Monday, October 27, 2014

Lower Than Zero

“... on the historical scale, the damages wrought by individual violence for selfish motives are insignificant compared to the holocausts resulting from self-transcending devotion to collectively shared belief-systems. It is derived from primitive identification instead of mature social integration; it entails the partial surrender of personal responsibility and produces the quasi-hypnotic phenomena of group-psychology.” 
― Arthur KoestlerThe Ghost in the Machine

We are thugs. We are self-aggrandizing hoodlums accountable to no one. We are part of a corrupt system rendering our fellow citizens "serfs." We don't make mere mistakes - we are reckless to the point of deliberate indifference because nothing happens to us. We're the cops, and you're not.

Wellesley officer reading to elementary school children
So says yet another writer for a popular conservative publication (I'm tired of including a link to their piece. They've never once done it for me). He highlights...trumpets from the parapets...examples of errors by law enforcement in the course of SWAT operations. Several of them, including an incident involving an injury to a two year old, are troubling. Going to the wrong address, seeking the wrong suspect.... Somebody isn't using a very good checklist.

No law enforcement professional reads these accounts without cringing a little, or growling a lot. In spite of safeguards, double checks and legal oversight mistakes happen. Thousands of deployments occur nationwide each year. Given the stakes, nothing but perfection is acceptable.

But we are people. Try as we may, human beings are prone to mistakes, no matter how well trained we are. In the process of high risk, high stress we tend to mess up. When we do, people get hurt. Sometimes it's us. Sometimes its an innocent somebody. Occasionally it's both. The critical press pieces that follow, the demands for an accounting - all that is understandable. Got that.

The thrust of some articles seem to have taken an ugly turn. We are being depersonalized, rendered as nameless, faceless automatons carrying out the heartless bidding of...them. "They" want Americans to enjoy fewer freedoms and so have created armed, armored hordes to do their bidding. Police officers aren't part of the community.

For the most part the trash talking is harmless, self-aggrandizing gibberish. The writers...if you want to call them that...are seeking an audience. A recent column in the aforementioned conservative publication garnered eight hundred and three comments. Several of them were mine, suggesting that the pundit was being an asshole. Only I used bigger, calmer words. In the process I heard:

The deaths of police officers are not tragedies.
Deadly force should be used against cops.
When they shoot someone in the line of duty, they should sit in jail until a verdict is rendered.

And other gems. For the overwhelming majority of people this is harmless rhetoric, served up by men and women who derive their living from stirring up emotions and demanding action! Someone else is moved to type "DAMN RIGHT!!!!" in the subtle manner of social media interactions and we all go on with our lives.

Or do we. The day before this column was written some asshole gunned down a Canadian soldier standing ceremonial guard at their War Memorial. Law officers ( and one very brave retired cop) confronted and then killed the suspect. A day later two sheriff's deputies in California were shot to death by a twice-deported felon - for apparently no good reason.

Punditry - the high-brow and the low-rent - have found in law enforcement's errors, omissions and ironies a means of stroking deeply-held American aversions to authority and constraint. They do so, in many cases, by withholding, bending and straining the facts to suit their narrative. And what becomes of us?

You call, we show up. People shoot at us. That's the gig.

Sacramento County Deputy Danny Oliver had a wife and two daughters. Riverside Deputy Michael Davis was married, with four children. They served proudly.

We are real people. Nothing anyone writes about us can take that away.

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