To Take Their Breath Away

To Take Their Breath Away (Spiritus Eorum Auferte), 36 x 48 acrylic.

It is difficult to know how to address the current situation, how to speak out against the police violence and purposeful escalation of violent action against peaceful protesters, angry protesters, and protesters in the street speaking out against police brutality. They are often met with police brutality.

I’ve watched too many videos where police drag a protester into the middle or catch one on the side and physically assault them while they are “arresting” them. All the other officers crowd around the officer beating someone to make sure no one else interferes. They all cover each other.

It’s protected assault.

Officers have “qualified immunity” from work related violence that they do as part of their job. If they can say they needed to do it, then they can do it. They never have to be held criminally liable. Oh they MAY get fired, but then transferred to a new precinct, a new city, ready to start the abuse over again.

The Blue Code, the Blue Shield, Blue wall of silence, or other names, is an unwritten code of conduct that police officers buy into—protecting each other’s abusive or illegal activity. Even if they go in with the best of intentions, they will end up following the code and not turning in other officers, not speaking out, for fear of what might happen to them.

I believe some officers are attracted to the unlimited power that cops have.

I also believe that some officers go in believing they can change the system from within. But for whatever reason do not. Do not speak out. Do not bear witness to their fellow officer’s assaults on citizens in front of superiors or courts. Do not stop them from hurting people on purpose. They too fall into the blue wall of silence.

If some of them could, if they could start the change, if they could remember what they went into the police to do, we could see change. But unless they act on the inside, they force change to happen from outside. And the problem there is, in my experience, when you force change from outside, you see folks circle the wagons and dig in their heels and in this case, they have an arsenal and ordinary citizens do not.

I created a painting showing a new recruit at a backyard BBQ of other police officers, being welcomed in. Their arms are covered with tattoos of what they believe, about themselves, about each other, about the citizens they are supposed to protect and serve. Three officers have good intentions, want to be part of the change. Each of them are held back by the hand of another officer.

The red solo cups are filled with qualified immunity. Canisters of pepper spray are in the middle of the table. And one officer uses markers to mark up the American flag to create the Blue Lives Matter flag.

The badges on their sleeves have spiritus eorum auferte, “to take their breath away,” as a motto they follow. You can surprise and awe people by taking their breath away! You can amaze them! But the phrase that keeps repeating, especially from black citizens assaulted and often killed by police is I can’t breathe. They too have had their breath taken away. The tattoo on the farthest right arm says Dum Spiro Spero, “while I have breath, I have hope.” He will speak up, breathe the truth, and things can change. But if he doesn’t breathe the truth, change will come about more painfully for everyone. I believe change will come. I believe the police will have their funding cut, be demilitarized, be responsible for their crimes on the job.

But if it doesn’t come from within the police officers union, the fraternal order of police, then it will come from the citizens marching and crowding and pushing out the police, forcing cities to abolish police completely.

Speak up and speak out, police officers. Create a new Fraternal Order that is dedicated to reform, protecting and serving the citizens again.

Cities need to realize that the police are under their jurisdiction and they can fire the police, abolish the police and create a new system from the ground up. Check out Campaign Zero for some ways to defund the police.

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