Over the last two weeks I have spent as much time as possible watching the trial of former Tulsa Police Officer Harold Wells, and current Tulsa Police Officers Bruce Bonham and Nick Debruin. As the defense began to put on their case I was struck by how often the two defendants that testified and the officers the called to testify on their behalf said the phrase “bad guy”.
During Nick Debruin’s testimony he testified that he went to work on May 18, 2009 “To catch a bad guy”. Bonham made a reference to houses where “bad guys lived” in his testimony. Various other officers that were called to testify about one issue or the next also used the phrase “bad guy”.
The job of the police is to “uphold the law”, not to “catch bad guys”. The difference between the two perspectives is when an officer focusing on “upholding the law” the officer is focused upon maintaining and improving the system. When an officer focuses on catching “bad guys” the officer is focused on an individual and not the system.
Even the reference another being a “bad guy” indicates that the one making that statement is a “good guy” and that becomes the problem. At the core of all human cruelty is a sense of self-righteousness.
If you look back over the course of human history you can see that time and time again whenever horrific cruelties were inflicted, the people committing those cruelties believed they were better than those they inflicted the cruelties upon. The examples are endless. Take slavery for example, the slave holders and the slave merchants believed that those the were enslaving were less than human. The same thing with the treatment of the Native Americans. It is the same story Nazi German, the former Yugoslavia, Bosnia and every other war crime.
It is all about self-righteousness. Once an individual decides that they themselves are good and their opponent is bad, it becomes easier and easier to justify doing what ever it takes to defeat that opponent. These self-righteous justifications erode the criminal justice system.
If as a society we want to improve our justice system and ensure that we remain a nation of laws and not a nation of men, than we must ensure that the men and women that work in law enforcement keep in mind that their job is to uphold the law and not “catch bad guys”.