Nicole Black at Sui Generis brings us a great video of a police encounter out of Ohio. For so many years, stories about how police used their shield for their own purposes have abounded, but were easily dismissed because it was the cops word against the perps, and we all know painfully well how that story goes.
But in a world blanketed in video cameras, we are now able to view events for ourselves. While these videos hardly prove the cops wrong every time, they do show us enough to bring a better understanding to generations of Law and Order watchers.
A few things stand out to me in this video, that the commentary fails to address. First, the cop involved was apparently the one who, moments before, paid for his meal with what he insists was a $20. In other words, he is not there as a detached agent of law enforcement, but as a man with a gun and shield who thinks he was beat out of $10.
Whether rightly or wrongly, we all feel that we have been subject to some wrong from time to time. What distinguishes our situations from this one is that we don’t have the outward signs of lawful authority to command others to do as we say upon pain of arrest or force. We give cops guns and shields to do their job, not to vindicate whatever personal issues may arise during the course of the day. Yet, according to the video commentary, this cop’s conduct was determined to be proper.
Moreover, the manager of the fast food joint, obviously upon the complaint of the cop, checked the cash register and found no twenties there at all. This, of course, precluded the possibility that the cop was correct and the young girl was wrong. For most of us, that would have been the end of the discussion. We might yell and demand our money, but upon the manager’s reasoned conclusion, the issue was over.
Not when the person making the complaint is a cop. Note that within seconds, the cop was back behind the counter where no mere customer may go. Can you imagine if you and I tried that? We’d be tackled, thrown to the floor and the (ahem) cops would be called to separate us from the rest of the free world. Not so when the complaining party is in uniform.
This speaks volumes about the phenomenon of “submission to the shield.” Tough guys crumble in the face of a cop. Here we have a fast food manager as the first line of defense. What’s he going to do to keep this irate cop from coming behind his counter? Do you think he’s ready to put his life on the line here?
Wait, you say. Life on the line is a “little overwrought?” Perhaps, but who really knows how things develop when you say no to the police. Is it possible that a firm “no” will do the trick? Yes, it is. But it’s also possible that it will result in further infuriating the cop, causing him to escalate his use of force from verbal demands to physical violence. Pepper spray is a start. But a nice baton to the head or worse is hardly out of the question. If you are working at the local fast food joint, do you really want to find out?
But the most striking aspect of this video was how ordinary the police officer seemed. He didn’t project a tone of some animal, or some cowboy rogue cop as TV likes to show when they portray a cop gone bad. He seemed utterly ordinary. But despite his regular guy demeanor, he lost control. He abused his authority and attacked a child. All to serve his own, personal ends. All over his (mistaken) belief that she shorted him $10. Can you imagine what might have happened if it was a $50?
All the while, the young girl working the cash register held firm to the belief that her mother would save her. To me, as a parent, this was painful to hear. We believe that we can protect our children from bad things. We do so because we want so badly to believe it’s true. What if this girl was your child, and you were confronted with the harsh reality that as soon as they go out into the world, even doing something as positive as working, we were putting them at risk of physical injury?
Should we lock them away in the house? Of course not, but we cannot help but be left with a sense of our impotence at protecting our children from the many sources of harm that our world has to offer. But of all the threats that we fear might cause harm to our children, who would have thought that the anger of an armed and irate police officer would be the one that would happen that day?
The fact that the police determined this officer’s conduct to be proper should strike fear in the heart of every law-abiding citizen and every parent.