I think every job has people who are attracted to it for the wrong reasons. We are no longer surprised to learn that pedophiles seek out positions that put them in contact with young people. Some journalists are, yes, showboating dicks (although I’ve found they are more likely to be concentrated in television). And some cops are, let’s face it, bullies.
You know that law enforcement has been having a bad year or two. Many of them blame rabble-rousers; I credit the smartphone. But as incident after incident piles up, the evidence becomes more galling. The ranks of police, or “LEOs” in the current parlance (that’s law enforcement officers) are well-stocked with jerks who will take any opportunity to grind a boot in your face just because he can. I’ve seen it myself, and before we go any further, I’ll stipulate that yes, many are heroes and many more enter the force with noble intentions but are worn down by the constant barrage of human cruelty they see on a near-daily basis. There are support systems for those LEOs, but I’m sure few if any are perfect. I’m equally sure that cops may have a spoken or unspoken cultural bias against asking for help, for the usual reasons. But that’s not what I want to talk about here.
I saw the tape of the Sandra Bland arrest — the original is nearly an hour long, and this story contains a fair distillation of around 7 minutes — and it’s pretty clear we’re dealing with a bad apple here. The cop comes up behind Bland, she moves to the right to let him pass, and he stops her for failing to signal a lane change. Bland does not hide her displeasure. He tells her she seems irritated; she says she is. “Are you done?” he asks, with that me-cop-you-not condescension some of them like to deploy, and it’s all downhill from there. Bland does not go quietly, and swears lustily, and at this point I don’t care if she called upon all the souls in hell to help her. She was right to be pissed; it was a bullshit stop. She wasn’t operating erratically. Traffic was light, she didn’t cause a near-miss collision. She didn’t turn on her signal, a crime committed approximately 90 zillion times a day all over the country (often by police). If this guy came to Detroit he would get all the action he wanted on that offense without going half a mile from the station.
I don’t dislike police, really I don’t. But I’m wondering why, when these things happen, the thin blue line rarely speaks up. If these incidents have taught us anything, it’s that an officer has to be caught red-handed by someone with a phone, a good camera angle and the smarts to get away clean for them to face any sort of discipline in these cases. How often are prosecutors willing to come down hard on police, upon whom they depend for the convictions that keep them in their jobs? The evidence has to be overwhelming. And even when it is, the rule of law essentially says we understand how hard it is to do this job, and sometimes mistakes are made. Eric Garner, choked to death, no charge. They have latitude, and lots of it, to make decisions under duress, and they’re rarely held to serious account when things go wrong.
But just once, I want an officer to be able to hand over a ticket to a pissed-off black woman, or any other person, without demanding all that yes-sir-officer crap in the bargain. Any stop by the police pretty much ruins your day; a ticket can ruin your spending-money budget for a month or more. Bland knew this was b.s., took the bait and her life circled the drain. Three days later she’d be dead. I’m thoroughly, thoroughly sick of this shit. I want police to police themselves.
One more item, and then I’m out: Are you ready for your car to be hacked? You better be.