You Gotta Be Kidding (Part II: Muslim Americans)

Chapter Two in my book is titled, “The Circle Goes Round and Round.” It is a discussion of the history of democratic policing beginning in the mid-19th century with Robert Peel’s “Principles of Policing.”

I also write about how the circle DOES go round and round today and how police have great difficulty in learning lessons from the present as well as the past.

The NYPD’s assault on Muslim-Americans is another on of the “circle moments.” (See, for example, the New York Times article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/28/nyregion/nypd-muslim-monitoring-and-a-climate-of-fear.html.)

Over 50 years ago when I first pinned a police badge, this kind of intelligence assault was directed at civil rights protesters, then it was on those who were protesting the Vietnam War. In each of those instances, police stepped out of their role and started gathering improper and illegal intelligence information on people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Daniel Ellsberg. They forgot they were the folks who were supposed to protect and ensure civil rights, not violate them.

I remember in the mid-60s talking to Army intelligence specialists who were assigned to the precinct where I worked. Why were you here, I asked? They told me that there was an organized Communist-led revolution about to happen in our country — and the protesters were part of that conspiracy and that’s why they needed to be with us. Ah yes, ends justify means? Sorry, not in my rule book!

A few years later when I took over the Madison Police Department I found that Madison had its own intelligence operation that went beyond propriety and the law to gather information on student protesters. And while they were doing that, they found a tidbit now and then about local politicians and put that information into the file as well. Never know when you can use it. It was, you may remember, Asst. Chief Herman Thomas’ “Affinity Squad.” (There’s a lot in the book about it.)

But now the circle does go round and round and now we have Muslim-Americans being spied on. Come on, what were the police thinking?

If we are truly interested in protecting America it will not come from undercover police officers but by honest community policing — that is, by officers who treat all people with respect and dignity. Who work with citizens to help them maintain and assure  peaceful, safe neighborhoods. Do you think that Muslim-Americans want their homes and businesses blown up? Of course not. We’ve got to remember that America is now a diverse, multi-cultural society and we need police who know how to effectively work it. That’s why cops need to be smart and trained!

Nothing good with come of this demonizing of Islam but more and more trouble. A self-fulfilling prophecy? No doubt for some. But as for me, I won’t be part of it — nor will I support it.