Profiles In Courage

First, a disclaimer: I’ve left the topic of police brutality alone for a long while, mainly because some readers, who are also dear friends, have loved ones or close friends in law enforcement, and they – not to put too fine a point on it – weren’t happy with me. If that’s you, I’m tempted to ask you to ignore this post. But I won’t do that, because if anyone needs to rethink the issue of police use of force, it’s the policing community. I know some of you are peace officers – good ones – and we both know that clubbing an unresponsive person isn’t a way to ensure or enhance officer safety. But there – I’m getting ahead of myself.

This morning I received a link to a stunningly disturbing piece from a local FOX affiliate in Oklahoma City. As anyone who follows reported cases of police misconduct knows, OHP has quite the reputation for misbehavior. As usual, we’re only aware of this incident because a video, taken by a private citizen, escaped the notice of these two highwaymen (who would no doubt have seized and deleted it given the opportunity) and wound up instead on the local news.

Here’s what we know: a car swerved off the road into a ditch. A bystander ran to check on the driver (probably because that’s what decent people do when they witness an accident). When he realized that the driver was unresponsive he called the police (probably because they’re traditionally thought to be of assistance in emergencies). 

Immediately upon their arrival, the responding officers shouted at the driver, who lay slumped over toward the passenger seat, to put his car in park. When the driver failed to respond, they broke out both front windows and shouted a little louder. But the driver still didn’t move, so one officer struck him repeatedly with his club (presumably to help him hear better). This also proving fruitless, these courageous specimens of the thin blue lines took the ultimate risk: they opened the car door, dragged out the driver, threw him face down on the ground and chained – excuse me – “secured” him. 

Respect.

Only then – after screaming, destroying property, beating the driver and slamming him to the ground – did they realize that he was having a medical emergency and call for an ambulance. 

The only thing about this situation that is worse than the behavior of these two is what OHP spokesman/CYA officer Captain Paul Timmons had to say. 

“Officer safety is paramount in a situation like that. It’s three o’clock in the morning and you’re dealing with a bunch of unknowns… You have to take control of the situation and make sure it’s done in a safe way for everyone involved. That includes the troopers, the driver and anybody on scene.”

Officer safety? Did you really say that, Captain Timmons?  I’m curious – did you know that when firefighters and emergency medical personnel walk up to an unresponsive person we are supposed to consider our safety as well? Should we be using clubs too, Captain? Just to be safe? EMTs and Paramedics encounter people like this every day. Many of them actually are high or drunk, unlike this poor gentleman. 

I’m sorry, friends, but this is why good police officers are in danger. This is the number one reason why law enforcement can’t get no respect. Not because there’s a war on cops; not because there are too many guns; but because this kind of cowardly, abusive behavior by egotistical bullies in uniform is not only tolerated, but unapologetically defended by the law enforcement community. We’re assured that these two officers did everything “by the book.” Well then. Fix the book. 

These officers are criminals – no, worse than criminals, because they assaulted, without provocation, a very sick man who they were called to help. It was an act of unmitigated violence against the very society they claim to protect and serve. 

Now please don’t misunderstand me – I can sympathize. They were certainly “dealing with a bunch of unknowns.” Policing is dangerous, though not nearly so dangerous as the scare artists from the Fraternal Order of Pansies would have us believe. It’s probably also frightening, especially at three in the morning. It’s reasonable to consider that not everyone who applies is ready to face this kind of fear. So while some might say that the law these bullies were hired to enforce ought to apply equally to them, I’m not advocating anything so extreme. I’m not even going to suggest a sunny afternoon in a pillory with “To Protect And Serve My Ego” on a placard hung around the neck. 

Surely, though, we can agree that there ought to be some consequences. After all, they did walk up to a medical emergency (a man experiencing a stroke, perhaps, or going into diabetic shock – who knows?), smash the windows and beat the patient. Not even an ordinary thug would do that. Even if we do treat them as if they’re above the law, can’t we just fire them? 

That’s not too much to ask, is it? 

It might not be an easy conversation, but surely the OHP has someone up the chain of command with the courage to fire these two. “Johnny, I know that being a police officer is something that you’ve always dreamed of. But you’re just not ready, Johnny. You can’t beat your brother with a stick just because he doesn’t move when you yell at him. Especially when he’s about to die and needs help. I know it feels like in the movies, but life isn’t a movie, Johnny. You’re not quite prepared to carry a gun on behalf of the taxpayers, son. You need to grow up a little first. Best of luck to you – we’ll see you in the Krispy Kreme drive-thru.”

I’m not holding my breath. But one must dream sometimes …

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