bad apple among Latvian police officers, but such cases were exceptions and not the norm. Usually all the negative news coverage about cops was yet another case of some cop getting jailed after they were caught taking a bribe. But we also have news stories about doctors getting caught taking bribes, so that’s a problem in pretty much every profession. Cops weren’t an outlier in this regard. Stories about cops using excessive force were pretty much nonexistent.

    So yeah, when I first heard about American cops shooting suspects or using excessive force during arrests, I was shocked. That’s not normal, and people should not accept it.

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