See beyond “the police” for change…

It is absolutely the worst kept secret that police officers are our own worst enemies.

For whatever the reasons are, we not only look a gift horse in the mouth, but we question it, frisk it, shake it down, and run it for warrants just in case.

Damn.

Another black man is dead, and what I’ve been reading all day is that he was killed at the hands of “the police.” This time, it happened in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It seems we can’t take two or three baby steps forward with rebuilding public trust before we take a giant, grown man step backwards.

All I’ve seen all day online line is that we, “the police,” are awful.

“The police” are racist.

“The police” are blood thirsty.

“The police” are violent.

“The police” are vengeful.

“The police” are acting as judge, jury and executioner on the streets of America.

“The police” killed this unarmed, well, I guess armed man, but not armed in the sense that he was a threat, no. He just had a firearm in his pocket while he sold music illegally at 12:45 in the morning.

Killed for selling music? That seems harsh.

Wasn’t there a call that this man had threatened another man with a gun? Whether that’s true or not, wasn’t that how the call came out? Is that what responding officers heard?

I’m not making apologies for the officers involved in this shooting. I’m not saying they’re right by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m also not going to sit idly by and let people, most of whom have never in their lives answered a 12:45 AM radio call for a man with a gun, denigrate the reputation of “the police” without being taken to task for their overly broad assertions.

You see, as most of my regular readers know, I am who you are talking about.

I am “the police.”

On Wednesday morning at 12:45 AM Baton rouge time, however, I was sitting on my couch in Missouri, hundreds of miles away, drinking chocolate milk with my dog while deciding whether or not to write a blog post or just go to bed. I was completely oblivious to this shooting.

I’d just gotten home from working secondary at the Cardinal’s baseball game and must have missed the meeting where it was agreed that we, “the police,” were to be in Baton Rouge to kill another black man.

I clearly suck at being “the police,” because I’ve missed every other such meeting and have killed or criminally assaulted exactly zero other black guys in my nearly eighteen years of urban policing.

I was going to write a blog post about the bloody holiday weekend here in my fair city. Six or seven people were killed over the course of about twenty-four hours, none by “the police,” but now I see that there is more interest and outrage locally at this killing hundreds of miles away than there is about any of these or the dozens of other non-police related killings in St. Louis this year.

“The police” are working in trying times, for many reasons, some of which are admittedly our own fault.

Below are still shots from video provided by our police department to the media from just one of the killings in St. Louis on July 4th.

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This is one of multiple suspects, in the middle of the day – a holiday mind you, who is literally hunting down his victims in the middle of an urban neighborhood with an assault rifle.

He looks very carefree and confident.

He looks to me to also be wearing a bullet resistant vest.

People don’t wear bullet resistent vests unless they’re expecting to be shot at. I have to wear one when I go to work, because I have to expect that I can be shot at whenever I’m on duty.

The man in this picture could have very easily been wearing the vest because he also expected to be shot during the course of his work. Perhaps he considered that he would have an encounter with the police during his attempt to murder his victims. Maybe that was even his hope.

Fortunately for him, and potentially any police officer who may have crossed his path, it didn’t happen, probably because many of the would be police officers in this neighborhood were working a 4th of July detail on their days off.

The funny thing is, or sad thing maybe, depending on your point of view, is that had he been stopped by police prior to murdering anybody, this man would have been in more trouble had he had bottle rockets in his possession, than he would have been for carrying around this firearm in plain view.

That’s not even a little bit of sarcasm, that’s the truth.

That’s Missouri and the current state of gun culture here for you.

Griping aside, I do get the frustration.

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The little yellow markings above are just some of the many shell casings found at this singular murder scene. The lack of human decency for each other and the violence is completely out of control, and “the police” aren’t any more immune to it than the rest of the world.

I get that we want to have faith in our sworn protectors. We want to believe that “the police” aren’t unfairly targeting minorities, and we especially want to believe that “the police” aren’t killing minorities disproportionately, for reasons outside of anything but the defense of their lives, or the lives of others.

