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David Horsey is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist whose art currently adorns my Facebook page (address noted below, eager fans and haters).
The cartoon depicts a police officer in a shooting stance with four people gathered behind him.
The first person behind the officer says “There’s a bad guy, officer! Do something!”
The second adds, “But don’t do it too soon, or too late!”
The third adds, “And not in disproportionate numbers!”
And the fourth finally adds, “And remember, whatever you do, you could always be our scapegoat.”
It’s captioned “The training they don’t give at the police academy,” and it’s one of the most succinct encapsulations of high-stress cop-decisions I’ve ever seen.
Last week, a graphic video of local police using force to affect an arrest was released prompting discord from every corner of the city, from citizens to administrators. The video recorded events that prompted the police chief to fire the officers question, brought in the FBI to assess the action for civil-rights violations and present their findings to a grand jury to determine if criminal charges should be brought forth. (In other words, it prompted the chief to cover every base. That’s not a knock on him; that’s his job.)
Sounds pretty cut and dried, right? Well, the officers are suing to get their jobs back, there’s been no word from the FBI, and the grand jury failed to indict them and found no evidence to bring criminal charges against these officers after reviewing the video in its entirety (an act usually omitted by the critics of such videos).
To add to the confusion, the defendants’ attorney initially stated the “victim” was armed only with an MP3 player (which he claimed he had sworn testimony prove this), but the video showed a knife that was eventually dropped and hidden by a fellow Bureau of Prisons resident at the facility where this took place, and that the defendant who admitted to having just consumed cocaine refused more than 80 documented orders to stop, lie down on his face and put his hands behind his back.
The conclusion of two observers? That this clearly indicates a white supremacist social order and racism within the police department and that this department should be disarmed in order to reduce acts of violence against the public (which I found were strangely specific conclusions given the broad nature of the use of force).
The conclusion of a third observer? That this guy should probably have just lain the #%*@ down and put his hands behind his back. (I don’t believe I have to say anything here.)
Yet sadly, a fourth observer may as well have suggested we all order an ice cream cone and place it on our heads like a hat, because apparently that suggestion would have as much relevance to some as others.
The point I’m trying to make here is not a judgment call of support or shock for the officers involved, or even for the coked-up felon, who earned himself a rapid admission to a trauma center as a result of the initial attack he committed that instigated the police response and his refusal to cooperate after the arrival he effectively insisted upon.
My point is that you don’t always have to “lose” to lose. You just have to show up.
It’s a frustrating job, one in which the only benefits are a shitload of free coffee and a pension check after 25 years. But anyone of those calls during that period can have a life-altering, if not devastating effect on the officer or officers, and you never know when that’s going to occur. And even if you live through it and keep your job post-incident, who’s to say it won’t have mental ripple effects on both yourself and those around you? You shot the bad guy, but the bullet went through him or her and then into an innocent kid down the road. He pointed a gun at you … but it turned out to be a toy.
There are probably a thousand variants of these events played out in real life by thousands of cops over the years, but what do you do? Not work? Work in perpetual fear?
It’s a great job. No, seriously—but some need to realize that perfection can’t be demanded any more effectively than respect can, and that a cigar really is just a cigar on occasion.
The difference between retirement and termination? Just one call, just one traffic stop.
No pressure, folks.
Alex Teach is a police officer of nearly 20 years experience. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/alex.teach.