We demand respect at all times, yet refuse to show the same basic respect to the people risking their lives each day to protect us.
One of the most frequently asked questions when applying to be a police officer is, “why do you want to be a police officer?”
On its face, the question is easy enough. Many officers will tell you they wanted to become a cop since childhood. They may tell you a story about how an officer helped them or a family member or they may explain their desire to keep people safe from harm while contributing to the betterment of society.
No person gets into this line of work thinking, “I want to kill another human being.” In fact, every major police department in the country actively tests to ensure this is not the case.
If one listens to certain news sources, celebrities, or politicians, every officer wakes each morning with the intent to racially discriminate and harass.
While there has always been a segment of the population who were anti-police, it was not the “norm” to blame the actions of others on the police officer. I believed this changed in July of 2009, after an officer arrested Henry Louis Gates Jr. for disorderly conduct.
On July 16, 2009, Mr. Gates was trying to force his way into a damaged entryway of his home when his neighbors called the police to report a burglary. As he was the person attempting to gain entry to the home, he fit the description of the person trying to “break in”. The officer responded, located the man described by the caller and attempted to identify him to ensure he had the right to force entry into the home. The officer was met with fierce anger and no cooperation.
According to Mr. Gates, he told the officer his name and that should have been enough to allow him to enter the house. The officer did what his job required and asked for identification. Gates became belligerent, refused to provide identification, and continued to refuse to cooperate. This ultimately led to Mr. Gates arrest for disorderly conduct.
Shortly after, then President Barack Obama stated the following:
“I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that,” Obama said after Gates’s arrest. “But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home, and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately”.
Gone are the days of individual responsibility and civility. Had the officer not identified Mr. Gates and it turned out not to be his home, the officer would have been disciplined, if not fired.
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Our society has failed to keep our end of the social contract. Our police officers continue to risk their lives to keep evil at bay. We have become a nation of self-righteous, entitled, rude, and disrespectful individuals. We demand respect at all times and in all manners yet refuse to show the same basic respect to the people risking their lives each day to protect us.
Unfortunately, it is now popular to label anything associated with our current president as divisive. But what could be more divisive than the former president’s anti-police rhetoric?
When referencing a bout of ambushes in 2016, a year that saw 175 police officer deaths, NPR posted an article stating, “Twelve deaths, horrible as they are, have to be put into the statistical context of a country with close to a million law enforcement officers. Stoughton says statistical context is important”.
Yes, context is important. In police work, we call it the totality of the circumstances.
When we look at the anti-police rhetoric around our country, we seem to ignore the totality of the circumstances, ignoring the individual’s responsibility to follow the rule of law, and blaming our heroes who are simply trying to make society a better place.
All actions have consequences. If you do not like the police, you may easily avoid contact by not breaking the law. In circumstances such as the highly educated Dr. Gates Jr., simple human decency and checking his own ego could have avoided the entire altercation.
In every single situation in which an officer killed a suspect, had the suspect simply obeyed the law or in choosing not to comply with the law, chose to comply with officer’s lawful orders, they would be here today.
Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.