– THOUSANDS SHOT – FEW PROSECUTED –
Headline: Washington Post 11 Apr 2015
Superimposed over a photo of a car riddled with bullet holes, resembling the one in which Sonny Corleone met his demise, the above headline is a scary thought. It infers law enforcement has no priority other than to put notches on their butt-plates by making the rest of us targets.
I doubt any of us doesn’t get a little bit of a pucker anytime a cop pulls in behind us on the road. This is natural especially if, like me, you tend to be somewhat felonious most of the time. We accept this slight surge of “oh shit” adrenaline as part of giving authority over to a third party, it has no real consequence and we always chuckle a little when the cop passes or turns off.
A few weeks ago I was heading down country. As I hit an flat open area of road, at the bottom a treacherous stretch locals refer to as “13 curves” where flatlanders regularly sacrifice their cars to herds of jaywalking deer or one of the steep drop offs at every turn, a Sheriff’s patrol car came toward me in the opposing lane.
I immediately used my knee to steady the wheel then stuck my head out the window, inserted both my thumbs into my ears and made pronounced wiggling movements with my fingers; all while sticking my tongue out and shouting unintelligibly at the deputy. As you would expect, ole Deputy Dog immediately locked up his brakes – but he didn’t swap ends or chase me down and the next time I saw him he just waved and smiled.
If I had done that in Ferguson, New York City, Atlanta or even San Francisco the odds are good it would not have turned out well. At a minimum I would have been subjected to a Field Sobriety Test or I may have gotten myself shot. Fortunately, I live in a very remote area of a rural mountain county in the High Sierras.
It is a little different up here. The deputy didn’t need to know the unintelligible words I was shouting were “DEER – DEER – DEER” to realize there was a herd in the road up ahead. Up here the “wiggly-finger-face” is a common signal used by locals to warn other cars that a herd of deer is in the road ahead. Sticking the tongue out is just my personal touch.
Up here it generally takes 45 to 90 minutes for a 9-1-1 response and if there is snow on the ground it might be several hours so we kind of look out for each other. One of the first things most city folk notice up here is that everyone waves, and they do it with all 5 fingers. I live in the 21st Century version of Mayberry RFD which brings us back to where I actually wanted to start this article.
What happened to Mayberry?
How did we get to the point where our Law Enforcement looks more like a paramilitary occupation force than the direct representative of the Executive Branch? According to Art. II of the Constitution; the President is not only Commander in Chief of the Military, he is responsible for the execution and enforcement of the laws created by Congress and the Fifteen executive departments. The County Sheriff is the President’s direct representative when it comes to the people.
“Law enforcement” is a misnomer. Enforcement of the law is simply a tool the executive branch uses to fulfill its direct responsibility: upholding the Constitution and protecting the people. “Citizen Protection” is a better description of the law enforcement profession. It is a closer representation of their main constitutional purpose and my experience tells me it is closer to why most of them signed on.
How did we get to the point that an Officer can shoot an unarmed man who is running away and it not be questioned until a video surfaces?
How did we get to the point that an old rich guy can buy his way into playing Cop?
How did we get to a place where a police officer always assumes the guy in the driver’s seat has a gun and intends to use it?
How did we get to the point where mothers need to teach their sons to avoid the police, not because they might do something wrong but rather because the color of their skin, the shape of their eyes or the hat they wear might get them unintentionally killed by police?
How did we get to the point where the families of good men like Det. Terrance Green face the very real everyday fear that their loved one will run into the wrong person who takes advantage of his integrity and takes his life in an ambush.
The burning questions become:
When did it become: Us –vs– Them? What do we do to fix it?
The degradation of relationship between Law Enforcement and the people they serve is not just one thing; it is two. One is political: the quest for authority and power inherent to all politicians. The other is learned: The distrust the people have developed for contemporary law enforcement.
These two vague issues work in concert to produce a Pandora’s Box of self-perpetuating ignorance and conflict that manifests itself in things like the Ferguson shooting. You could ask the smartest person you know to explain why and both of you would leave more confused than you started.
