Equal Opportunity Police Brutality
Many moons ago, I worked as an undercover store security agent. The work brought me into contact with a variety of law enforcement officers. One store I covered, located in a rough part of town, fell within the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s department. We caught many shoplifters and fraudsters and we referred them to the sheriff’s department for criminal prosecution. I used to cringe when one particular sheriff responded to the store. We’ll call him Joe. Joe was the quintessential middle-aged officer who had long since burned out on law enforcement. He was mean to every suspect right from the point of first contact, often antagonizing them until they fought back physically. If a suspect did not answer his questions quickly or if he felt they were deceitful, he would come down on them hard. Suspects that could have been released with just a citation to appear in court ended up being painfully restrained, arrested, handcuffed, and hauled off to jail with a big brouhaha in front of customers and employees. (Oh such fond memories … not.)
All of our security personnel and many deputy sheriffs knew that Joe had a problem, but it was challenging to get anything done about it. He had tenure, so to speak. I eventually went to work for another company, so I never heard what happened to Joe and his rough-handed approach to the administration of justice in the community.
Here’s the thing: Joe was abusive and even physically brutal to ALL suspects. He did not care if a suspect was black, brown, or white; he was brutal towards all humanity that might find itself afoul of the law, no matter how minor the offense. As it turns out, Joe was a great mentor. Yep, he was one of the reasons I decided to not go into policing. Don’t get me wrong. I had the privilege of working with hundreds of law enforcement officers who executed their duties with professionalism, firmness, and even compassion. Out of those hundreds of officers, I encountered maybe two Joes. But being a police officer can wear a person down.
Real law enforcement work bears little resemblance to what we see on television and in the movies. Rarely is it glamorous. Officers, quite frankly, spend most of their time encountering the detritus of humanity. Yes, I know that God does not see any human being as garbage. But the reality is that some human beings live like animals. Day in and day out, year after weary year, police officers interact with the same types of people—criminals, the uneducated, the uncouth, the addicted, the manipulative, the violent, the deceitful, the mentally insane and occasionally some regular citizens who just need some help. After years working in the trenches of law enforcement, police officers can easily get jaded towards all humanity. It takes a special type of person to remain positive and professional under these circumstances.
You may have heard about the recent riots in Baltimore over the mysterious death of Freddie Gray, a black man, who died in police custody. After Gray’s death, the City of Baltimore erupted with cries of police brutality and racism. When these tragedies happen, some in the community immediately default to racism as the root problem. Apparently those same people seem to think the job of a police officer is little different than, say, a dentist or a businessperson. The reality is that if a police officer has crossed the line and used excessive force, or has simply been careless in his duties, it is quite possible that the officer has simply become extremely jaded towards people in general. It may have little if anything to do with racism in the heart of the officer. But apparently being excessively jaded isn’t as sexy as racism, though it is just as tragic. This is not to say that racism does not exist in police departments across the country. But come on folks, our police officers have a most unpleasant job that places them in constant contact with the worst the human race can produce. We can’t excuse their behavior when they cross the line, but we can at least have a little understanding and sympathy.