I think cops, firefighters and emergency room staff are heroes. These are people who, all day long, deal with humanity’s most dire circumstances. Today, speaking of cops in particular, I can’t imagine how difficult it is to deal with not just the worst of us on our worst days but with the violence, heartbreak and always-imminent danger. I’m not unselfish enough to have taken on that challenge and, perhaps, because of this I should be cautious about my criticism. I believe I am.
But there are some seriously bad cops out there. And because they are cops they, unlike any other professional, should police their own. In too many cases they are not doing a thorough enough job of it. And in too many cases, they protect their own. This is nothing new. But as we find some of the current presidential party nominees wanting to replace the constitution with the Bible, profile neighborhoods based on religion or ethnicity, deny rights based on sexual orientation, or have this immigrant nation round up immigrants and, without due process, send them back to what may be a deathtrap, it is clear that authorities, including police, are taking advantage of their power to support their personal prejudices while some police are required to enforce illegal (read unconstitutional) policies set up by small minded governors, state legislators and mayors. North Carolina and Mississippi are prime examples. So is my home state, Indiana, whose governor, Mike Pence, has taken his personal and bigoted opinions and signed or tried to sign them into law.
Recently, an Indiana state trooper (after a couple of lawsuits) was finally fired for stopping motorists for legitimate traffic infractions, asking the drivers if they accepted Jesus Christ as their savior and what church they belong to. Reading this reminded me of an incident in 1970 when I was stopped in Carmel Indiana, a ritzy suburb of Indianapolis, for having a peace symbol decal on my Karmann Ghia. I was told to peel it off or face the consequences. The Carmel cop wore what seemed to me to be a pretty big gun on his belt. Sitting beside me was my lover, who was fearless and who, when pissed off, became angry in a stereotypically, intentionally queenish way, sometimes with a "snap" at the end of his tirade. I begged him to remain silent while I, losing any shred of dignity I might have possessed, scraped off the peace symbol. My thinking was if a decal made this cop belligerent, what would two gay guys do to his tiny reptilian brain. I didn't’ tell the cop I was a veteran, including a stint in Vietnam and as well as being constitutionally entitled to my opinion. He had already appointed himself sole arbiter of what rights he thought I should have and no doubt any other “hippies” who crossed his path. One of my regrets is not doing something about this. I can only tell you it was 1970, and I wasn’t as brave as some cops who put their lives on the line to protect us no matter who we are or what we believe. I wasn’t as brave as those drag queens at Stonewall in 1969, demanding equal rights in the face of armed opposition. Had I made a row, I would likely have lost my job and our home. It was a battle I didn’t think I could win. I was cowardly but pragmatic. Even with my small humiliation, I dreamt of ways to get back at the cop. To get revenge, even if it made me an outlaw.
Yes, this is all minor compared to the inordinate number of deaths that un-armed African Americans endure at the hands of police in various parts of the U.S., the number of African Americans who are stopped, searched and questioned without probable cause, or the percentage of African Americans who populate our prisons.
However, if we tolerate police officers who feel empowered to enact their prejudices or turn a blind eye to those police among them who do, we have a society that perpetuates inequality and its offspring – bitterness and violence. It is how abuse of the law by those who are supposed to enforce it fairly can create criminals and terrorists.