There has been much talk about the “blue wall of silence,” that is the expectation, the unwritten rule, the code shared among those who wear blue and carry a badge to protect and cover for their fellow officer. They have to stick together; it is the police officers against a dangerous world.
They will take care of each other. The police officers take care of their own. No different than the gang culture, it simply means, “Don’t snitch.”
It’s not unusual. No one wants to experience betrayal and everyone wants to believe that there are those that they can depend on. The problem occurs when having their back requires that you and I turn a blind eye and keep our mouths closed when we see them do something immoral and illegal. Ironically, instead of speaking out against injustice wherever they see it, some police officers keep silent if it comes from within the ranks.
For these folks, there are borders, restrictions, blue lines that should not be crossed.
There is good silence: contemplative silence, meditative silence, shocked silence, where we find ourselves at a loss for words. All of this is normal silence. Then, there is bad silence. When we are a witness to hurt, harm, danger and even death and we say nothing. Instead, we excuse, defend, deny, rationalize, justify and demonize the person affected– every single time. It is not a new phenomenon or a new problem. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. openly rebuked his Christian and Jewish brothers who did not speak out and step out in faith with their African American brothers and sisters during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.
I wonder if this same sentiment is true of European Americans, of those socially colored white as a culture. Is there an unspoken rule, a cultural expectation that persons do not turn on those of their own culture? I would not be surprised as it would be an expression of white pride, a distortion of appreciation and respect for heritage and history. To be sure, the same could be said of any other culture who frowns on the airing of dirty laundry. The difference is the dehumanization, depreciation, devaluing, damaging and even loss of life that happens as a result of keeping quiet.
Pastor Martin Niemoller’s poem “First They Came” is a frightening reminder of the dangerous effects of silence. Still, nothing worthwhile is done without risks. So, before you speak up, let me offer you these warnings. Before you open your mouth:
- You will have to talk back to yourself, confront yourself, challenge your thinking as it relates to race and its progeny. What do you really believe?
- You will need to deny your deny racialized self, laying down your position of social power due to the privilege of whiteness. In other words, you will need to turn in your white card. Who are you really without it?
- You will need to reject the lies that have kept you comfortable. What stereotypes about oppressed groups have aided and abetted your silence?
- You will need to accept your responsibility, your complicity in the crimes and cruelties committed against persons that are not socially colored white. What have you really done?
- You will need to release power and control of the outcome, of the land and resources that the social construct of race say are your divine right. What are you holding onto?
Start answering these questions and the white wall of silence will come tumbling down.
See also: Jack E. White, “The White Wall of Silence,” Time Magazine, June 6,1999
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” August 1965