Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Another day, another incident of police brutality. It was just a couple of days ago that I posted about the seemingly endless random shootings in our nation. On the flip side of the coil are what appears to be the continuous stories of police abusing their powers. Buffalo Springfield sang “Nobody’s Right if Everybody’s Wrong” in 1967 in their song “For What It’s Worth”. The song was in reference to a town they found themselves in during a protest between young people and the powers that be, but it struck them that the issue at hand was pointless.
Random public shooting and police brutality are not pointless, but where can you turn when everybody is guilty? I was raised to trust the police. My parents always trained me to respect the police, but what happens when the police don’t respect the people?
A few days ago I wrote a piece lamenting yet another public shooting, but I was also torn. Not about my stand on public shootings, but on the topic of the post because that same day, two police officers stopped a vehicle for a tag violation. The driver turned out to be a captain in the armed forces, and as the two white officers held side-arms on the driver, he expressed fear about getting out of the vehicle, to which the police responded, “you should be,” and maced him.
Not for a violation, but because the temporary tag was hard to see through the window.
This man was not only a citizen, but he was also working to protect civilian rights in the military. In a separate incident, two police officers detained a driver who had outstanding warrants. With two police present, this man turned to get back into his vehicle and was shot in the back.
He was shot in the back.
Stanford university psychologists performed an experiment in 1971 in which they took a group of students to an abandoned prison, randomly assigned some to be “prisoners” and some to be “guards”, in essence giving some random students dominion over the others. They discovered that the “guards”, even knowing it was a game, began mistreating the “prisoners”, even those who were formerly close friends.
This feels like what is happening in the streets. When an officer responds to a man’s fear “you’d better be afraid”, it’s a clear sign of a belief in superiority over that citizen. The driver was not suspected of any crime, it was just a matter of the officers not being able to see the temporary tag. And yet, they pulled guns.
It seems to me that there needs to be far stricter regulations on police. No doubt, any cops reading this, or police unions, would disagree completely and argue that they need the authority to perform their duties, and yet, here we are, in the twenty-first century where regulations are coming out of the woodwork for everybody. If teachers need to by what amounts to malpractice insurance in case a student decides to sue them, I don’t see any reason that police should not have to buy insurance in case a citizen wants to sue them.
Sometimes, a police officer has to draw their side-arm. I get that. But with a plethora of alternatives to their side-arms, there should be strict rules as to when and why they are allowed to draw their sidearms, and even stricter laws as to when they can discharge them.
Our police are trained in hand-to-hand combat, paid to keep in shape, have pepper spray and tasers as well as the modern-day equivalent of their night sticks. I get that tasers fail about 30% of the time (more in the winter), but with two officers present, even if one had a service pistol drawn, the other should have been armed with a less-lethal defensive weapon. On a side note, today the police said that the officer that shot that suspect claimed he thought he was holding a taser, but I’m not buying it. In adrenaline cases such as this, sometimes people don’t realize everything that’s happening correctly, but a trained officer should know the difference between a taser and a handgun.
A handgun should never be drawn for a simple traffic violation. More than one handgun should never be drawn with multiple police present. Psychological testing for officers should include tests for superiority complexes and developing racist attitudes. Where I worked, more police than I care to recount made racists comments against the regional outstanding minority group, the Native Americans. And I get this. I don’t agree with it, but the fact is that, for the most part, the Native Americans these officers see are usually in some form of legal jeopardy, so without constant training and exposure it becomes too easy to see “all of them” as being lawbreakers.
As long as incidents like this continue (and far more frequently than mass shootings), there is no way tensions with law enforcement officers will ever dissipate. And frankly, they deserve these tensions to be reduced as much as we do.