Are minorities killed disproportionately by police officers? I think the answer to that is pretty obviously yes.

Don’t confuse disproportionate with unfair necessarily though.

Do minorities commit more of the violent crime in areas where these confrontations occur? Again, based on where I work, I’d say that’s a yes too.

How do we fix that?

I teach Constitutional Law to new police recruits. I don’t teach them how to use deadly force, I try to teach them when they can use it. When are they okay to feel like they won’t be killed because they waited too long to protect themselves, or be sued because they used too much force prematurely? Those are difficult scenarios to teach in a classroom setting, but they’re even more difficult lessons to learn on the streets for the first time.

I’m trying to teach new police recruits that the use of deadly force is a last resort. I show them that the provision in our police manual regarding the value for human life is the first thing they’ll read after the table of contents. It’s there because it’s important for two reasons.

It’s important that they understand that they are vested with the right to proactively take another person’s life, if they have to. Not many other people possess that power. If they’re put into a situation where deadly force has to be used, they must be able to use it, or they or another person will be killed, or suffer serious bodily injury. It’s also front and center as a reminder that, with that power, comes great responsibility. We are tasked with protecting life, above all other things. That includes everybody’s life, even criminals.

We, “the police,” aren’t in the business of killing people for no reason.

I’ve taught my classes that it’s okay to walk away from certain scenes, if your uniform is only making it worse. Can you imagine that? Police officers leaving scenes they’re called to by the public?

There are times when it may be the better option, especially if it means a deadly force encounter is avoided.

Deadly force.

It HAS to be THE LAST resort. It should be the exception that a person die at the hands of police, and the ugly truth of the matter is that people dying because of the police IS the exception. When the number of police and citizen encounters is taken into account, the number of deaths, particularly wrongful or criminal deaths, is negligible.

While we’d like to never see a person die via a police shooting, that’s a pipe dream at this point.

There are violent people out there waiting to hurt you and your loved ones, and, if they could, they’d hurt the police.

Police officers are targeted like never before. I don’t need stats to know that I’m less comfortable now than I’ve ever been at work.

Just pay attention in your daily to commute to other people who drive straight through red lights or speed or change lanes without signaling or flip other drivers’ off. There is a general air of disregard for other people and the law nowadays, especially laws people perceive as trivial. Along with that disregard comes greater disrespect and animosity towards those who are sworn to enforce those laws, namely,”the police.”

I’m glad there’s video that exists with more and more of these shootings nowadays, both police shootings and otherwise. It’s easy to read about people being shot everyday, especially when it happens mostly in areas you don’t visit much, but it’s much less easy to watch it happen live. My hope is that the violence put in front of all of our faces will cause us to collectively gasp at some point and say, “What the fuck? It’s gotten to be too much!”

Maybe then, when we’ve finally had our fair share of real life violence splashed in our faces from all over television and social media, we can start to seriously consider how to fix what’s wrong with society, especially with respect to violence.

Until then, things will move along as they always have. There will be more conflicts and police shootings and finger pointing and people making a whole lot of noise to distract everyone from the real truth, which is that these noise makers are doing nothing with their actions to cause a change for the better.

They’re just being windbags.

Blocking highways and looting and yelling and screaming has proven ineffective, as has placating people with firings and policies and training for police that don’t address the true underlying issues, issues that are the giant elephant in the room that people with all the power can afford to ignore, and will continue to ignore, because it’s not their lives that are affected.

 

My hope is us little people, both black and white, police and non-police, can come together to figure out what to do to fix what so clearly ails us.

The cure will be found in the grass roots of what has become a decaying society. When citizens understand that “the police” shouldn’t bear the brunt of the actions of some bad police officers just as “black people” shouldn’t bear the brunt of the actions of some black individuals.

If we’re all unable to see the forest for the trees, with respect to each other, nothing will ever change. Ever.

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43 Responses to See beyond “the police” for change…

  1. BarbCT says:

    Reblogged this on Gallimaufry and commented:
    This post holds so much truth and carries a lot of weight. When will enough be enough?

