Law enforcement is an honorable job.
Not the most popular sentiment right now. Nor should it be because right now, I don’t recognize my profession.
Right now, I don’t see the men and women I’ve worked with who strive every day to do the right thing-regardless of how they feel about that particular client.
Right now, I don’t understand what some command staffs are directing their forces to do.
Right now, I am lost.
Those men and women I’ve worked with, those who’ve done the hard work of treating everyone with respect regardless of how those people treat us are still there, but they’re being buried under an avalanche of “What the fuck?” and “Who have we become….”
I know for the black community policing has always been a scary proposition, but for a middle-aged white guy whose only problems with the cops were entirely and completely self-inflicted, and who has lived a decent life built on at least some measurable degree of white privilege, I don’t recognize what we are right now.
I don’t understand Buffalo cops shoving a 75-year old man to the ground, hearing his skull snap on the concrete, seeing the blood flow, and walking away.
I don’t understand a commander telling his guys, “Don’t kill them but hit them hard.”
I don’t understand cops slashing tires, then offering up not 1, but 2, bullshit excuses.
[Note: never, ever, in any tactical class I’ve taken or demonstration I’ve seen have we been told to slash tires to keep people from driving dangerously.]
I wrote a few weeks ago that I didn’t know how to help heal my profession; that 800,000 cops around the country are not going to listen to some rando working at a department that only fields about 15 road deputies and has a jail that houses 32.
I wrote that before the protests and now it becomes all the more clear that I don’t know how to even begin to think about how to heal my country and my citizens and even my friends.
Law enforcement is an honorable profession and something which every single person in America needs. It is men and women trying to make their worlds better in ways both large and small, profound and mild.
Is it rife with issues? With corruption and bad cops? Absolutely. The police response to anti-brutality protests illustrates that in horrendous detail.
Does law enforcement need to be revamped and rebuilt? Yes, more than anyone who isn’t in law enforcement can even begin to understand. Which is why the reductionist, simplistic logic I saw on FB recently made me insane.
“While it is the 17th most dangerous job in the US, you don’t hear about the 16 jobs more dangerous being used as an excuse to kill people.”
An excuse to kill people.
I don’t even understand how anyone who can carry a thought in their head can say that about the entire profession.
Let’s slip that around to another industry. Trucking. Truckers fall asleep, truckers don’t keep their trucks in working order, and more than a few truckers have been convicted of driving all over the country snatching people and killing them (seriously, the FBI even has an OTR trucking task force).
So do we assume all truckers are simply driving around looking for an excuse to kill people? Of course not, it’s ridiculous to think so.
Part of the issue with policing, I think, is that there are no other jobs that, as a regular part of the job, end in death at someone else’s hands except the military.
When you sell electrical components, you don’t assume your client is going to shoot you. When you visit a hospital to sell rubber gloves, you don’t assume your client is going to stab you. When you wait on someone at your retail store, you don’t assume your client is going to…pick one: drown you, run you down with their car, throw you off a roof, set you on fire, file frivolous lawsuits, stalk your family, lie to the press, etc., etc., etc.
That’s the reality for police officers and that reality engenders a bunker mentality that is incredibly difficult to displace.
Us versus Them.
There’s a story I tell sometimes at writers conventions or where ever when people learn I’ve done jobs other than being a copper.
The story is about my reaction when someone comes up and knows me by name and I have no clue who they are. See, I used to be a journalist in my county at the local paper so I interviewed lots of people. I also used to own a bookstore in my county and sold lots of books to people. But I’m also a deputy in my county and have arrested lots of people.
So the punch line is that I tell people to stand six feet away until I figure out whether I interviewed them, sold to them, or took their asses to jail.
Us versus Them.
I don’t know if that person is a Them and until I figure it out, I need Them to stand a little apart from me because I don’t now what they’re going to do.
And yes, I’ve had people I’ve arrested see me some place off duty and get in my face.
Us versus Them, a sad commentary on the entire affair.
I’m not really sure what I’m writing about in this piece, not sure what the through-line is, the take-away or epiphanous moment where it all makes sense.
I do know that law enforcement is an honorable profession and that a majority of us are good people trying to do a difficult job that we, admittedly, chose.
I also know that there is a sickness in law enforcement, not new but certainly newly discovered by mainstream America, that leaves my heart shattered and my head filled with broken glass.
I do believe we can cure that sickness but it’s going to be the longest, hardest road America has ever tried to traverse because it is absolutely tied to American racism, our original sin, and we’ve been treading that road for 400 years.