From recent events, an Orwellian lie, encouraged and promoted wholeheartedly by the mainstream media, not to mention several public comments from friends of the Obama Administration, if one did not know better it would appear that America’s rank and file police officers have declared an open season on Americans of color – particularly African Americans. Whether the cause of death has been law enforcement gunfire or the misunderstood “choke” hold, which is really a grip designed to briefly close off blood supply to the brain by constricting the carotid arteries, thereby rendering a combative arrestee temporarily unconscious, an immensely untrue story is now in widespread circulation: White cops simply want to kill black people.
The photo above was taken during my rookie year as a patrolman in Longmont, Colorado. As a part of my twenty-plus years in full-time American law enforcement, I worked in marked police patrol cars, dealing with the absolute worst of people in the absolute worst of situations. I worked as a suit-and-tie detective and in detentions, supervising incarcerated people who were either convicted of crimes or awaiting trials. I was in my share of physical fights, none of which I enjoyed, and all of which I would have preferred not to have been dispatched to handle. I went to life and death situations more times than I can recall. There were times, I must confess, that I was scared by the level of violence in progress, and by the chance that I might be killed on the job. I never had to take a human life, for which I’m very thankful. I never fired my weapon in the line of duty, although I can recall three separate situations where I could have shot people and been justified. I made a lot of arrests at gunpoint.
I met hundreds of American cops during my career. But I never encountered a police officer or sheriff’s deputy who actually wanted to leave roll call and go out to find a citizen of any creed or color to kill during the work shift. I can’t tell you that there is no such animal. I just never met one.
Short of being killed or permanently disabled, killing someone in the line of duty is the very worst event a police officer can encounter. The first thing that happens is an immediate suspension from duty, confiscation of his firearm and a very distressing bifurcated investigation – above and beyond the knowledge that he just took a human life. He may be indicted and tried, even if the killing was entirely justified. And the current atmosphere in which the media are only too ready to jump on such a story makes the episode nothing short of a nightmare.
Real-life police work is not anything like Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry movies.
Uniformed officers follow orders. They are in a para-military situation. If given a lawful order by a superior officer to arrest someone, or with an arrest warrant in hand, they do not have the discretion to just walk away from the incident and do something else they’d rather be doing. The warrant doesn’t say you may take the person into custody, if you feel like doing it, or if he’ll cooperate with you. The warrant says “You are commanded” to take the person into custody and bring him before the Court.
If the cop is dealing with a citizen he knows or believes in all probability just committed a violent felony, as in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, he can’t take the whole rest of the evening off and go home, rather than to make the arrest. To avoid an assignment which involves potential violence is inviting a career-ending internal affairs investigation for dereliction of duty and cowardice.
Here’s the tragic truth, which is at the focal point of recent police killings: Sometimes people call the cops to handle a problem and a human being ends up dead. It may be a petty minor offense which prompts the call to the police department, such as a man selling cigarettes illegally. Or it may be a man brandishing a loaded firearm and threatening to shoot someone. It doesn’t matter. The cop has to go and handle the call.
Once any situation has escalated to the point where the police are summoned, if the potential arrestee does not cooperate and go along with what the officers tell him to do, all bets are off. The cop has a duty to make the arrest. The citizen has a duty to go along with what the officer tells him to do. Resistance or combat may end up in a death. That is the reality. In wars, people die. And sometimes, in law enforcement actions, people die.
The place to argue and defend one’s self as to the illegality or non-justification of an arrest is not on the street during the arrest. There is a place in our system of governance to fight the police. It is called a Court of Law.