It is a bad time to be a cop, my friends. We have the normal day to day stresses we always face: having a job that requires each one of us to wear body armor and carry an assortment of weapons to give us the opportunity to make it to the end of our shift. Having to know statutory law for our jurisdiction, state case law, federal case law and our agency’s policy and procedures so we don’t get fired, sued or sent to prison for everything we do. Having to decide in a millisecond if we need to be a psychologist, a sociologist, a martial artist or a gun fighter and knowing whatever decision we make will be couch-coached to the end of time. We also have a job that requires us to work weekends and holidays and weird times of day and night and miss our families and our kids’ activities. Add to this the stress we face from the good people in society who get angry when the law won’t let us go further:
Victim: “My car got broken into and my phone was stolen and is inside that house because this app says so.”
Cop: “Yes ma’am, we would love to help you but that app isn't a judge and we can’t kick down doors and seize property without a judge’s signature. Yes, we know your stuff will be gone by the time we get a warrant.”
Or, there are the people who are in a public park and want us to show up and forcibly remove the homeless because they are scary and they stink. The final word we get from citizens in both of those cases and a hundred others with a hundred other concerns is: “You cops just don’t care, you never do anything.”
Now add to all that the “Hands up, don’t shoot” people, and the “I can't breathe” folks. Most of those people have no idea what happened during either of those instances, but that won’t stop them from getting in our faces and shouting about how we are bad people.
Believe me when I tell you, I wish cops never had to use force of any kind. We use force when things have not worked out and all too often we get banged up in the process. The problem with the whole Garner deal is what it represents. On the one hand you have a guy who likes to sell “untaxed” smokes for a living. I agree that no one should die over that, or for selling just about anything else (as long as it’s legal). That isn’t the point or the problem. Those smokes are enough of a problem that cops are specifically assigned to deal with them, and just so we are clear, “untaxed” is another word for stolen.
Some people seem to think those cops should have just walked away when Garner refused arrest. These are people who clearly don’t realize that at the end of the day we are only here because society has decided we need a line in the sand and cops stand on that line. Every use of force happens because someone made the same decision Garner made. If we walk away from him, we need to walk away from all of them and I don’t think anyone thinks we are ready for a society without a line in the sand.
Each day when we wake up, our thankless job becomes more and more thankless. So what do we do about it? Simple! As always, we treat everyone with dignity and respect and as always we have a back up plan if we need it. Next, we spread the word. Many people are still on our side and we must give them permission to voice what they know to be true: we are the good guys and our thankless job isn’t easy and often isn’t even fun. We need to make these people understand split-second decisions are hard to make and even harder when they involve freedom or life and death. After giving them the words and the permission to use them we may stop the hate and turn things around.