The University police have been under considerable fire for some time now. Criticism about the force has been easy to find. The police have been found spying on UNC students. They have spent large amounts of money protecting Silent Sam. They’ve pepper sprayed protesters.
It is easy, then, to understand why there has been such vitriol leveled at the police. There has been a protest specifically decrying the perceived brutality that the UNC police force has used at campus protests. The chant, “Police and Klan go hand in hand,” has been often heard at protests.
There’s even been criticism of an officer who displayed an “anti-government” tattoo on his arm during a protest. Perhaps there is legitimate criticism of the police to be made. At the very least, the deployment of an undercover cop to a group of students might be characterized as bemusing. At worst, nefarious.
Language matters. The decision to use a particular word to describe someone can have legitimate consequences. The word “Nazi” has legitimate power. Calling a person a Nazi implies that they are the type of person who is capable of taking a group of crying men, women and children out into a field and shooting them. Or, at least, that is what calling someone a Nazi could mean.
The fact is that words and phrases such as “police brutality," “Nazi” and “Klu Klux Klan” have legitimate power. They provide incredibly real and brutal recollections of history. The memories of the most evil tendencies of humanity are dredged up with such usage. Attaching them to a person or an organization is a powerful move with wide-ranging consequences.