Controlling the Enemy—Us?
Are our local police now part of the military? The Nation, in your well-intentioned lead editorial “Why Ferguson Burns” [Dec. 15/22], perpetuates an abuse of language that widens the divide between police and the rest of us: the use of the word “civilian” for people who are not on the police force. Police are public servants, not soldiers—that is, unless they are an occupying force controlling an enemy population. So maybe it is an appropriate word, but it should not be. Every media outlet uses this word for nonpolice, but it perpetuates the notion of police as part of the military. This is not what democracy looks like.
As a subscriber to The Nation, I was appalled to read “Why Ferguson Burns.” I was a police officer for over thirty years, and I never started my day by wondering how I could violate someone’s rights, use excessive force or kill a member of a minority group. Neither did any of my colleagues. No cop wants to face the internal-affairs gantlet, or be sued or charged with a crime because of their job.
Sure, there were some who overstepped their authority and did things that were inappropriate or illegal, and there were also bad shootings, no question. These acts of misconduct were committed by a tiny minority of police officers, and most of them were either disciplined or fired. I know, because for years I investigated misconduct and disciplined or fired bad cops.
The editorial was the worst generalization I’ve ever read, disparaging all cops for the acts of a few. Cops will shoot you because of a “loose cigarette”? Give me a break! You clearly misunderstand the “broken windows” theory of policing, which works to protect the same citizens you claim police want to harm. You blame the police for societal ills that are created by poverty, not cops. You want the cops to deal with entrenched problems, and you expect them to be infallible, without the frailties of any human being.
It’s a little like making sausage: you don’t want to see how it’s done, but you expect it to taste good. Police work isn’t pretty most of the time, and we have to hold accountable those who willfully violate department policy or the law. Police management must act aggressively to weed out bad characters or they will lose the community’s trust. But ignoring the root causes of crime and poverty and blaming it all on cops will result in police forces that stand by and let it burn.