Without a doubt, police brutality is a serious issue that the country must grip. After all, in the United States, cops kill 10 times as many people as mass shooters do; even the FBI grants that more than half of those are unjustified. It doesn’t stop at murder, either. With nearly a quarter of the world’s prison population (despite having only 4% of the world’s overall population, the highest incarceration rate on Earth), the country has sent its police officers to arrest countless people. Many of these individuals have not committed a crime, and an astonishing 86% of prisoners did not commit a crime with a victim. But despite this, many will claim that the police are doing no wrong and should have no accountability, putting these people behind bars. After all, “they’re just doing their jobs”.
What, though, does this claim really mean? Does it have anything to do with the morality of an action? And is it possible to justify something evil by getting paid for it?
“Just Doing Their Jobs”: Robbing Accountability
When someone makes this claim, he or she essentially states that people doing immoral things for an employer are not to blame for any of the wrongdoing. Because they didn’t give the orders, they just obeyed them, they hold no fault. A key example of this is soldiers killing someone when a superior officer says to fire. Someone with this mentality may argue that because these people are just doing their jobs, it’s wrong to hold them accountable for their actions. In reality, this is a deeply flawed view; when taken seriously, it can lead to avoidable tragedies.
The critical missing piece from the “just doing their jobs” argument is accountability. Ultimately, every person is responsible for the actions that he or she knowingly commits. Even when someone else gives orders, the person receiving them always has the choice to obey or disobey. Regardless of any potential consequences, one cannot deny that the choice always exists.
Given that the choice is always there, it is wrong not to hold the people who choose accountable. Failure to do so denies the individuality of the person making the choice. We live in a world in which people must take responsibility for what they do, and that doesn’t suddenly vanish when a paycheck enters the picture.
To expand on this, it’s also worth taking a look at whether or not having a job (and doing it) has any relation to morality. n the surface, the answer is a resolute no. Whether or not someone does a job is a matter of fact; there is no judgment of opinion or value present. On the other hand, morality is a matter of value, rather than fact. So, the two statements are on entirely different spectrums.
However, there could still be certain special situations in which a job has everything to do with morality. For example, a man may take a certain job solely to provide for his family. Could this justify a job that involves doing the wrong thing?
Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple; in order for a job to be wrong, it must be harming someone else. This may include a soldier killing a civilian or a cop arresting a peaceful citizen. Though it makes sense that the man taking the job will prioritize his family over a stranger, it isn’t a zero-sum game. There are plenty of other ways to bring in money that don’t involve harming other people. Moreover, the rights of the harmed party are ultimately just as valuable.
We can apply a simple rule of thumb to guide the morality of a job; what’s wrong to do unpaid is still wrong to do when a salary is involved. Though it is true that many people are just doing their jobs while committing evil acts, this does not excuse them. It doesn’t matter if you’re making good money if you’re bombing a bus full of children, a hospital, or a wedding, all of which the US military has either done or directly funded. You aren’t innocent of incarcerating countless peaceful people just because you do it forty hours a week.
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