Law enforcement has gone through incredible transition over the years. Technology that can type blood, identify fingerprints, match fibers and even identify a suspect by the core building blocks of his very existence – DNA – all appeared in a very short time. Forensics, crime scene investigation and intelligence have gone through unprecedented advancement giving an investigator a much higher probability of both solving a case and treading on the Constitution.
Recently equipment has become available with the help of federal surplus repurposing programs as wars wind down. The mob mentality, developed through media theatrics, has made it acceptable for a street cop to be equipped for a Fixed Position Assault – MRAPs, RBA, NVG and heavy weapons. This would almost be acceptable with the exception the shift in operations it brought and the obvious movement to create a national police force.
Of all the things we could do… creating a national paramilitary police force is without question the worst option. I think that is important enough to say twice… Of all the things we could do… creating a national paramilitary police force is without question the worst option.
My opposition to such has its origin in Europe circa 1921 with the Sturmabteilung. You might be surprised at how a quixotic sense of superiority, power and invulnerability will warp a man’s integrity to the point of tyranny. Especially if he is detached emotionally and culturally from those he has perceived superiority and power.
Just as culpable is the sadomasochistic relationship the people and the police enjoy. Parents feed the problem when they teach their kids to be fearful of the police at a young age. Many a child’s perception of law enforcement is cultivated and nurtured by stories of police abuse and episodes of “Cops” that so effectively showcase the problem on both sides.
Then there is that fringe faction that neither side really likes; the ones who want to make into the Wild West out there. The George Zimmers of the world who think the 2nd is a blanket authorization to brandish a firearm and act as an instant Militia. Constitutionally you have the right to bear arms; but if you are part of a Militia or act as a Militia it must be a “well Regulated Militia” not a gaggle of fools with guns and an over developed Rambo complex.
Is there a Solution? sure there is…
Are we smart enough as a divided nation to pursue it? … I have my doubts.
A national police force would exacerbate the problem. Anyone who has been unfortunate enough to spend a lot of time being present but invisible around politicians has been exposed the comment “all politics is local” used in more ridiculous ways than you believed possible but the basic truth of the statement stands.
The local nature of our politics is a key characteristic of our republic. We are the government and the government is supposed to be us – law enforcement is no different. In times past law enforcement officers usually had their origin and roots in the community they policed.
It is hard to shoot an unarmed man who is fleeing if you know his family. It is hard to come to the immediate conclusion to perjure your testimony against an officer, no matter what that officer did, if you have personal experience with that officer that was not wholly negative.
I’ll still tell a cop joke without hesitation or badmouth one who does something I perceive as stupid but I also try to consider who I would want to be in the neighborhood if I was experiencing a home invasion or if I had crankster down the street cooking in his garage. I remind myself what number would I call in an emergency.
We as citizens need to become a “The People” again. Stop being a collection of political, economic and moral factions who care not for any other faction unless it agrees with ours.
As law enforcement you need to return the basics of putting the Constitution first; tallying your successes buy your status as part of the community you serve. The other accolades and kudos will come automatically.
Return to local policing, and educate the next generation in what the “Citizen Protection” professional is actually tasked with: Upholding the Constitution and in doing so protecting the people.
Take off the RBA; leave the Barrett and the MRAP at home. Restore the Mayberry-esque relationship between the police and the people and the two will refrain from killing each other.
When Robert E. Lee spoke of his enemy he never called them anything but “those People;” every other confederate General had some less than civil moniker for the Union but not Lee. I believe it was Thomas Jackson whom Lee once corrected for badmouthing Northerners explaining, “when this (the war) is all over we will all have to go back to being Americans.” Lee knew above all else WE ARE AMERICANS.
The Constitution begins with three very profound words…. “We the People”.
It was not arbitrary or coincidental that these three words were chosen. They are a declaration of who we are… and what we are intended to be.
It is time to again take on the responsibility of being “The People.” When this political partisanship and chaos finally passes we will all have to go back to “being Americans.”
This article first appeared in The Havok Journal on 25 April 2015.