So here I am: CopLand.
And no, not the crappy Sly Stallone crime movie.
Last Sunday, I started twelve weeks at the Police Training Institute — the main police academy — in Champaign/Urbana, Illinois.
But Trey, aren’t you already a police? Yeah, but on May 10, I’ll be a real police. I’ll be a grown-up, full-sized, big-boy poh-leece.
But while part of me is incredibly excited, another part of me is incredibly terrified. See, I spent three years in the jail and my job was to warehouse people at the behest of another officer or the court or the State’s Attorney. Someone else — someone NOT ME — made the decision to arrest someone or sentence them or whatever the case might have been.
Now it’ll be me. I’ll make the decision.
What decision? The decision of whether or not to take someone’s liberty. To take away that most basic thing all people have – that thing Thomas Jefferson said was a right by nature — freedom.
And that scares the shit outta me. Yeah, yeah, I know, those convicted of crimes have forfeited, at least for a while, their right to that freedom. I get that, and I do – absolutely – believe there are people who should be locked away.
But the obviousness of some of those decisions doesn’t necessarily make them any easier. And it shouldn’t. Most crimes, believe it or not, are not black or white. Most crimes involve some degree of gray.
You discover, for instance, the victim was beaten because she walked in on a burglary at her house. The burglar was looking for money to feed a drug habit. Toss them in jail forever? Or maybe get them treatment so that the thing that caused the burglary – the heroin habit – is solved?
Degrees of gray.
And yeah, don’t send me a ton of email saying there are absolutes and offenders should be locked away forever. I believe that, too. The man who rapes and kills a five-year old boy should be locked away at the very least. The man who beats his grandfather to death for the money in the mattress should be locked away.
But there is more gray than one might realize.
What about the man who kills is father? Automatically a killer? Well, what if you knew the father had terminal cancer? What if you knew there was no way the father was strong enough to do the deed himself, couldn’t hold the gun upright? Now, is that murder or euthanasia?
Locking someone away, even if only for a short time, shouldn’t always be an easy decision, I think.
Yet as I write that, I think of cases where it is an absolutely easy, no-brainer decision for me. I catch a drunk driver, they’re going to jail, no question. But then I have thing about drunk drivers, don’t I? I have a thing about the kind of person who would get shit-face blitzed in the middle of an afternoon and run over my wife back in Lubbock, Texas or my mom back in Midland, Texas.
Most cops I know are black/white people. They believe in law and order and want things kept exactly as they should be. I’ve always been someone who found himself fascinated by a grayer world, by shadows and hidden bits and pieces.
So does that mean I’ll be a good cop? Or a bad one?
Hmmmm, the great question. One that will probably take years to answer.
And until we get that answer, we’ll have to live with occasional dispatches from CopLand. I hope to update twice a week, but I’m not yet sure what the schedule is going to be, other than extremely intense and wildly busy.
So while you’re waiting for another dispatch, go watch a great crime movie. Maybe “Love and a .45,” or “Truth or Consequences, N.M.”