Does anyone here remember Officer Friendly? Do you remember how we were taught that the police are there to help us? Does the phrase “to protect and serve” still ring somewhere in your consciousness when you think of the cops? Is that how we still think of our “peace” officers or do we think of this, or this , or especially this? When we think of those incidents, what is our reaction?
I know for my part I am sickened. I do not understand the casual use of excessive force especially on the part of Lieutenant Pike. I also know that I am not alone. What has to happen in your head to make it OK to pepper spray peaceful protesters? Who would make a hero of such a person? At what point do we say, “well, she had it coming” to a child who has a less lethalweapon used against her? When did our admiration of the police turn into victim blaming supplication of their abuse of power?
One can blame 9/11 in part I suppose. The hero worship that poured out of that day for the brave (and sometimes foolish) actions of the police that day made us, as a culture, more ready to accept the legitimacy-no-matter-what attitude toward their actions. That alone does not explain it though. America’s love/hate relationship with the police swings on a pendulum, but that pendulum has been leaning wider toward worship over the course of my lifetime.
In my teen years we saw the cops worshiped, though not to this degree, as movie after movie praised maverick cops who laughed at politicians and liberals in their righteous war against (usually very dark skinned) drug lords. The cops were victims of bureaucracy in our collective eyes then, and during the Reagan years, mindless adulation of authority was the word of the day, as it had been through most of the fifties and the early sixties.
What really makes this strange though, this current cycle of apologists for police excess, is so many in this country have an increasingly anti-government attitude. Whether it is Occupy Protesters or Tea Party Marchers. I know that the Occupy Movement is not happy with the cops, but what about the Tea Party? Did they forget that the cops are part of the government? Or is it that their corporate backers make sure to instill a proper love for the police who, before all else, protect their property and privilege?
I know I’ve quoted Acton before, but here it goes again “power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” No where is this more obvious to me then the video of Officer Feldman, the first link above. I know Mike Feldman, I know him to be a good man, but he put on the badge and was given licence to enforce the law as he saw fit. He was told by our culture that he can do no wrong so when it became more expedient to spray chemicals into the face of a drunken but non-threatening individual, he did so, confident that he would not be questioned and confused when he was.
They are our servants, all of ours. They should not get their marching orders from the moneyed elite and we should not receive carte blanche approval of their actions. We allow them the power to harm and kill us in the name of keeping us safe. Because of this, we have a responsibility to ourselves to make sure they do not abuse that power, and to question every time they use it.