The Badge of Gyges
After having a long conversation with a friend about the love-hate relationship between police and members of the Black community, i revisited one of my favorite legends, the Ring of Gyges, in an attempt to understand the pervasiveness of police brutality in our society.
According to legend, the Ring of Gyges will bestow upon the wearer the power to become invisible at will. This is a story introduced by Glaucon in Plato’s Republic to support the argument that men are naturally inclined to do injustice. The power of the ring is that it grants the wearer invisibility which then allows the wearer to act however he pleases with no consequences (reward or punishment).
So the question becomes do we continue to act justly knowing that there is no reward for such actions or do we act unjustly knowing that we cannot be punished for our actions? Are justice and morality only defined in terms of the society in which we live? If so, once we step outside of those societal constraints we are able to do whatever we want. No consequences, certain freedom.
In America, is power the ring of Gyges? i am speaking, of course, of the power that comes with a badge, the power of enforcing the laws. We give this power to others, hoping that they will do what’s right; but is that too much to ask?
i hesitate to label every person with power as an abuser of said power but there have been certain instances where I feel a person got off easy after committing a crime because of the power he or she possesses. Ronnie Holloway gets beat by an officer with fists and a baton for not resisting an officer’s request that he close his jacket. The officer’s punishment: administrative duty. Timothy Stansbury was shot and killed by a police officer while on his way to a party. The officer was cleared of criminal responsibility and suspended for 30 days without pay.
“They say that to do injustice is naturally good and to suffer injustice, bad; but that the badness of suffering it so far exceeds the goodness of doing it” that the powerful and the powerless “come to an agreement with each other neither to do injustice nor to suffer it. As a result, they begin to make laws…and what the law commands they call lawful and just.” -Republic 2.359a-2.359b
Why are the police above the laws that were put in place to ensure that no citizen suffers injustice? How does society prevent abuse of power if the powerful are immune to the laws? i am fully aware that morality cannot be legislated. i think that makes it even more imperative that we figure out some way to deal with police brutality. As it stands, the power that comes with the badge seems to give police officers the ability to step outside of the laws of the land. And it baffles me.