“Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”
It was a pitch-perfect line from former President George W. Bush’s speech in Dallas on Tuesday, memorializing the police officers killed in a mass shooting last Thursday.
The line is a forceful rebuke of much of the prejudice that lingers in America today — a statement that you should not judge all police, black people, or Muslim Americans just because one person in their group does something bad. (As Zack Beauchamp explained for Vox, Bush was actually quite careful during his presidency to not frame the war on terror as a war on Islam — something Republicans could learn from today.)
By this same sentiment, it is wrong for police officers to stop and, in some cases, shoot people just because of their skin color. And it is wrong for a shooter in Dallas to target officers solely because police in other parts of the country shot innocent black men.
But there are limits to this sentiment. American culture, in theory, prizes individualism. But those individuals are driven by systems, too — for example, a justice system that doesn’t hold bad police officers accountable, or asks cops to make as many stops and issue as many tickets as possible, leading cops to target the most vulnerable minority communities.
“When you put any type of numbers on a police officer to perform, we are going to go to the most vulnerable,” Adhyl Polanco, a New York City police officer, told WNBC. “We’re going to [the] LGBT community, we’re going to the black community, we’re going to go to those people that have no boat, that have no power.”
So we shouldn’t judge other groups by their worst examples. But sometimes, making certain groups better requires confronting those worst examples for systemic reform.