When I moved to South Georgia, I decided there wouldn’t be much I would say “no” to. I was going to try new things, keep an open mind, and learn as much as I could about everything. One of those things was participating in the Citizens Police Academy near my town. I joined for many reasons, but one reason in particular was my fascination with how much people in smaller communities love their police officers. Writing for All On Georgia, we frequently share articles about the police department and the sheriff’s office and comments usually never stray from ‘Way to go!’ and ‘Great job, guys!’ I was like a bug to the light on this issue, especially coming from Metro Atlanta where the public-police partnership is basically non-existent.
Personally, I’ve never had a terrible experience with any law enforcement officer. I grew up in a community where the cops talked to kids, came by the neighborhood pool, and talked to you about listening to your parents. I’ve also had the opportunity to talk several courteous officers with a mild sense of humor out of giving me a traffic ticket – or ten. But it’s amazing what the media can do when they have the ability to push an agenda 24/7.
Like most, I was mortified by the story of the DeKalb officers who entered the wrong home and ended up shooting the homeowner and fatally wounding his dog. Like most, my heart aches to see the calls for violence against officers around the nation for no reason other than their employment status. Like most, I have read the news articles, seen the live coverage, and watched on social media as the respect for the thin blue line fizzles into an untouchable pixie dust while all-things-policing have become racially charged and politically motivated. There’s a huge problem between the public and police right now.
Just recently, I saw an article out of Michigan go viral. A “well-behaved” teenager was pulled over by an officer for flashing his lights. The article, which included body camera footage, was cluttering my Facebook feed for days, featuring the officer as some sort of animal who yanked a kid from a car, threw his phone into traffic, and emptied his weapon. SEVERAL news articles would have you think that. CNN’s headline read, “Cop kicks teens phone out of hand, shoots 7 times.” HuffingtonPost’s said, “Unarmed Teen Flashed Lights at cop and ended up dead.” The body camera footage might even have you thinking that, too, considering what was released is cut off as soon as the actual scuffle begins, but an independent Google search shows you images of the officer in the hospital, bruised and bloodied. That picture didn’t appear in one viral article, but it isn’t a hoax and certainly changes the dialogue about the incident.
I don’t know the full extent of what happened there. I can only draw conclusions from the information that is available, but it’s getting old watching people draw conclusions from a single source with one issue when in other aspects of life, they’ll trust anyone but the mainstream media. Many of my anti-government friends who question everything else reported by the media are quick to jump to the defense of anyone but the officer when a scuffle emerges.
In the story from Michigan, the teen may have been unarmed, but I’m not sure how that’s relevant in a physical fight. You don’t need a weapon to kill someone and being a police officer doesn’t make you any less of a person. If it were your husband, or son, or father, how long would you want them to wait before fighting for their life? ‘Public servant’ doesn’t translate to ‘public sacrifice.’
Consider this video from Laurens County back in the late 1990’s. The dashcam video shows three and a half minutes of heartwrenching and gruesome footage of a standoff between Deputy Kyle Dinkheller and a deranged veteran who ends up loading a rifle in front of the deputy, charging him, and emptying the magazine – killing Deputy Dinkheller. All of this is on the video. If you watch it, you would stare -dumbfounded- wondering why the deputy didn’t fire sooner.
(WARNING: The video is graphic and horrific in language and content)
It’s difficult to place ourselves in their shoes, and I am glad we hold our public servants to such a high standard of integrity and expertise, but I also know that I am not cut out to be a cop. Are you? I think back to a few weeks ago when my CPA class had to use a gun simulator on a traffic stop that escalated. We were given a gun and had to decide when to ‘use force’ on our aggressor. It was a computer game, essentially, and the ‘perpetrator’ scared the living daylights out of me when he started moving and shaking and whipping his hands in and out of his pockets. I KNEW what was coming on a game and I still reacted by firing all six bullets in my gun. And on my ride-along, we responded to a call in an area that I know that if I lived in it, I would probably walk around with my gun drawn 24/7. So, I ask again…your judgement casts easy, but would your glass house weather the storm if the shoe was on the other foot?
I also have to wonder if the people who are so angry about law enforcement officers have actually had a bad experience themselves, or if they are just living vicariously through stories and victims in the media. These stories are happening – there is no denying the incidents – but is it as often as we are led to believe?
It is almost cliche now to say ‘there are bad people in every industry,’ but it’s true. It’s just not every industry that has open records requests and the media breathing down their neck on a daily basis. When I make a mistake in my job, I fix it and the world keeps spinning. When an accountant doesn’t properly balance a sheet, the world continues turning. When a board of elected officials votes to do something unscrupulous, the world. keeps. turning.
What I’ve found is that when an officer does do something wrong, other officers are quick to point that out or condemn the action. Very few of them are looking to cast the wide net and taint the entire force or industry, if you will. And if you talk to your local officers, you’ll find that most of them don’t look at the world the way the media portrays them to be looking at the world.
This isn’t a defense of the bad ones, but rather a question of whether or not we are fighting the right fight, or just fighting to fight. I don’t know what the answer is. We cannot disarm law enforcement officers and we certainly cannot disarm the media. The difference is that the media comes out unscathed while exacerbating what is a very bad time to be a police officer in the United States. Perhaps the activists who would like to see reform on aspects of policing should save their energy for stories which expressly show wrongdoing, so not only can proper action be taken, but when there is a ‘victory for the public,’ it is not at the expense of the integrity of a movement.