Friday, January 9, 2009

To Protect And Serve

This story about the BART cop who shot someone in Oakland the other day reminds me of a heartwarming personal anecdote about our friends in law enforcement.

Many, many years ago, my brother and I were in a little pet store in LA when somebody accidentally tripped the alarm. Nobody in the place knew it had happened, and we were the first two lucky customers to step outside and hear the news.


The street was cordoned off by a blockade of police cars, and the cops were all crouching behind them with their guns drawn, just like in the movies. If about four or five rifles hadn’t have been pointed at me, it would have been exciting to watch; as it was, me and my brother were a tad bit, uh, what’s the word, nonplussed? We were only there to buy a few crickets for our pet chameleons and a mouse for his baby boa constrictor (we weren’t into sports or drugs, so collecting reptiles became our default hobby. What can I say? It was better than going out and getting into trouble with the police, ha ha).

So a cop with a bullhorn ordered us to drop our bags, raise our hands and walk slowly towards him. We didn’t argue. It was obvious we hadn’t robbed the place or anything, and when we reached him another officer came over, lazily padded us down and told us to sit in the back of the car. The bullhorn cop said everything was okay and that he’d explain what was going on in a minute, just sit tight. Meanwhile, his partner on the passenger side kept his rifle pointed at the entrance of the store.

A few seconds later the store manager comes out, and it’s obvious he’s an employee because they all wore these brown polyester shirts with pictures of coral on them (they looked like big, over-sized bowling jerseys). He called down that he was the manager of the store and everything was fine, that the alarm went off by mistake. So the bullhorn cop waved him over. As he did so, he said to his partner, who was still aiming his rifle at the guy, “It’s okay, he works here. He’s the manager.”

And the partner, still aiming, snickered and said, “Oh yeah? Should I shoot him anyway?”

And they both laughed.

That’s a true story. That’s when my political views, which were just then forming, began to veer left. It was my first (not last) glimpse into how cavalierly our boys in blue view the use of force and how low their respect is for common citizens. So when I hear stories about the police shooting in Oakland, I’m not a bit surprised. Most cops I’ve encountered are about as smart as high school football players who got their rocks off by wrapping up a freshman’s balls with masking tape and slamming his head into a locker. Replace their football pads with police uniforms, convince them they’re the thin blue line, and train them to think of everyone else as a potential “bad guy” and you have soul of American law enforcement today. It’s really that simple. They’re good at brute force and simple commands. Everything else is hazy. Stupidity (not racism) is the key to their psyche.

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