The greatest advice I received in my college days came in the fall of 2009 during the first day of “Psychology in application to law enforcement.” The class was taught by a tenured professor who was a former Athens County district attorney that taught the class once a year.
The first words out of his mouth to the room of forty or so students are words that I believe–now more than ever–should be taken to heart:
“Don’t trust the police. They aren’t your friend.”
The professor would go on through the semester discussing and explaining the tactics that officers and attorneys use to entrap the regular citizen, all in the name of justice, but mostly in attempting to protect the precious “thin blue line.” As a sheltered white male from Appalachia, the concept seemed absurd. Why should I not trust the police? Aren’t they there for a reason?
I would discover a few years later that I was so very wrong. A late-night smoke break with a friend on his patio at an apartment complex fast turned into a police shakedown. County sheriffs surrounded the complex on a routine sweep for drug busts in the area, which usually meant a dog-and-pony show that allowed local police to break out their toys.
Body armor. Automatic shotguns. Mobile armor divisions. You know, all the things that a police force for a village of less than three thousand citizens should have.
My professor’s advice ran through my head as a formation of four sheriffs swiftly moved in on my friend and I as we stood casually by his open back door. As the lead of the formation moved into the light I saw he had an assault shotgun pointed at both us, screaming to get our hands in the air and to tell him what we were doing outside at 11:30 at night.
I couldn’t speak. The only thing I could see or hear was the end of his shotgun. my blood pressure shot up, heat reverberating around my head like an aura. I couldn’t hear the discussion my friend and the officer were having, only that I couldn’t think and wanted to be anywhere else.
Given that, I can only imagine the terror felt in Ferguson over the last week in the wake of a college-bound 18-year old black male being gunned down in the most dubious of manners.
The sad truth is that Ferguson could be any small town. The race riots and assault on civil liberties isn’t localized to one small part of the country. This is the repercussions of the militarization of police in our country, an effect of the failed “War On Drugs” that began in the 1980s and continues on to this day.
This same militarization is what scares conservatives into the thought process that their guns are going to be removed from their homes in the dark of night. It’s the reason why a SWAT team shoots a flare canister into the crib of a sleeping child, permanently scarring them, all in the name of justification, and so much more.
Can anyone be shocked? This is the result when you give equipment that is of better quality than what deployed troops in Iraq to Joe Officer from “Middle Of Nowhere, USA.” A justification is required. A war is being fought against an enemy that doesn’t truly exist.
Ask yourself why police are in force in Ferguson, accosting journalists and attempting to quell a peaceful protest. Ask yourself why the National Guard wasn’t called instead. Ask yourself why police aren’t required nationwide to be wearing cameras and recording devices at all times. Ask yourself what a police department for a town of 21,000 people needs armored PAC units, riot armor, AOE tasers, and other military-grade equipment for.
Most of all, ask yourself what extremes are going to have to occur before any true change can happen. It seems we are doomed to repeat the history of the L.A. race riots of the early 90s, ad nauseum.
Maybe we as a nation should have spent less time worrying about the cost of freedom and protection, and more about what N.W.A. had to say on the subject of the police.