  2. markbialczak says:

    Yes, Don, I agree. The blatant disregard for laws and rules and civility that seem bothersome has gotten to be too much. And that has mushroomed into too much violence, too much crime, too much killing, by civilians and by “the police” in response to all of the above. Damn, I wish we could fix it all.

  3. “’The police’ shouldn’t bear the brunt of the actions of some bad police officers just as ‘black people’ shouldn’t bear the brunt of the actions of some black individuals.”

    Amen! Thank you for the difficult and dangerous work that you do.

  4. The police is supposed to protect the citizens, however, as of late. They seem to be a threat. Even people who pose no real threat will be shot.

    • Anonymous says:

      You don’t know what happened before the cellphone video started. But after it did, the guy clearly resisted arrest, and he was STILL trying to get up when the police saw that he had a gun. Looks to me like the suspect was trying to get the gun out of his pocket with his own hand. How do you know the suspect wasn’t trying to shoot one of the officers with that gun ? And could you decide, if you were the officer, in a split second, whether or not your life was in danger ? With 100% certainty ?
      And did you forget the part where the police were called because this very man had been reported to have pulled a gun on someone ?
      And the part where he was illegally selling illegal merchandise ?
      And the part where he has a criminal record ?
      It’s very telling that we both saw the same video, but you gave the benefit of the doubt to the suspect, and I gave the benefit of the doubt to the police. Though to me, there is no doubt.

  5. tric says:

    We can only change the world one person at a time Don. Each one of us casts a ripple and never know how far it reaches.
    Over here (and I’ve no religion at all) there were years of exposure of the abuse by catholic priests.During that time I couldn’t imagine what it was like to be a priest in this country when so many who were deeply religious lost their faith. The image changed to that synonymous with paedophiles. Many tarred all with the same brush and many fine, good, caring priests had a very hard time.
    It’s not easy when the media bay for blood and stir things up, as does social media. You are up against it, but as I say you can only really influence your own world and hopefully with enough ‘don’s’ attitudes will change. Not today or tomorrow, but in time, hopefully. You just have to keep believing in you and others. There’s good in the world you just live in a world where sometimes you see only bad. Such is the nature of your world.

    • Thank you, Tric! That’s a really great analogy, actually. In much the same way that folks were turned off of religion, I think many are being turned off on the idea of being governed by laws. The disrespect for the law and for others is palpable. I feel like as long as I can go to bed with a good conscience every night, I did okay.

      • tric says:

        Yep, one day and one person at a time. Hang in there. I think acknowledging the force is not perfect is important as is knowing it’s not all bad either.
        The GRA have so much to answer for and a mentality of kill or be killed will leave many dead.
        I don’t envy you, but the blogging Don I’ve known from the start always showed great humour so I’m sure that will see you through.

  6. Sarah Jane says:

    Whether you’re the “Police” or “Black” or none of the above: All we have is that cellphone video and the knowledge that without a warrant, the police dept. went directly to confiscate the video surveillance from the store it was in front of. Maybe more things are developing by the hour, but none of us were there and it is a tragedy that a life was taken. And especially skeptic when the victim was restrained and on the ground with his hands being held behind his back… by two officers. I understand not blanketing a group, I wrote a blog post about it after Orlando, but I am looking questionably at these particular officers.

    • Anonymous says:

      If you saw his hands “behind his back” then I need to get my eyes checked, or you have superhuman vision. Because you can’t see that in that cellphone video.
      You don’t know what happened before the cellphone video started. But after it did, the guy clearly resisted arrest, and he was STILL trying to get up when the police saw that he had a gun. Looks to me like the suspect was trying to get the gun out of his pocket with his own hand. How do you know the suspect wasn’t trying to shoot one of the officers with that gun ? And could you decide, if you were the officer, in a split second, whether or not your life was in danger ? With 100% certainty ?
      And did you forget the part where the police were called because this very man had been reported to have pulled a gun on someone ?
      And the part where he was illegally selling illegal merchandise ?
      And the part where he has a criminal record ?
      It’s very telling that we both saw the same video, but you gave the benefit of the doubt to the suspect, and I gave the benefit of the doubt to the police. Though to me, there is no doubt.

