In fact, I'm not the type of guy one would expect to be writing about this. I was raised to not only respect cops, but to sort of look up to them. I remember walking the beach with my mother when I was little and watching the big, tall cops (they all seemed so tall when I was young) riding horses who loved to drop shit all over the sidewalks. While it was a big mess, it was a nice (albeit expensive) show for the public.
But, as I've grown older and can see things in a new context, so much about those walks on the beach with those big, tall cops just goes to show everyone what's wrong with cops today. It's all about power and the dynamics of authority.
I'm the boss and I'm looking out for everyone and I damn well better be respected on my big, gigantic horse.
Protecting the public is periphery, sort of like a mission statement or the Preamble to the Constitution. It's what cops do, but not actually what all of them are doing. But of course we all know that, whether it's from watching The Godfather, helping African Americans get the right to vote during the Southern Freedom Movement or being arrested for protesting outside the "Free Speech Zone."
Indeed, while I haven't ever been arrested (or committed a crime for that matter), I do know something about all this Free Speech Zone nonsense. In fact, it's one of the real formative examples in my life that showed me just how cops love their power and position.
Almost two years ago, when I was taking a seminar on Campaigns and Elections at UMASS Dartmouth, part of the class was to actually run a real election day poll, which would be reported on local news outlets. Each member of the class was paired up and assigned a location and was asked to take a poll on people as they exited the buildings after they voted.
I was assigned one of the biggest polling areas in New Bedford, a Middle School. As my Professor instructed, I went in to the polling precinct to introduce myself and my partner and told them what we were going to do. The nice, old lady in charge didn't seem to mind - not that it mattered. According to my Professor, whose specialty is the Judiciary and Law, we had every right to be there. My introduction was merely an act of common courtesy.
When my polling partner and I went outside, we walked far away from the entrance because we couldn't interfere with people coming in and out and started our assignment. It wasn't an easy assignment because most people were either in a rush or didn't like telling who they voted for, especially older folks. However, people were generally friendly towards us.
That was until out came the big, bad cop. He immediately started yelling at us and both my partner and I were traumatized. Like I said, I'm a goody-two-shoes. I've never been yelled at by a cop in my life and I doubt my polling partner had either. The cop had no interest in talking, so I could figure out what the hell was going on, only in acting big and tough - like a henchman or something.
Though we had every legal right to be where we were, my polling partner and I backed off and went further away from the building to appease the cop. In fact, we went across the street to the other side of the parking lot, where we'd only be able to talk to a much smaller selection of people. But, just a few minutes after, even that wasn't enough. Suddenly, we were booted off school property and I actually thought I was going to be arrested for doing my homework assignment.
Totally removed from the polling location, our job was useless. We couldn't get anywhere near any voters to ask if they wanted to participate in the UMASS Dartmouth political poll or not. We called our Professor, still panicked, and asked what to do.
He quickly had us move to another location, but it was a small polling station. Furthermore, because of the fiasco with the cop, we missed the entire morning's results. Though the police officer at that polling place was exceptionally nice, the damage was already done. The entire results of the survey were ruined - at least in terms of a "scientific" poll.
It was actually quite sad because it was 25% of my grade. I wasn't marked off for it; indeed, it's a story my Professor likes to tell his classes now. However, it was an experience I was looking forward to. As a person interested in politics, being one of those pollsters for a day was pretty exciting. Not only did I do the actual groundwork, but I followed up by helping compile the results.
However, like I said, those results were flawed - and I was disappointed. We had less than one hundred responses - compared to other polling locations that had as much as four or five times more. Furthermore, because of my results, everyone's results were flawed: suddenly, a large portion of the full tally included data that was collected differently than from anywhere else. Most of my morning data was completely missing, because of that cop. My afternoon data was taken from a different location as the data from the morning - which hurt the results considering a major goal of the poll was to see how each city and even neighborhood voted differently. Furthermore, the Middle School in New Bedford was selected to help balance the other locations in the city which had different socio-economic backgrounds.
So one bad cop did a lot of damage in an effort to kill a public college's political poll, despite the fact that I broke no law and was completely obedient and polite. I gave into the macho authority the cop demanded and still that wasn't enough. By merely being there, he somehow thought I was challenging his authority and he wasn't going to have any part of it. In an effort to get me to leave, he made me go so far away that we could barely see the school. So I had to leave, because (especially back then) I was no Cindy Sheehan.
So I don't trust cops, even if I've never been arrested or have no reason to be afraid. I don't do drugs (I've never even smoked a cigarette, never mind tried pot) or conceal any weapons. I don't steal or commit fraud. Heck, I've never even got a speeding ticket. And, yet, I don't implicitly trust cops: each individual cop has to earn my trust, which is not only sad, but seems corrosive to society.
Of course, I haven't come to this conclusion because of one incident - it's only one personal story which illustrates my point of view. I could have written about how a reporter from the UMASS Dartmouth newspaper ended up in the hospital because of the same type of "less than lethal" crowd control gun that killed a young girl after a big Sox playoff game in Boston. What was he doing? A story on the rally. I could have talked about how a 20 to 23 year old hometown
There are countless examples of how police officers use and abuse their power. When cops abuse their power, even in "erasing" speeding tickets, they abuse the public trust. Trust is everything in a functioning society: it's what separates us from the Congos.
In towns and neighborhoods that are safe, people probably trust police officers a great deal more. In fact, if I had millions of dollars to kill, I'd pay for a study in police-neighborhood atmosphere and see just how that correlates to overall crime statistics. I have a funny feeling that when there's less trust in a community, there's probably more violence. After all, while I'm no Cindy Sheehan, lots of people really love to stick it to the man when the man's an asshole.
A more humble cop should be the standard we all seek to deploy in our streets. Cops shouldn't just be looking for felons in dark clothing, they should become friendly with residents and especially youth. They should be trying to make people NOT want to stick it to the man. Instead of always seeing those cops on their big, tall and expensive horses trot the beach, I'm very happy to see cops on bike - on eye-level with the public and clearly not worried about any weird masculine obsessions while they ride their Treks.