Sometimes, the title I've used is true -- when it's a tautology.
So, what if we fill in the blank with the word "Police?"
There are plenty of people who'll nod sagely, or even give you a raised fist and a "Right on," though the latter are a dying breed. Ask kids in tough neighborhoods, kids in the process of finalizing the choice of the .gov-issue orange jumpsuit or not, and they'll agree: the cops are The Enemy, a monolithic, blank-eyed wall of No.
On the other hand, if you define a group by their enemies, maybe that means the police are a-OK, shining bastions of Order and Decency. After all, aren't their real enemies criminals?
One father thought so, and he set 'em on his son after Sonny-boy grabbed the truck to get a pack of smokes; in fact, Papa reported the vehicle as stolen. This, not unexpectedly, caused police hearts in Ames, Iowa to quicken and when the young driver commenced to speed off rather than pull over, things got bad. Things went from bad to worse after he repeatedly attempted to ram pursuing police cars (go watch the video) and he ended up being herded to a stop well off-road where he'd led them and shot. Dead.
Does a kid who takes the car (a marked work truck, in this case) unasked deserve to die? Aw, c'mon: No. ("Kid:" He was 19, in those awkward three years between being allowed to vote and allowed to drink to forget what kind of jerk you voted for.)
Okay, trick question: Does a kid who borrows the car to run to the store deserve to be hunted down as a car thief? No? Okay, who set the police on this young man?
Police aren't mind readers. They aren't even especially special; they're just people, people whose jobs put them in proximity to the wicked, naughty and intellectually lazy of mankind a lot more than they meet gems of breeding and refinement like you and -- ahem -- me. They're manifestly not babysitters. When you give them limited, inaccurate information (to "teach...a lesson") and things take a violent turn, y'know who's to blame? Hint: probably not the men you lied to.
Oh, they were holding the guns -- holding them on what they were told was A Car Thief, and indeed, acted like a particularly desperate car thief; but the man who put them there is now saying the truck wasn't really stolen. Too late.
When you have a hammer -- and you spend all day hammering nails -- what do you suppose you're going to do the next time someone hands you a nail? How much difference is it going to make in the outcome when, after you've sunk the thing, they tell you, "Wait, wait, that was really a deck screw!"* And they'll call you a brute for whacking it with the same tools you use every day.
The incident has led to a number of oh-the-horrid-police articles. It's certainly a bad outcome and there's no question who did the shooting. But anyone who fails to understand the very basic principle, "If you make the police come after you, they're bringing a beating," doesn't grasp human nature. Hey, surprise, we get some tough guys (and gals) in the police; we get people who act decisively on limited information and sometimes we get suboptimal outcomes. They're not trained dogs. They're not therapists. They're not your best bud and -- as long as they don't think you're up to no good -- they're not your enemy. On average, they are no more "thugs" than the culture in which they are embedded -- and feeding them false information just about ensures you're not going to get the results you were after.
In a couple of places, people are pointing out that policemen reportedly score pretty high (as a group) on tests for psychopathology -- along with politicians, journalists, generals and other groups that rely on emotional "distance" to do their jobs. Okay, say it's true (it may even be necessary). In that case, why would you want to feed 'em lies or go poking at them?
Peel wrote it over a hundred years ago and it's still true: "The police are the public and the public are the police;" they reflect the society of which they are a part. If you're having issues with police attitudes and behavior, you're having issues with the behavior and attitudes of your culture as a whole, and you need to put your shoulder against that wheel before you've got a ghost of a chance of moving the one incribed with a thin blue line. (And, perverse though it may seem to both you and them, you need to be ensuring police remain a part of the greater society, and see themselves that way. When it became more efficient to stick cops in cars instead of walking a beat, it got a lot easier to fall into "us vs. them" thinking on both sides of the windshield. The societal price is probably a lot higher than anyone realizes.)
--And don't go tryin' to use the police's time and your neighbor's taxes to "teach your kid a lesson." That's not their function. People get killed that way.
* Sounds obvious, right? Framing nail, deck screw-- It ain't. They're about the same size. They're about the same color. Spend a few hours wielding a framing hammer -- wearing gloves, right, 'cos you want to protect your hands -- and you may find yourself whacking a deck screw in, too. Pine 2x4s don't like that, by the way, though sometimes you can get away with it.
T. R. MCELROY'S STREAMLINED TELEGRAPH KEYS
8 months ago