The Death of Officer Friendly

500px-Tags_barney_01Whenever our car pulls alongside a police sedan at a traffic light, my daughter insists I roll down her backseat window. She shouts, “Thank you for your service, officer!”

It’s one of those moments in life that makes you smile and think Pleasantville is possible—that all any major downtown needs at night is Deputy Fife strolling about with an empty six-shooter and a loaded box of Krispy Kremes.

My daughter has no reason to doubt the “to protect and serve” motto on the squad car.

Wait, I can’t quite locate it. Here, you take a look. Do you see it?

Oh, sorry, that’s not a squad car. It’s a Mine Resistance Ambush Protected vehicle, now a standard part of my local police department’s transportation fleet. Heck, every Keystone Cop needs a $700K MRAP these days, don’t you think?

I wonder how my daughter would react if we pulled up at a red light alongside an MRAP with officers dressed in camouflage riot gear and armed with chemical agents.

“Well now, darling daughter, that’s not something you see every day. I believe those Paramilitary Police Officers are wielding canisters of 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile. You probably haven’t learned about that compound in science class yet. Most of us call it tear gas. Anyway, tear gas is so nasty that Geneva Convention signatory nations won’t even use it on one another. Hey, looks like Officer Patowski is waving the barrel of his machine gun at us and motioning for us to pull over. I guess Papa should have paid those parking tickets!”

Come on, that could never, ever happen. Never. Well, probably never.

I mean, it’s not like I’m some homeless man in Albuquerque. Or a dude selling contraband cigarettes in New York.

Also, thank God I’m not a journalist or a Holocaust victim!

Or a female Christian pastor.

As a nation, we suddenly seem collectively aware that we are the frog boiled slowly.

Something has happened to local law enforcement since September 11, 2001. I don’t seem to remember cops wearing quite so much tactical body armor when I was a kid.

It’s as if the nation turned the page to a new chapter, titled “Ferguson,” only to discover that the word Orwellian is no longer science fiction. And we have NO DAMNED IDEA who’s in charge of a metropolitan area with nearly 3 million people living in it.

Today millions across our nation watched a video where St. Louis police officers pumped 12 bullets into 25-year-old Kajieme Powell 23 seconds after arriving on the scene of the Energy Drink Convenience Store Heist of the Century. Yes, indeed, Powell was wielding a knife. But the officers apparently could not remember how to work a Taser nor were aware that a person’s legs make an excellent target when advancing slowly from more than 10 feet.

To add insult to mortal injury, the officers then handcuffed Powell, who appeared already dead.

I can’t wait for commenters to hog pile me for defending a petty thief. What I saw today—and have observed on video on multiple occasions during the past few weeks—is proof that police officers need to have their forefingers removed until they’ve passed critical thinking training.

Kajieme Powell should still be alive—perhaps recovering from electric shock or a bullet wound to the shin. And there should be a video clip showing how St. Louis’ finest exercised amazing judgment in the midst of a tense policing situation.

Just imagine how much good grace such a video would have bought St. Louis municipal law enforcement nationally.

Instead, one thing seems for certain: Officer Friendly—he dead.

I don’t expect this to be a popular article. It’s not okay in our country to criticize workaday law enforcement officers or military personnel.

At this point, I’m supposed to say, “Hey, I recognize that there are a lot of excellent men and women in law enforcement. Heck, even my cousin is a detective.”

But I’m not going to do that.

That’s not the point of this article. The point of this article is to ponder aloud that if you are authorized to carry a lethal weapon as part of your job, and that job includes protecting my peace, I’m starting to lose faith in you and your peers.

But hear me out completely. I don’t want to lose my faith in you.

I distinctly remember the first time I told my daughter what to do if she gets lost. Number one, find a friendly-looking woman or a police officer and tell her or him you’re looking for your parents.

I want—need—my daughter to grow up trusting you.

But then I have to block out Ferguson. And the dozens of other police brutality videos I have watched in the past few months.

