In the continuing furor that is Ferguson, Missouri, someone is finally asking, "Won't anyone think of the poor police officers?" Naturally, the person raising this question is a police officer -- a 17-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. And the question isn't so much being raised as it is being thrown in the reader's face.
Sunil Dutta wants to make a point about the difficulties faced by police officers every day. But he does so by boiling down his argument to little more than, "Shut your mouth or I'll beat your ass." Dutta begins by stating the obvious:
[C]ops are not murderers. No officer goes out in the field wishing to shoot anyone, armed or unarmed.
Sure. And most people aren't saying that cops are murderers. But they are calling them out for deploying excessive or deadly force far too often. That's homicide
(in the rare cases when it results in charges). Murder is premeditated and while there are likely a very small number of cops who commit murder, there is a far larger percentage deploying excessive force -- force that sometimes results in death
Once Dutta's erected his strawman, he casts about seeking to validate the sort of force escalation that seems far too common these days. It's not cops that are bad, it's just that people won't listen.
Regardless of what happened with Mike Brown, in the overwhelming majority of cases it is not the cops, but the people they stop, who can prevent detentions from turning into tragedies.
Now that Dutta has made it clear that the public needs to exercise self-control because many police officers clearly can't, he moves on to explaining why
it's so hard for officers to resist deploying excessive/deadly force.
Working the street, I can’t even count how many times I withstood curses, screaming tantrums, aggressive and menacing encroachments on my safety zone, and outright challenges to my authority.
I'm still unclear as to when police officers were guaranteed a "safety zone" while on patrol and the rest of this plea for sympathy is similarly misguided. Scott Greenfield makes the obvious point that taking a job as cop is to willingly place yourself in situations where people become irate at your very existence
Did someone tell you at the Academy that the public would be showering you with kisses and adoration? Perhaps they suggested you would carry all that cool hardware on your service belt because people would get in your personal space to request your autograph, you rock star you. Oh wait. You were a cop. Your job was to deal with people who were often unpleased to see you. Are you complaining? Do you want to give back your pension?
After illustrating how he resolved a potentially dangerous situation without force, Dutta moves on to explain why nearly any use of force is justified. There's only one way to (almost) guarantee that a police officer like Dutta won't move past an "ostentatious display of the lethal (and nonlethal) hardware resting in my duty belt" and into full deployment of the mini-arsenal. And that's to never do anything
signal your respect for the police officer "interacting" with you is anything less than 100%.
[I]f you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?
Dutta says "cooperate," no matter what. No matter if you're just being hassled for being in the wrong place at the wrong time or if you're the wrong color or just walking insouciantly, when a cop orders you to do something, do it
. But this isn't "cooperation." That word suggests people working together
. What Dutta demands is something else entirely. Scott Greenfield breaks it down:
When you use the word “cooperate,” you do so applying the cop definition. We, non-cops, are to cooperate with you, cop. We, as you’ve already told us, are to do as you say. Your idea of cooperation has nothing whatsoever to do with cooperation. It’s just a much better word than “comply or I will inflict pain, perhaps even death…"
The problem is that life isn't nearly as clear cut as Dutta portrays it. There are nuances at play at any given time, but Dutta only sees it as black and white. Submit or pay the price. That's how Dutta defines "cooperation."
The disconnect seems to be that the public just won’t do whatever a cop says. Sometimes they won’t do it fast enough. Sometimes, they don’t do it right enough. Sometimes, they won’t do it at all. Your solution is just do it or you’ve brought the wrath of the police down on your own head.
Among the many problems with Dutta's column is this: he expects the public to have respect for law enforcement while officers show an active disrespect for the laws governing their behavior. He throws this sentence into the mix without a hint of self-awareness.
Finally, cops are legally prohibited from using excessive force: The moment a suspect submits and stops resisting, the officers must cease use of force.
This legal prohibition doesn't seem to be prohibiting the use of excessive force. And the words "stop resisting" are muttered over and over again as personal permission slips to deliver more blows, whether or not the suspect is actually resisting. Cops are given desk duty or paid suspensions for violating this law while those on the receiving end spend time in the hospital
… or the morgue
Dutta also delivers this remarkable paragraph with a straight face.
But if you believe (or know) that the cop stopping you is violating your rights or is acting like a bully, I guarantee that the situation will not become easier if you show your anger and resentment. Worse, initiating a physical confrontation is a sure recipe for getting hurt. Police are legally permitted to use deadly force when they assess a serious threat to their or someone else’s life. Save your anger for later, and channel it appropriately. Do what the officer tells you to and it will end safely for both of you. We have a justice system in which you are presumed innocent; if a cop can do his or her job unmolested, that system can run its course. Later, you can ask for a supervisor, lodge a complaint or contact civil rights organizations if you believe your rights were violated. Feel free to sue the police! Just don’t challenge a cop during a stop.
Take your beating and sue later! Enjoy having your future destroyed by bullshit charges! Our justice system presumes you're innocent, except for all the evidence otherwise! Let the system runs its course, with citizens molested and cops unmolested! Use your time and money to sue us and watch the courts grant us immunity! Use YOUR OWN MONEY (taxes) to pay for our misdeeds in the odd event that a settlement is agreed to!
If this is the argument for police actions in Ferguson, it's an insanely shitty one. If this is what passes for justification, then it's clear there's no excuse for excessive force. No one truly believes all cops are murderers, but there's enough harboring the potential to do serious harm that citizens are justifiably wary that any encounter with police officers could go horribly wrong -- especially if they attempt to stand up for the rights these officers deny them.