This is an op-ed piece that should be read in correlation and as a companion piece with this writer’s weekly “WTF” column… specifically the August 27, 2014 column… more to the point it should be read after the 4th point of that column wherein the writer speaks about why when it comes to cops “…I got a real love/hate thing about them.”
And, lest that it sound like I lean towards the anti-police side a lot more than the pro-police side… well… Maybe, I sometimes do. But, if I do I do so with an eye for the police to get closer to the ideal of achieving that delicate balance of a police force judiciously protecting the people from the bad guys while not violating the people’s rights to go about their legitimate business.
The reality is it’s a delicate and sometimes thin hazy line. But a line that needs to be adhered.
On Saturday (8/23) thousands of folks marched peacefully in Staten Island to protest death of a black man during his arrest by a white city cop just last month.
Led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the demonstrators gathered around the sidewalk where Eric Garner was choked to death by an NY cop using a hold that is barred by the NYPD. After some real genuine heartfelt words were spoken that aided in the releasing of pent up sorrow, sadness and even some anger and then the de rigueur pontification and speechifying by some other folks the demonstrators proceeded to descend upon the offices of the Staten Island district attorney and the 120th Precinct.
Sharpton… himself a lightning rod of various commentaries, pro and con, when it comes to matters that center around race… said… “We are not here to tear down. We are here to build up … We are not against police, but those (police) that break the law must be held accountable just like anybody else.”
And that is 100% correct.
“…I’ll be all around in the dark … I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look … wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build … I’ll be there, too. (Tom Joad, Grapes of Wrath)
If any cop of the 120th did wrong in connection with Garner’s death, or, contributed in any way then they need to be held accountable including going to trial if determined necessary by the DA’s office. Same way with any of the other situations that be making the news these days.
It would be folly for anyone… no matter what ethnic background… what so-called color… religion… what side of the tracks they hail… no matter who the person may be… it would be folly to believe that a police force is not a necessity in any complex society. Someone has to oversee that the common good is adhered to. Laws are made… some good; some bad but they are made… and they need to be enforced. Of course, that enforcement is open to discussion and interpretation… and that is where that fine delicate line comes into play.
Once upon a time… to be a cop you just had to be the right “person”… ahem… ethnic group… and willing to do the “right” thing… essentially whatever a certain segment of society told you to do. And, however that doing got done… well, it was no never mind to that societal caste.
As time went on, and society more or less evolved, peeps started speaking up and making noise and eventually the courts said that cops cannot just go indiscriminately around busting up folks in the thin disguise of they be keeping the peace and stopping lawbreakers. They can’t go into certain parts of town and enforce laws one way and then into another and enforce the laws another way… they can’t dispense the enforcement of law differently to one class of folks over some other types of folks… and they definitely can’t do any of that dispensing based on color, race or religion or any other ethnic qualifications what so ever. And, that’s a good thing.
Now, that is a simplistic look at the issue but it’s sort of the nitty gritty of the situation.
Unfortunately, the qualifications for who can be cops in communities are not really all that stringent. For some places it hasn’t changed a whole hell of a lot from the good old days. For some, it’s whether a person can read and write on a basic level and maybe shoot straight at a pistol range. In other words, sometimes the rules to be a cop is that there are no real rules… show up; pass a few rudimentary tests and get your badge. And, despite what some court may or may not have said… well… that applied to some other place and not my community or my police.
Yes, that too is a simplistic look at the whole magilla but it’s essentially how it can be and actually is in many places… even in big cities if the truth be known.
And, that is a real problem… cops are not trained… not educated… to deal with today’s world and the fact that people need to be given respect. Cops can be prone to all the troubles that we all have every day that we get up and go into the world to make our daily bread. But, there is one distinct difference between cops and us… they are expected to deal with extraordinary circumstances that most of us don’t need to deal with or can avoid dealing with.
Cops deal with the extraordinary… it’s part of the deal… the job description… but they do it with only ordinary skills and training.
That needs to change.
What we don’t need is a police force of gangsters… or a force that is just another gang in the street. We need a force that is dedicated to the proposition that all are equal under the law and all are to have the law applied equally. We need a force that understands that with the power they are entrusted comes great responsibility… responsibility to be just and even handed when they use that power in the performance of their daily duties… which is to serve and to protect.
That is a tall order… but… it is an achievable order.
Will there be more cops who do bad stuff? Yeps… after all nothing is perfect and sometimes stuff just happens. Keeping that stuff to an extreme minimum is the real goal.
We gots work to do… we need to overhaul what it means to be a cop and how a person becomes a cop and what they need to do to stay a cop.
It should be an ergonomic and an ever changing… ever growing… process… a process of education on all fronts… the physical, the psychological and the sociological.
And, cops need one other tool… like the rest of us; they too struggle with the necessity of making ends meet. If they are to be entrusted with the great responsibility of judiciously enforcing the law then they need to do it with the least amount of stress and/or temptation that they can. Stress that comes from having to make sure their families can eat or have clothing or a decent home to live in…. and stress that could make the difference in whether they treat someone with a measure of respect or if they just say hell with this shit and haul off and kick ass.
And, free from the temptation to do wrong… to make sure they are not lead into temptation to misuse that responsibility and power in illegal ways in lieu of remuneration of one form or another.
The tool is making sure they get paid a real living wage that frees them from that stress of making ends meet. We need to make sure they are taken care of moneywise so that they can have one less thing to stress out about as they go into the each day to take care of us peeps that they are entrusted to take care of…
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