WE NEED OUR POLICE TO BE GREAT AT WHAT THEY DO.
If there is anything good about the terrible events in Ferguson, Missouri it might be that the nation is having to discuss the issue of how the police interact with the community which they are to ‘protect and serve.” There are several sub-plots to this story. One of the main ones is how white police officers deal with young black men, or black people in general. Another sub-plot is how police conduct is a product of their leadership, training, policing policies, and/or their personal bias, fears, and momentary reactions. One other sub-plot is how personal behavior may or may not help us avoid dangerous situations. I hope to discuss these things in a few articles. This year for some reason we seem bombarded with terrible police decisions, often accompanied by video, that show abuse, brutality, and even murder. One of the consistent dynamics of the past has been the justification of such behavior, or the approval of juries, to let officers caught in obvious misconduct get away with their behavior. Sometimes police departments have actually fired officers who went against official policy but have then seen courts remove consequences from such officers, and even allow officers to sue departments to get their jobs back. As galling as that result might be it is equally disgusting to see many folks comment on public media how it is fitting that people who are being arrested, or black people in particular, deserve what they get and the police should in no way be criticized. These comments often come after Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson show up for the cameras. America is a nation born out of resentment for the misuse and abuse of authority. We have taken pains in our laws to protect ourselves from both the real and the vestigial aspects of tyranny. We are so paranoid of authority we want the right to possess our own weapons, as if we could defeat the police, the army, and the black helicopters of the United Nations (if they could afford any.) We want to possess them but we don’t want our military to carry weapons in public, unless they are going to war against someone other than us. Have you ever noticed soldiers you meet don’t carry weapons, and that hardly anyone ever accuses them of abusing their authority inside our borders? Consider yourself blessed. This is one reason police officers who oppress citizens are especially maddening, since we actually need these folks and usually hold them in very high regard. The police are our employees, they are paid by us to do a service for us, and it is a public trust that we give them as they sacrificially risk their own lives to protect others. It is an honorable profession, and these men and women are worthy of our respect, our prayers, and cooperation in the legal performance of their duties. But when that performance of duty is illegal, or racist, or simply brutal it puts citizens in a precarious situation. How can we resist without breaking the law, how can we resist without getting ourselves killed or arrested? This then becomes precarious for the police, for when the populace turns on them (and if higher authority does not intervene quickly enough public action is inevitable) violence is almost certain. Police and police departments can be self-protective, circling the wagons, even covering up for out of control officers but eventually the public will not put up with it, nor should we expect them to do so. It would be un-American. Did you see all those militia types out in Nevada when the Feds wanted to move someone’s cows? Those people were ready to fight over property. Is that more “American” than to be ready to fight over the murder of unarmed civilians who put their hands up in the air? We don’t want anyone to fight, or to be violent, or use wicked means to respond to evil. We do want justice! We want our police to not just be adequate, we want them to be great at what they do, so that even against really nasty criminals they will know how to take action without giving way to their anger, bias, or frustration so as to deprive people of their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without due process under law.