Cease and Discern

Listen to the police.

Growing up, this was never really a negotiable request – my dad was a cop. But from the overprotective rules and rants on strangers and drugs grew an understanding from an early age of what the police do and why they do it.

I would listen to stories at dinner. I would watch “Cops” and ask if that was really how it went. Once in a while I would lie there at night, knowing there was always that chance he wouldn’t be there making coffee in the kitchen when I woke up. That he could be another “Going Home” on the bagpipes, another line of white glove salutes.

But there he was every morning, like clockwork. Being a complete pain in my butt. God bless him.

I can attest, then, that the police are not what many of you think they are. The police are not the embodiment of Satan, robotic and cold, waking up in the morning ready to manipulate their way into abusing power and reigning supreme. They are fathers, husbands, brothers and sons. They are mothers, wives, sisters and daughters. They are human beings who choose to take on a job that not many want to do. That not many can do.

The stress that is dealt with this responsibility – enforcing laws, protecting and saving the lives of people – is unfathomable and unparalleled to any other career one may have. The possible situations a police officer can face in a day are infinite, yet they prepare for every foreseeable occurrence to the best of their ability by being trained in the proper textbook procedures over, and over and over again. This repetition ingrains proper conduct into their every move.

I know people who don’t believe in authoritative figures, who believe the hierarchy of politics and law are bullshit and anarchy would eventually lead us to the life of peace. Regardless of the (lack of) validity of this, it is not our current reality. We have laws and thus have enforcers for these laws.

Believe me when I say the epitome of an officer’s day is not busting you for smoking a joint. They do not live to pull you over going 95 in a 45. They would rather be locking up drug dealers or domestic abusers than making sure you stand four inches to the left at a protest. But this is their job. You might not like the laws, you might not like the way they can legally enforce them, but the law is the law.

So don’t shoot the messenger. Don’t even defy the messenger. Because the messenger can and will use the proper force to accomplish their job.

Naturally, this is where the majority of anti-law enforcement sentiment stems from – police ability to use force, sometimes deadly, and do so legally. Physical force, Taser, pepper spray, nightstick, gun. A police officer has an arsenal of tools. Though  these things can naturally intimidate, they are there to be used in conjunction with the force continuum; though every department has a slightly different variation, the force continuum is the set of standards which provides law enforcement with the guidance of what force to use in each increasing level of a subject resisting.

In general the standard progression of the force continuum is officer presence, verbalization, empty hand control, less-lethal methods and lethal force. Police are trained to respond to a situation at hand with one of these levels of force and are able to proceed to the next when certain circumstances are presented by the subject and they fail to comply. This is the law.

Police officers don’t make things up as they go along. There is a reason behind what they are telling you to do, be it to ensure your safety, their safety or the law. They are trained to assess a situation and use the proper amount of force necessary to have a handle on the situation. It is illegal for a police officer to use excessive force. Once you cease to resist, the officer must stop using force.

Refusing to cooperate, either for the sheer sake of being defiant or a true belief that your rights are being abridged, is in the best interest of no one in the situation. No one. Regardless of who is wrong at the time – police, civilian, the law – every action will have a reaction. Police encounters involving defiance can escalate quickly, in fear from both sides that physical force may begin, even if your last intention is to instate chaos.

By all means, file reports. Sue the department. If there is corruption in a system we are meant to trust, destroy them and let the correct figures take over. But please, if the police tell you to do something, listen. These men and women don’t want a circumstance to be created where physical force can occur. They don’t want to hurt you. Many of them have children of their own. All they want is to be able to go home every night and see their kids, not pepper spray someone else’s.

I can understand that a lot of the resentment toward law enforcement is seeded in the media’s portrayal of police officers, roots growing and grasping with every passing Ferguson incident or alleged unprovoked serge of violence against someone. As a journalist, many might assume I am outraged at the various televised incidents of “police brutality.” I’m not.

Call me a fraud for calling out the industry I am part of, but the media we consume should be taken with a grain of salt. Media outlets, like every other company, are businesses that look to gain the most consumers. Often they do not check the legitimacy of what they are showing, so long as its end theme equates to their viewer’s already formulated beliefs. Through the power of television magic, what you see is not always reality. What happened before that camera was turned on? I don’t know. Neither do you. It’s their word against the officer’s and cops suck, right?

I’m not going to sit here and say there isn’t corruption. As I write this, I envision my mailbox filling with messages from angry readers telling me how ignorant I am (to which I say I respect your input, but like your convictions, mine are my own and unwavering). Though I hope to impart the fact that all cops are not intrinsically evil, it is not lost on me that the world is not a perfect place. There are corrupt cops and departments, as within any job. Abuse of power occurs in many shapes and forms. Doctors, teachers, priests, coaches of professional sports teams, etc. From individuals to whole administrations, people  have a designated job to do and a certain level of power and trust given to them so they can accomplish it and it is broken.

Transparency, many say, is the solution. I would agree. Officers wearing cameras to record their activity and ensure they are performing their duty correctly has no foreseeable negative implications. Years ago they began to install cameras in police cars to monitor traffic stops. What occurred was a lot of evidentiary value and not a whole lot of scandal. I understand the opposition law enforcement may give to that. No one likes to be “babysat” while they are doing their job. But recording would not only ensure the law is being upheld, but would provide evidence to refute whatever other coverage is being conducted and decrease the media’s ability to twist reality.

Judging an entire group based on the preconceived stigmatization established by few is not right. This concept should not be demonstrated selectively. No matter age, race, gender, sex or occupation. Practice what you preach and respect a group of people who can go as far as risking their own lives so you can safely live yours.