And if a 68-year-old white woman views the boys in blue with a fair amount of trepidation, is it any surprise minorities aren't too thrilled with them? I've always been a bit skeptical regarding the police, having witnessed a few too many examples of power-tripping sociopaths ending up wearing a badge, but have become even more so in recent years. I'm not sure why I remain skeptical. After all, I have friends who work in law enforcement (or are now retired from it) and they're decent people. I also know that the majority of cops went into law enforcement for the right reasons . . . but I guess I worry that even if 99 out of 100 are upright, ethical people who'd never ever abuse their position, my encounter will be with the 1 percenter who's a flaming asshat just waiting for someone powerless to abuse.
You know the ones I mean. The traffic cop who ignores the Porsche doing 100 in a 35 mph zone but is all over the poor sap driving a beater of a '92 Impala with a burnt-out tail light. The cop who gets off on ticketing college students for being drunk in public when they're walking home from a party and happen to stumble or weave a little. The cop who shoots your dog instead of just reminding you about local leash laws. The cop who tells teenage girls he won't arrest them for being minors in possession if they'll just give him an occasional blow job. Or the cop who's been harboring fantasies of going all Rambo and emptying a clip into someone for years. Because those guys (and gals; not all power-tripping asshats are men) are out there. They've been out there for years and they're going to stay out there because as a profession law enforcement has done a piss poor job of policing itself.
Don't believe me? Suggest to almost anyone who's currently in law enforcement that some of their brother officers might be better off in a different career and they'll freak out as they go into full-blown denial mode.With a few rare exceptions they'll swear up and down that every single LEO they have ever known was a fine, decent human being who never took advantage of wearing a badge. The same people who may have confided to non-law enforcement friends that they didn't think the latest addition to the force should have been hired -- "She's got a real cowboy mentality, seems to get off on civilians being afraid of her" -- will close ranks in a New York minute if a non-LEO says something negative.
In any case, what I have noticed in recent years is the way law enforcement seems to have slid from being part of the community, any community, to being at war with the rest of the world. There's a distinct Us (the Police) versus Them (the general public) attitude that's becoming more and more noticeable. And I'm not the only one noticing. It's been coming up as a theme in various articles I've read (both op-ed pieces and in scholarly research) and I've heard it a lot in the past few days on different talk shows on NPR and Sirius XM. And most of the people saying it are law enforcement professionals, men and women who have been wearing a badge for decades.
I saw an intriguing meme on Facebook the other day, one that I wish I had downloaded at the time, that used a dead canary in a coal mine analogy. In the past few years, there's been more and more focus on the racial bias apparent in the excessive use of force by the police -- blacks comprise a disproportionate number of persons killed annually by the police in the United States. But they're not the only ones being killed. They're "only" 26 percent of the victims. So who makes up the other 74%? Mostly white people, because whites are still the majority population in this country. We hear about the white guys who get treated with the proverbial kid gloves: mass murderer Dylann Roof being treated to takeout from Burger King or an armed white supremacist schmoozing cheerfully with the police. We don't hear about the ones who aren't that lucky. Which is another way of saying that the black victims of police violence are the canaries in the coal mine, the most visible evidence that something is wrong.
Maybe, just maybe, it would behoove all of us, including the racist asshats who assume that any time someone black ends up dead he or she deserved it, to take a long hard look at just what's going on in police departments that leads to them shooting over 1,000 people (on average) annually. Especially when the studies that have been done indicate that at least 20 percent of the persons shot were unarmed. You got it. Unarmed. No weapons of any sort, no gun, no knife, nada. Lots and lots of cops falling back on the old "I thought the suspect was reaching for a gun" line.
Once again, there is a strong racial bias -- blacks are a lot more likely to get shot while unarmed -- but whites do get shot, too. Police brutality may not be equal opportunity, but it can hit anyone anywhere regardless of race, gender, or even age. The cops have killed some remarkably old people -- unless a geezer is armed with an Uzi, how much of a threat can an octogenarian be? Apparently a serious one because the police haven't hesitated to use lethal force on the elderly. (Side note: while we were living in Atlanta, the cops shot and killed a lady who was in her 90s. Turned out they were at the wrong address because of a bad tip from an informant, didn't clearly identify themselves, and the old lady tried to defend herself from what she thought was a home invasion. Maybe she did have an Uzi. Or maybe someone in the Atlanta PD should have done a little more research before kicking in her front door.)
At the same time, we're seeing an increasing militarization of the police: more heavy weapons, armored vehicles, the use of SWAT to respond to calls that used to involve maybe one pair of police officers (e.g., noise complaints). Any time you have a heavy handed response to what used to be a minor issue, you're doing two things: you're increasing the likelihood of something going wrong and you're training the populace to see the police as the enemy. Toss in police recruiting ads designed to attract warrior personalities and active recruitment of military veterans and what do you have? Individual law enforcement officers who view every civilian as a potential threat -- we're not citizens; we're potential enemy combatants -- and police departments that behave like occupying armies. A recent issue of the VFW magazine lauded veterans who work in law enforcement. I'm not sure that's such a good thing.
Why? Most of those veterans going into law enforcement now have spent time in combat zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. Some have done multiple tours of duty. Well, if you've spent a couple of years being conditioned to view every person you see who isn't in a U.S. military uniform as a potential threat, how fast are you going to shed that mentality when you get home? Good question. Maybe never.
So, yes, cops scare me and they'll keep on scaring me as long as it looks like they're getting away with murder. When I start reading more news reports about LEOs being disciplined for kicking in the wrong doors or shooting the wrong people, my skepticism may wane. And by disciplined, I mean actual punishment, not just a few weeks or
months of desk duty and then back out in the streets to repeat whatever
stupid thing they did to begin with. Until then? I don't think so.