Years ago a good friend of mine took her RN degree to another level by earning a Master’s degree in Nursing. We were so proud of her. And it made her a much better nurse, I’m sure. But shortly thereafter a congenital heart defect put her in the hospital for a surgery to repair the abnormality.
She did well, and healed beautifully. But her experience as a patient honed an aspect of her nursing skills far more than classwork ever could. As a result she was prompted to write an article she entitled, “The Other Side of the Sheets,” which focused, of course, on patient perspective and perception. Personal experience can teach lessons that can hardly be learned any other way.
Much of life is that way, isn’t it? We think we know things: about ourselves, about family, about society, about life in general. Then experience tests what we think we know, and often . . . we gain a new perspective, and a new understanding.
Now, I’m not a police officer, “but I play one on TV.” [pardon the overused proverbial joke] We all have perceptions about various occupations, sometimes valid, sometimes far from the mark. Right now a large number of citizens have similar perceptions about law enforcement officers and even the whole law enforcement system. Are they correct?
No doubt, law enforcement officers are responsible for a number of errors and even deaths of citizens in this country, sometimes by accident, and sometimes due to negligence or ill intent. This is not only true now, but it has been true ever since there has been law enforcement.
One of my relatives has been in law enforcement for over four decades, has worked in various agencies (both county and federal), has a vast experience in dealing with a variety of persons in compromising situations, both law abiding and criminal. My own experience is much more limited. I have ridden along with officers in Arkansas, Alabama, and Arizona, but I have had to deal with them in car accident settings, stops for moving violations, and various other situations that warranted police investigation in New York, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Montana.
When I was fourteen years old Arizona tried Daylight Savings Time (it has never been repeated), and I could play volleyball at our nearby park till 10:00 at night and still be able to see. On one such occasion that summer several of us heard sirens; we were taking care of a neighbor’s house, so we headed in the direction of their house to make sure everything was all right. Police cars seemed to descend out of nowhere, boxed us in, and apprehended two of us (myself, and a 21 year old friend) for allegedly stealing a Ford Mustang.
The officer who first grabbed me was red faced, nervous, sweating and shaking (I later heard he was a rookie); we were cuffed and put into the backseat of one the numerous patrol cars there (there were 12 officers I could count), just steps from the duplex my family lived in. My older friend complained about the rough treatment and vowed to have his father contact someone to file a formal complaint.
No! I didn’t steal the car. And after about 45 minutes it became clear to them that they didn’t have the right guys and they released us. Odd, but I watched a video a few days ago where a man was being questioned by police in a restaurant. He is bitterly telling them he is not the one they’re looking for [much like a “You can take my word for it” kind of defense], incensed that they would disturb him like this. After all, HE KNEW he was innocent, so why didn’t THEY?
The relative I mentioned (above) came to visit the high school sophomore classes I taught in Memphis, TN sometime in the 1980s, and he asked a question I thought odd at the time. He said something like “So, what do you students expect from your police officers?” Personally, I had never even thought to ask the question before. But it did provoke some thought. You mean, we actually get to ASK that? Yes, indeed!
And people are definitely asking it NOW in 2020, right? In fact, many are answering as if they’ve already asked this question and come up with the answer. Defund! Take away camouflage outfits, high powered weapons and armored vehicles for law enforcement! They only antagonize the citizens and make us feel as if we are enemies!
I think it’s time to talk about what it’s like to be on the other side of the badge. In fact, if I could work my will . . . at least every person who receives a driver’s license would be required to ride along with police for a full shift, or better yet on multiple partial shifts. Perspective would be gained.
Law enforcement does not exist just to “go and get the bad guys.” It also exists (among other things) to protect YOU and ME from dangerous persons/situations. That’s why persons who are belligerent, recalcitrant, uncooperative and combative with officers are dealt with severely. If a person is tased and continues to fight, or tries to escape, they potentially endanger the public, i.e. you and me.
Unlike it is on television, police are instructed to shut down a potentially volatile situation as quickly as possible. To protect you and me. Can that reaction be overdone? Of course, it can! But an officer has a split second sometimes to make decisions that will either protect or endanger the public, i.e. you and me.
If you are “in” the proverbial “wrong place at the wrong time” (as I was as a fourteen year old) you must accept that you will be detained, questioned, and (given the situation) treated as a law breaker until exonerated. Remember, “the streets” we live in ARE NOT THE COURTROOM; you are not innocent until proven guilty!
Abuse of power is deplorable. Unnecessary violence or excessive force is not OK. Racially motivated retaliation is despicable. But today, many of the examples touted as police abuse and excess are a combination of: (1) police attempts to protect the public, i.e. you and me from dangerous persons, (2) human error, (3) unfortunate misjudgments, and (4) some truly unwarranted retaliations, all strategically packaged together (as if they are part of a systemic problem) to create public outcry. And it has worked quite well.
We are making it nigh to impossible for ANYONE to police us as a society! And sometimes I wonder if that has indeed been the goal all along.
Put yourself on the other side of the badge. What would YOU do in our current society?