    • The video is important evidence, and had to be confiscated. Generally, with video evidence, the store owner makes a copy and gives it to police. In other words, the store owner will hopefully have a copy still and/or would have at least seen the original and could say whether or not whatever the police later release was altered somehow. I assume that was your implication by saying the police took it. It is a tragedy whenever any person is murdered, and I understand the outrage. As an officer, I’m obviously more inclined to see what those involved have to say. Tactically, it seems like there were better ways to handle this, but there is a lot of information I’d want to know before I second guess them.

      • Sarah Jane says:

        I understand your point and the perspective in which you stand. But with Corey Jones, with the two others that happened in the last year where both victims were facing away and shot numerous times in the back, with the one now where an officer was murdered. There is something seriously wrong here and it’s ignorant to ignore it. That’s all I’m saying.

  7. With all dues respect to the fine (and challenging) work that men and women in blue do, Don, I think a point is being overlooked. And that is perception. Perception is discretionary and may not always be grounded in logic or sense. Yet is is the basis by which many sane and rational people formulate opinions and beliefs. Perceptions can be amazingly imbalanced yet in today’s digital world, they become viral. Unless there is a significant tidal change (meaning in behavior and actions), people’s perceptions are going to continue to be formed by what they see, hear and read in the mass media. Perhaps if fewer people tuned out the endless stream of horrific “news” and spent more time intentionally effecting positive change, needed social and cultural shifts might manifest. Until then and sadly, your noble colleagues will continue to battle perception – both good and bad.

  8. Melanie says:

    I hadn’t even heard of this yet. I’m still on a “news break” from the Pulse massacre. That guy in the surveillance still? Fucking scary.
    This shit happens all the time. Everywhere. People killing people, not cops killing people. It sucks either way, but a lot less people are killed by cops than by other just-people. Statistically speaking. It fucking sucks, either way. Too many people are being buried before their time. I don’t like it. Not one little bit.

    • You have a great heart, Melanie! It totally sucks that we’re so numb to violence that it doesn’t even make us blink to read 200 people are dead in some other country or that 60 plus people were shot in Chicago over a weekend. We can do better. All of us.

  9. Paul says:

    I agree 100% Don we are becoming a “Me” generation which emphasizes the benefit to the individual over all else – even the lives of others. I could pontificate for hours on this and its roots and its inevitable end, but it is so big and so ubiquitous Don, that I would have no idea where to even start to change it – if it can be changed. It took generations for it to develop and, if it can be changed, it will take generations to change back. And in all honesty Don, how many people do you know who look to generational change?

    So, to me there are two ways to change the world; 1) change the world and 2) change myself. Or as Micheal Jackson so astutely put it: “If you want to change the world, look in the mirror and change the man you see standing there.” I can try to change New York into a safe warm welcoming city or I can walk through New York in Peace (mind you with awareness and mindfulness,not ignorance) and encourage others to do the same.

    An example of this is the WW1 hero Sargent York. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_York A deeply religious man and a contentious objector, he entered war on a mission of peace. And the war parted before him. In one case he lead a small group to capture 13 enemy machine guns and dozens of enemy soldiers when no other actions of capture worked.

    So, Don, teach your students to go in Peace and they may very well end up in a confrontation but hey they will also spread Peace (and don’t forget situational awareness,instincts, intuition, and, because it is the result of millions of hours and people’s experiences, follow the rules and make good habits, unless you deliberately choose to break them). The Dalai Lama once said : ” Study and understand the rules well so you know when and how to break them.”

  10. Mike Thomas says:

    I believe this was the continuation of a beef that has been going on for a minute or two between MLK and Page gangs. That store was the target of a clip-cleaning about a month ago and the perp was seen haulin’ ass east bound in the alley between page and evans to a house midblock in the 4200 block of evans, south side. I think there are four houses houses mid block, two north and two south that STL’s finest stay away from. When the clip cleaning took place it took over 20 minutes for STL’s less than finest to show. Sad.

