When the juvenile delinquents in the musical West Side Story break into song, pleading with the local beat cop, Officer Krupke, to understand why they’ve turned out the way they have, the blame gets passed around and around until it lands squarely on society itself.
“In my opinion, this child does not need
To have his head shrunk at all.
Juvenile delinquency is purely a
And we laugh at their antics as they make fun of the police officer, and run circles around him. After all, it’s entertaining, right? [Anyone remember “Car 54, Where are You?“]
As the decades have passed the shows involving police have evolved into something quite different. We are enamored with forensic investigation programs, and the “us” and “them” dichotomy has intensified. No longer is there much of a humorous exchange between the good guys and the bad guys; instead, the two sides are clearly in a battle to the death.
Increasingly, our society, which takes its moral cues from television and movies, has taken up the same anthem of “us” against “them.” So now, sometimes for valid reasons of abuse of power and harassment, and sometimes simply because of the attitude we have been taught, we look at law enforcement officers with an distrustful eye.
The same is true in the school classroom where teachers are not only not allowed to touch students without reprisals, but are evaluated by students themselves as to whether or not they deserve respect and deference. I am reminded of a fellow high school teacher I worked with in the 1980s who had recently moved from Vietnam to the United States. He was shocked back then (almost 40 years ago) at the reduced level of respect afforded to teachers by students in the states.
I wonder what he would think now, in our present circumstances?
I know the pendulum swings back and forth from extreme to extreme in society, but we are desperately in need of a change in the direction of the current swing. When an 18 year old boy gunned down a Gwinnett County police officer days ago and an enormous manhunt ensued I was reminded of some things my brother (in law enforcement for over four decades) taught me years ago, e.g. THE BADGE (no matter who is wearing it) carries with it the FULL WEIGHT of the government it represents.
When you fight a county police officer you are not merely tussling with an individual; rather, with the whole county. He or she presents the civil body he or she has been entrusted to protect. It is not within your authority to evaluate whether or not you should obey the instructions of an officer of the law (certainly not in the moment he or she is instructing you). If you choose to disobey then the full weight of the governing body he or she represents will come crashing down upon you. This is the only way people in the society can have their freedoms protected.
In television, police often work alone or with just one partner. There are many skirmishes, and wrestling matches where the bad guys often get the upper hand and get away. This keeps you watching until the next program comes on a week later. In reality, even though the bad guy sometimes escapes capture, he or she does so only for a time, because the truth is it is not a competition. The law will be enforced. Your defiance of it will last only a short time (whether you agree with it or not). If this were not true it would rend the delicate fabric that holds society together.
We can blame society, just like The Jets in West Side Story, but that is a ruse, a ploy that simply does no one any good. If our homes are devoid of respect for authority, or if our entertainment celebrates defiance and rebellion, or if our school teachers are on trial by their students to gain respect and affect obedience, or if our political officials and law enforcement officials are not held to a high standard of morality we are in deep trouble.
The pendulum needs to swing soon . . . and swing hard!
Thank you for adding to the weight of what I was trying to say. Your comments are always rich and insightful.
Thanks for reading and commenting, my friend.
Thank you, my dearest!
Whether voiced by you or your gendarme brother, Ivan, the principle this post so clearly spells out is truly foundational. When I–or others–interact with a police officer in the conduct of his/her duty, I am dealing not with Officer George or Officer Pam, but with the city, state, or other jurisdiction in the body of one person. As you indicate, that places a huge accountability on an officer, enough to match the degree of authority that jurisdiction has vested in him or her. The moral weight bearing down on the official wielding authority requires more than rules, but also a full measure of the morality appropriate to the interactions. The moral weight borne by the rest of us is to give that officer the respect due to an entire population of our fellows. Thanks for writing this post!
Soooo good! Thanks for helping us to to think! Excellent!
Thanks for sharing these thoughts. It certainly is a difficult time to be a public service individual right now with the current (and misfigured) expectations & demands being placed on them. For the sake of everyone’s safety and future, may the pendulum swing soon indeed.