Boy: Hello, Officer Friendly! Are you here to “Protect and Serve”?
Officer: You BET I am! That’s what the police are FOR, you know!
Boy: So why did the officer at the Occupy demonstration in New York mace the fleeing women who clearly posed no threat to him or anyone ELSE?
Girl: We saw it on the Internet.
Boy: And what about the police at the Occupy protest in Oakland who shot an Iraq war vet in the face with a “nonlethal” projectile…
Girl: …Fracturing his SKULL…
Boy: …And then tossed a flash-bang GRENADE into the middle of the crowd of people trying to help him as he lay bleeding in the STREET?
Girl: There’s a video of THAT online as well!
Officer: [silence, then…] You know, I think this could easily qualify as an “unlawful assembly.”
Boy: Sometimes you scare me, Officer Friendly.
Officer: Welcome to the real world, kid.
This cartoon recently appeared in many of our nation’s newspapers. Sure, we can all chuckle at it, but what’s behind it? Is this really the way it is, as Officer Friendly suggests?
The latest video clip on Occupy Movement at the University of California which resulted in the suspension of the police chief seems to make the point as we see this officer pepper-spraying a line of protesters sitting on the ground and locking their arms. (See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/21/uc-davis-police-chief-leave?newsfeed=true). Afterwards, the head of the UC system, Mark Yudof, responded:
“Free speech is part of the DNA of this university, and non-violent protest has long been central to our history. It is a value we must protect with vigilance.”
As of this morning, the video of this incident has been viewed 1.3 MILLION times! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmJmmnMkuEM. Social media brings this kind of egregious conduct by police into an international domain. (While the use of pepper spray may be permitted for police to use in these kind of resistance situations, one has to ask the question, “Even though it may be legal is it right to do so? Where is the ethical responsiblity here?).
Nevertheless, it looks like the Occupy Movement may be here to stay. It will test our Constitution and the value we give to free speech and public assembly. And I, for one, except that our nation’s police would be more creative and considerate in how they respond to this movement and others.
While we have been focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the resultant problems here in our nation is that since that fateful date in September, 2001, our nation’s police have become more and more militarized. Some have said that on that day we have witnessed the end of community-oriented policing. I think they may be right.
With funding from our government, our police now have the upper hand in dealing with protest – they have the equipment and technology. But what they don’t have is the brain-power to think creatively. Their equipment makes negotiation with protesters unnecessary because they have the power to move and arrest demonstrators at will. It was not always this way. You can see this simply by scanning the Occupy videos on YouTube. Few police departments have acted responsibly as the peacekeepers they should be.
I understand that these are difficult situations in our country, but do our police use the “best of methods” to respond to protest that are in keeping with our Constitution and Bill of Rights? Is there something less in terms of force than what we have seen over and over again? I wonder, what’s the rush? Why not negotiate? Why not facilitate the protest? Why not think?
After all, these were strategies we in Madison used through the 1970s and into the 90s and which I document in my new book. They worked for me and my officers and they worked for citizens, those who wished to exercise their right to voice a grievance.
An excerpt from my book talks about the importance of hiring the best men and women to serve as police. As a nation we should expect nothing less. The failure to do so and properly train and direct them can be disastrous in a free society such as ours:
“I was committed to hiring a new kind of person to be a police officer in Madison—people who would share my dream, and educated men and women who’d thought they’d never consider being a police officer until they heard about what we were doing in Madison. Consequently, those men and women whom I selected during my career are still contributing to the department today. They are the ones now who sustain the dream. They were the ones who responded to my public cry to “join the other peace corps!…”
“As the years went on, the department became highly respected by our city’s large student population for the way in which we handled protests without resorting to violence. They took notice of how we articulated our role in society, especially in our policies restricting the use of deadly force, limiting high-speed pursuits of motor vehicles, and decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. We also worked closely with public and private agencies in the community in which we had a partnership, such as the county mental health department, safe houses for juvenile runaways and battered women, a private detox house for public inebriates, and the rape crisis center. Soon the community came to see us as enlightened, educated, compassionate, open, and responsive to its needs. This is what police in a democracy do.”
But there is more than just selecting, training and directing police officers. They must be led by creative enlightened leaders who have a knowledge of and commitment to the values which make a free society.
“One of the most important things police do is ‘handle’ people in crowds. In the long run, a professional police will ultimately be judged by how well they do this—that is, by how they do it fairly and effectively, without regard to whether they agree with the people in those crowds or not. Overall, police officers should treat everyone they encounter respectfully, with courtesy, and without regard to their race, gender, national origin, political beliefs, religious practice, sexual orientation, or economic status. It’s a big job, but the primary function of police is relational, whether they are responding to a domestic dispute, investigating a crime, enforcing a traffic regulation, helping an elderly person cross a busy street, or handling a crowd. Once this is understood, it is a lot easier to figure out what it is police need to do and how they should do it.”
In reality, the job of police is not to repress dissent in our society but rather to facilitate it while working to protect those within the protest crowd as well as those on the outside who disagree with them.