  11. djmatticus says:

    You’re a good person, Don. Thank you for all you do.

  12. Lance says:

    Who’s asking you to apologize for being a cop?

    As I’ve written to you before I work with police, fire and first responders as a project manager for a communication company. And the things they tell me about police accountability does not match up with what I see in the media and online. They hate bad cops and or people who suck at their jobs. It puts them in danger and they’re tired of defending themselves to morons who don’t know any better. Also, the police I know can’t stand so many people carrying guns. Direct quote froma 24 year veteran of the Dekalb County Georgia police – “more people should be wearing g-strings on the beach than should be carrying guns because ass doesn’t kill you.”

    Asking for police accountability is not anti-police.

    • There are a lot of cops who are pro-right to carry guns as well. I’m ambivalent, personally, but being able to carry an assault rifle in downtown St. Louis seems silly to me. I’ve never equated police accountability to being anti-police. With what we pay police officers and what we expect from them, it’s a wonder things aren’t even worse than they are, quite honestly. I’m not a passionate person like I think you are. I have my opinions, and I throw them out there in the hopes that my perspective, unique perspective I feel when it comes to police related issues, will help stir discussion by providing another angle. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me, good sir.

  13. When “those who would be President” are throwing insults at each other on Twitter, how can we as a society, hope to fix what ails us? I have no idea where to even attempt to start.

  14. I’m so glad you’re part of “the police”. I wish you were in my city!

  15. R. Thomas Hall says:

    Thank you for saying this! I am tired of “cop bashing”. My father is a retired deputy sheriff from Des Moines Iowa..and is one of the most gracious and kind men alive. I know of several occasions where his life was on the line at work. And how many people he assisted in the course of his career. But does this matter?

    Sadly, no. Because of a few bad apples that are glorified by media and social media it spoils all the good, honest hard working officers out there (and they far outnumber the bad.)

    So thank you for writing this. And tbank you for your efforts to keep the ungrateful and uninformed safe.

  16. america matters says:

    How ’bout we hold off the expository complaining about ‘overly broad assertions’ until the police correct the patently illegal “overly broad” presumption that every American is to be assumed a threat, assumed guilty, without core Creator-endowed rights, beaten until obedient as russian tactics were ever somehow warranted at any time; and the wrongheaded upside-down notion that your safety comes before ours.

    • The other side was the first to not hold off on anything, as judgements were made immediately based on a video with no explanation or insight into what was going on. Who is this core creator you speak of, and what does he or she have to do with what I assume you’re referencing as Constitutional rights?

  17. america matters says:

    And of course! ‘the police’ does not refer to individual officers doing a hard job in no-win circumstances. It refers to the force in general, the institution, and the pattern of conduct that unfortunately is expected, still being carved in the pages of history, STILL resulting in pointless, unnecessary, unjustified deaths of innocent unarmed Americans who made no wrong choice or false move.
    Win the game; Police your own. Civilians govern the military in America, not vice-versa

  18. america matters says:

    Stats show it’s the SAFEST time to be a police officer, pert near ever. Violent crime is way, way, way down, and being a police officer is far safer than many other occupations.
    A National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund report highlights that 2013 has had the “Lowest Level of Law Enforcement Fatalities in Six Decades” and the fewest officers killed by firearms since 1887.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/blake-fleetwood/how-dangerous-is-police-w_b_6373798.html

  19. Reblogged this on HX Report and commented:
    MB follows a blog called ‘Don of all trades’ which is written by a policeman called Don from Missouri, USA. He is a decent guy. He has written in the past about police shootings of black people in his country, and life in general as a policeman in USA. This post was written just after the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Tuesday just past, and before the shooting of Philando Castile in St Paul, Minnesota on Wednesday; and obviously before the shooting of police officers in Dallas on Thursday night.

    The post speaks for itself.

