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MoPOP at dusk, Seattle

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Men in Blue

A short note about cops.

I have known a lot of cops in my day, from beat cops on the street to Chiefs of Police. For the most part, the ones I have known have been excellent people, doing their best to keep order and sanity while doing a difficult job, regularly being confronted with the worst humanity has to offer.

I have also been beaten up by cops, while handcuffed no less. I have written about the incident before, which occurred in 1976. I'm convinced that there are a small percentage of cops who are attracted to the occupation because of the opportunity it gives a certain personality type to exercise brutality and sadism.

There has been a lot of talk about police brutality lately, about the police shootings of blacks, harassment of the poor and homeless and other nasty behavior. You can't watch the news without hearing a story of some cop pummeling some poor senior citizen at a traffic stop.

It is certainly true that cops patrol in a lot of really bad neighborhoods, but there are still far too many innocent people killed by them every year while reaching into their waistband for what turns out to be a nonexistent gun.

We know there are also racists in many police departments, as one quickly ascertains after visiting a police blog like CopOne or by reading various police tweets that have recently come to the fore.

Has there been a sudden rash of police brutality? I highly doubt it. I am sure that the rate of such behavior is remarkably steady. What we are witnessing is merely the integration of social media in our lives at a time when everybody has a video camera on their phone. Everything is immediately amplified in this age and we have perfect examples of social contagion distorting the fine and thankless job practiced by the majority. We are left with a crisis in credibility.

We have always had Eric Garners and Tamir Rice's, only it was easier to accept the cops' version of things when nobody had it on tape. Now there is a whole internet cottage industry of CopWatch, Cops behaving badly and Photography is not a crime type sites, constantly documenting such abuses, and an admittedly refreshing libertarian streak among the millennials that refuse to accept bad behavior from their authorities and demand their civil rights as provided by the constitution.

Technology is forcing us to modify our behavior and that goes for the police as well. The videotaping, twittering and social media phenomenon is not going to go away and will hopefully usher in a new age of accountability on the part of both citizens and their protectors.

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