I have to forget about the time in Washington DC that I witnessed an automobile accident outside my office. A car was driving the wrong way down a one way and slammed into another vehicle. Thankfully no one appeared injured; I called the police. Shortly thereafter, an officer arrived, emerged from his vehicle, surmised the situation (two badly damaged vehicles), then declared there was no accident so far as he was concerned. He returned to his vehicle and drove off, leaving us workaday citizens—especially the motorist victim—agog.

I also have to forget about the time years ago—I’m not even going to identify the city—where I found myself embroiled in a major police department disaster. A number of officers lost their jobs due to incompetence and dereliction of duty. I personally watched a number of officers lie publicly.

Then again, I have a fond memory of a Columbia police officer coming to my rescue one sweltering August day several years ago. My car engine died for unknown reasons, and an officer who happened to be parked next to me noticed I was in need of assistance. He actually went under the hood for me, tinkered around a bit, then called for me to start ‘er up.

Vroom! Vroom!

My daughter and I high-fived the friendly officer. It’s not always about protection; sometimes it’s just about service.

I want to believe in the general goodness of law enforcement officers.

But they’re just ordinary men and women.

And rather than training them to rely on non-violent means to maintain the peace, over the past decade especially, the system has stoked their GI Joe fantasies with unbelievable caches of armaments.

And it’s not as if the system incentivizes education, either. Perhaps instead of sending our officers to train in Israel, we should sign them up for liberal arts training?

Don’t knock it. Critical thinking has saved the day in this world more times than you can imagine. If our cops were Officer-PhDs—yeah, talk about a Dredd fantasy.

So where do we go from here?

I haven’t told my daughter about Michael Brown or Kajieme Powell.

She doesn’t know that several weeks ago a police officer trained a machine gun on innocent U.S. civilians for all the world to see.

The next time we pull up to a police squad car, she’s going to ask me to roll down the window, and at the moment, I don’t really feel like doing so.

I think that a lot of Americans feel that way right now. We feel like our collective trust has been broken. But it’s not something easy to say aloud.

It’s hard to point a questioning finger at a man or woman authorized to turn you into Swiss cheese in 23 seconds.

 

Postscript

I’m not normally one to point someone in the direction of the Cato Institute, but here are some interesting articles CI presented back in 2006 and 2012 that show the frog boiling at certain stages over the past decade. The articles make for interesting perspective:

“Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America”

You’re Eight Times More Likely to be Killed by a Police Officer than a Terrorist


Arik Bjorn

Arik Bjorn lives in Columbia, South Carolina. He was the Democratic Party / Green Party fusion candidate for U.S. Congress in the 2nd Congressional District of South Carolina. Visit the archive for Arik’s campaign website, and check out his latest book, So I Ran for Congress. You can also follow his political activities on Twitter @Bjorn2RunSC and on Facebook. And be sure to check out more from Arik in his archives!

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  • Pipercat

    I just found two pennies, I think I’ll go cash them in.

  • Pipercat

    Oh, love the title!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Sandy Greer

    Well, maybe people should look to Libertarians and Cato Institute for leadership on this. They’ve been on top of this issue for many years.

    Here’s another report, very thorough, by the ACLU – I read earlier this year. It’s a real eye-opener:

    aclu DOT org/sites/default/files/assets/jus14-warcomeshome-report-web-rel1 DOT pdf

  • Matthew Reece

    You should lose your faith in government police, as the idea that the government enforcement class is just, moral, virtuous, and necessary is the single greatest hurdle between here and a free (stateless) society.

  • I’ve sort of lost faith in our men in blue. I know there are decent police officers, but with all the negative stories, which includes the shooting of innocent family dogs, I can’t say I’d feel comfortable calling them to my house in an emergency. If I needed the help of the police I’d call, who else would I call? But after being treated like a serious criminal for feeding ducks at a public pond, instead of say, getting a citation or warning, it made me think twice about the police as a whole.