  20. claywatkins says:

    Don, I always enjoy your posts. I have had a few dealings with law enforcement of late and I’ve been grateful for the assistance and advice (slow down). Never once did I feel threatened, nor did I give attitude. But, I’m white and 54 years old, supposedly a bit wiser and more compliant, nor was I ‘high’ at the time. Admittedly, I was pretty agitated with the situation I found myself (not the speeding issue) in, but didn’t threaten or feel threatened. I felt that I was valued and I got the help I needed. Our country has BIG problems. I am grateful that you are a law enforcement officer and I am glad you are teaching new officers. Change It begins with you and me and all of the people we come into contact with day in and day out. Peace, Don, Peace.

  21. Pingback: By the lake, Friday morning thoughts | Making the Days Count

  22. Don, you are always a voice of reason and integrity. What are we going to do with this world?! Sigh. More ice cream please! And pass the wine.

  23. Pingback: Why #BlackLivesMatter to me | Big Cheese Dad

  24. dearlilyjune says:

    I learned a lot from reading this. I respect your line of work, and I’m grateful for the peacekeepers. Thank you, Don, for what you do. Because I respect you, and have learned much, I’d like to share some of my thoughts about things that weren’t touched on, but respectfully, sir. I am non-police, but I hold you in the highest esteem and share what I do below only because I think we can meet in the middle by sharing our respective positions.

    1. Not everyone, Don, has access to the same levels of education; some take media claims at face value without knowing how to do their own research. If you lived in a poor, black area, you might be very scared of police because you have been taught by your culture and your newscasts not to trust them. More needs to be done–through posts like yours, for instance–to show that there are good men on the force who would never needlessly take another’s life. Thank you for serving as a voice to do just that.

    2. In my mind, it is important to try to understand why crime might be a last resort, too, of certain groups in certain areas–a problem that is a much larger societal one and doesn’t begin with or belong to the police. To me, though, that’s what makes disproportionate shootings unfair; that not everyone is given the same fair start to live a life free of crime. After all, not everyone who resorts to crime does so just in flagrant disregard for the law. But there *are* those who do so, and for that, I’m so sorry YOUR life is put into additional danger.

    3. It’s worth considering that many protestors who are against police violence are not against “the police.” Not every policeman is a good man; neither is every victim. Institutional racism does seep into the police force, just as it seeps into every profession. Protestors who are compassionate, not just passionate, recognize this, and aren’t holding every single police officer accountable. They just want reasonable changes to a system so that EVERYONE’S lives are a little safer.

    4. I think some of the recent killings of black males in this country have been unjustified, enacted by individuals through a violation of protocol. The same happens in any profession; patients die at the hands of doctor negligence, for instance. Surely you might concede that not every cop excels at his profession. Those who fail to live up to the (incredibly important, unfathomably appreciated) last resort training like you provide should be held responsible for their actions. Police officers, after all, assume the risk and danger of their profession, and make a choice to enter and remain in that profession regardless of the risk. But some of the men who have been shot? They didn’t all have a choice in what they were doing, how they looked, who they are.

    5. That being said, every recent shooting is not necessarily an act of racial violence, either. Some are justified; some not so. More needs to be done to educate the public on how to recognize the difference. I wish police officers offered non-police education courses, explaining how I, as Jane Q. Public, could know how these situations work behind the scenes. I understand that, for investigations, we’re not often given all the information. But it’s a lack of knowledge–on both sides–that I think is creating the problems.

    6. When you’re not trained in police work, hearing that innocent deaths are “negligible” is a shock to the system. If my child were shot, it would not feel “negligible” to me. That’s a tough pill to swallow–like calling casualties of war “collateral damage.” The loss of innocent lives–of anyone, black or white or otherwise, police or non-police–is always a tragedy.

    And I hope, Don, that by starting this dialogue, you’ll have contributed towards lessening these tragedies. I hope, too, that you’ll stop by blogs that would disagree with your arguments, if only so you learn how and why others believe as they do, too.

    Thank you, sir, for all that you do. I hope nothing I’ve said above has offended you, but if it has, I hope you’ll continue the discussion.

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