Come Back Marshall Dillon

America, we have a problem. It’s sad but true. Police are out of control in many places in America. They use flimsy excuses to excuse bigotry while beating, maiming, falsely accusing, and killing. This has to be stopped.

Now understand, these unfit officers represent, hopefully, and we are told, a very small percentage of those who wear the uniform properly and proudly with humanity and distinction. But until that vast majority who truly protect and serve stop protecting the racist, bigoted beasts within their ranks; until that vast majority, and the departments themselves, take a stand for what’s right, they can’t complain about the negative spotlight cast upon all of them. John Q Public can’t waltz into a police department and clean it up. It must be the organizations themselves, purging and cleaning from within.

Make no mistake. I’m far from naive. Our police officers have the most difficult, dangerous moment by moment job in the country. They see and deal with the worst levels of our society. I respect them immensely. They face sights and situations and dangers the rest of us can most avoid, thanks to them. Their bravery is for the most part unquestioned. The simple traffic stop we take granted is, for them, never simple and never safe.

But here’s the deal. As tough as that job is, as dangerous, as discouraging, as scary, as thankless, if they cannot find a way to maintain their humanity and discard their prejudices, they shouldn’t be doing the job. For the vast majority of good cops out there, my heart goes out to you, for your bravery, your dedication, your humanity, and perhaps most of all, your resilience. You are the stellar examples we need. But when you protect those among you who shouldn’t be wearing the badge—and in most departments I’m sure those are well known—you do a disservice not only to those whom you have sworn to protect and serve, but more keenly to yourselves.

And yes, I’m fully aware that many if not most, of the excessive force and shoot first, ask questions later incidents are, more than anything, the result of fear, quiet insidious fear, that police officers live with every minute. It has to eat at even the strongest person in uniform. I can’t truly imagine, no matter how hard I try, what it’s like to feel that with every call, every traffic stop, and maintain one’s humanity and not prejudge and not give in to doing it to them before they can do it to you.  And yet, that’s exactly what we need our police to do.
I have an idea, for what it’s worth. It goes something like this. I recommend that every officer, particularly in the larger departments cities, be assigned to spend time every week, on the clock, in some activity to help counter the negatives they face. Group talk it out sessions, uplifting and positive activities with the community, things that do nothing but depressurize. Maybe that will help. Maybe you have a thought to make it a better idea. Go for it. Please.

But the bad apples have to go. Now. Immediately. Previously good officers who show signs of tending toward excessive violence may not even need to be fired.  There are probably plenty of honorable desk jobs that can to be filled, at full pay and benefits, by officers with severe signs of burnout. That seems to me to be the best way of ‘protecting our own.’

I grew up knowing officers. I grew up admiring and respecting police. I still do. But the incidents of brutality and killing of unarmed people, of policing with violence and brutality first, humanity and reason third or fourth, has to stop. The job itself is incredibly hard. There’s no doubt about that. But I also know this. A person with a badge a club a gun and the cover of authority, but lacking in humanity or possessed by racism and bigotry or just burned out, is far more frightening than reassuring. That isn’t the kind of policing we can live with in America.

We can’t accept policing our citizenry with Negans. Not even Dirty Harrys.  We need Reagans. We need Marshall Dillons, Reed and McCoys, Jon and Ponches  Joe Fridays. And we need officers who see humans rather than colors.

 

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