Until I was 11, I trusted police officers, for reasons that Hans Fiene captures in The Federalist. "For many conservatives, especially those of us living in nice, comfy suburbs, it’s hard to apply the 'power corrupts' doctrine to law enforcement because we’ve never seen corrupted enforcers of the law," he writes. "We’ve never been wrongly arrested. We’ve never witnessed our children put in jail based on the false reports of police officers. We’ve never seen our neighbors beaten or tased without cause. And in the extremely unlikely scenario that a police officer drove into our neighborhood and murdered our unarmed friend in cold blood, we cannot possibly fathom a scenario where the justice system wouldn’t be on our side and where that police officer wouldn’t spend the rest of his life in jail."
Personal experience shapes attitudes more powerfully than anything else. But it wasn't a run-in with the law that changed me. Video killed my trust in police officers. On March 3, 1991, or shortly thereafter, I watched a TV news report like this one:
Until that day, my 11-year-old's notion of race in America included an awareness of slavery, which seemed like ancient history; knowledge of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks as venerated heroes from the distant past; and the Cosby family from the eponymous TV show, who established my notion of a contemporary black family. Then the Rodney King beating happened an hour's drive from my house, and less than six months later, after an overwhelmingly white jury acquitted the police officers who did the beating, the L.A. riots began. These events forced suburban Californians my age to confront parts of reality we'd never imagined. I couldn't grok why police officers would attack a man like that, or how a jury could acquit them, but I'd seen it with my own eyes. The incident didn't turn me against all law enforcement, but I started to believe that there were good cops and bad cops. Soon after, I was in the car with my mom when she got pulled over for a speeding ticket and wondered, slightly fearfully, if we'd get a bad cop. The officer turned out to be perfectly polite, of course. I didn't yet understand that he might or might not have behaved the same if we'd been a black family.