This writer takes issue with an op-ed by former Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs comparing the feelings of police officers to actual injustices

After last week’s column, and a running theme of doom and gloom in several recent columns, I was prepared to sit down this week and compose something pleasant, perhaps even seasonal. Fall is, after all, the most brilliant of seasons. Instead, I came across the op-ed written by former Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs published in the Dispatch and am now pouring an entire bag of Silver Bridge Southern Pecan grounds into my coffeemaker to get me through the ordeal of responding to that insidious tripe.

Free speech is a right, so I have nothing against Jacobs publishing an op-ed about how police are embattled and suffering under rocky public perception and bad press. If I am allowed the platforms of mainstream media to drop the occasional haymaker on how the very notion of police should be completely gutted and revamped systematically, she is allowed to write 696 words that essentially say, “I’d rather we didn’t.” What I’m less keen on is how offensive the op-ed is to my intelligence and the reality in which we’re living.

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Her opener reads like she actually gets what people are protesting about, like she understands their fears:

There was no evidence of his wrongdoing but based on the color of his skin he was being blamed for murder and his accusers wanted to convict him without waiting for an investigation or fair hearing. It was easy for the accusers to blame him based on what others who looked like him had done…No one believed his innocence, no one was defending him effectively and no one seemed to care about the truth. In their bias, ignorance and intolerance, his accusers didn’t care if he was guilty or not, they just wanted to punish someone.

If, however, you’ve spent longer than the past six months engaged in debates about racism, you will note some red flags in this seemingly innocuous passage. Too much of it sounds like things police representatives have been delivering from lecterns for decades, hoping to make a correlation between what people are charging police with (corruption, abuse, intimidation, prejudicial profiling) and what police are experiencing as a result of being called to the carpet (distress, fear).

Now watch. You probably can’t tell from this angle, but that’s a dog whistle she’s pulling out of her pocket:

Walter McMillian, a Black man condemned to death in Alabama in the 1980s, was one of many others who have been wrongly convicted, sent to death row, lynched or shot by vigilantes. It is easy to understand distrust of police in light of what some bad police officers have done.

(Before anyone is tempted to pat Jacobs on the back for concerning herself with a little Black history, know that this whole thing was a movie that came out last year, “Just Mercy.” She didn’t even have to get off the couch and sully her eyes with actual research to get that story, which she proceeds to weaponize against the very people it depicts. Observe.)

Just as soon as the whistle is blown, here come the hounds:

Those memories stay with families, friends and communities for years. But today, if we insert “uniform he wore” instead of “color of his skin,” we also find presumptions of guilt, unfair condemnation and guilt by association.

And there it is: The offensive twist of the shiv in the spine. The comparison of being treated unfairly by the public — without experiencing any actual or systemic physical harm, and all while fearing more for their pensions than their lives — with being wrongfully imprisoned, illegally convicted and sentenced to death row. With being murdered. With experiencing not the perception of injustice, but actual, lynching levels of injustice. She is comparing the distress of being protested against with being Khalief Browder and the thousands of other people locked away in jails without due process, sometimes for years.

Jacobs uses phrases such as: “Police are held to a high standard”; “CPD leads the country with excellent policies, training, and culture”; and “[Police officers today] are the best that we have ever had.” And she does this while ignoring that the police get to establish their own standards of conduct, their own training, their own culture. Police enforce the laws, but only as they see fit, and they do so largely unfettered by public oversight. They are so rarely punished to any significant degree for even the grossest of crimes, it is almost as if they subscribe to no laws internally. But I’m supposed to take it easy on them, despite the clearly rampant imbalance of justice, because they’re feeling really bad about it all and feel underappreciated. Meanwhile, you have a quarter of the city’s population wondering if they’ll get killed every time they get pulled over for a burned out taillight, or just for going to the store.

Then there is the gaslighting. Jacobs writes:

With all the reforms being planned and discussed, those calling for change have yet to explain what they ultimately want to see from the police.

Aka, you don’t really know what you want, baby. 

She continues:

Accountability is already in place. … Transparency is already in place. Practically all CPD records, including body cam and in-car video, are public records. Training in deescalation, bias, communication skills, officer wellness, and trauma-informed policing are already in place.

Again, all of this is willfully obtuse. She neglects to point out that the police get to set the goalposts wherever they want when it comes to bias, training and accountability.

Jacobs writes, “Police officers are getting a taste of what it’s like to be condemned not for their own behavior and character, but merely because they look like someone else who did wrong,” with its notes of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech sprinkled on top for ironic flavor.

How are police being condemned in any concrete sense? When I say, “Police are condemning Black people by killing them without any measure of due process, and worse,” I am not being poetic. I am telling you the exact result of the problem. It is not a feeling. It is not a tension or a misunderstanding or a bad relationship. It is murder. Many people have died. There is no scale upon which you should weigh the Black corpses lying in streets and in beds at the business end of police guns on one end and the feelings of police officers about being criticized on the other. I rebuke such a scale. Anyone with a soul should rebuke such a scale. To use a word like “condemnation” by way of comparison of those two weights is to destroy any and all interpretations of the word.

I cannot abide such a disgustingly obvious feint.

In fencing terms, Jacobs’ op-ed is a feint attack, designed to draw communal sympathies away from the creation of a civilian review board while sapping further energy from actual protest movements. It is an attempt to eat up bandwidth so that we can’t be bothered to check in on what the “CPD out of CCS” movement is doing this week, or to shore up efforts to keep pressure on City Hall to make actual changes rather than tepid reforms. Also, it’s campaign season, and with a civilian review board on the ballot, Jacobs has to make her case against them while people are lining up for early voting. (Technically, she should have published this last week, but hey, I’m not her fencing coach.)

Jacobs is not an unintelligent person. Her record as a police chief and a designer of police protocols at the national level is notable. I have seen her respond to the community face to face at public forums when she was still the chief. She is moderately decent at reconstructing narrative. In the end, she wants to convince us that she gets why people might distrust police. She just thinks they’re wrong. And that’s a best case scenario, which is terrifying.

Ultimately, Jacobs probably isn’t the best mouthpiece for this take if the point was to take her scrubbed narrative of sensitive cops seriously. The Dispatch should have tapped someone from the Fraternal Order of Police, since that is from where much of the power and stonewalling on behalf of police comes. Jacobs was a middle man when she was chief. Now, she’s just a retired tool of mass distraction. She’s a feint. And I spent all this energy on that distraction so you wouldn’t have to. Keep moving. Keep working. I promise you, there’s nothing to see here.