A Few General Remarks on the Police

by Jay Nordlinger

The problem with expressing sympathy for the police is that people always say, “Oh, you don’t care about police brutality, man? You think a guy with a badge should be a god? You wanna live in a police state?” Um, no. Me good liberal democrat.

The police have a difficult, sometimes impossible job. They have to act defensively all the time. (This action can be more like inaction.) They have to play rope-a-dope. They can’t attack, they must absorb.

They have to wait until the last possible second before acting. Certainly before pulling the trigger. But who’s to say what the last possible second is? If you pull the trigger, people will always say, “That wasn’t the last possible second.” For PR purposes, a policeman may be better off dead. He can say from beyond the grave, “See, I told you I was in danger!”

I once had the experience of umping a baseball game — calling balls and strikes. It was miserable. I had always played baseball, and watched baseball, and I’d had no idea umping was so hard. From then on, I had greater sympathy for umps and refs. I thought that athletes, and maybe fans, should have to ump or ref a bit. That would make them less judgmental.

And I’m just talking about games! What about life-and-death situations out on the streets?

“Demilitarize the police!” people say. Okay. But when a military or quasi-military posture is called for, don’t let the police stand there, demilitarized. Don’t sacrifice them for what you regard as your principles. Call in the actual military.

If you want a cop to be a nice, fatherly guy walking the beat, talking to Mrs. Miller about the neighbor boy who plays his music too loud, fine. If you want him to face and contain thugs — that’s something else.

And if a policeman breaks the law or abuses his authority, by all means bust him. Did that cop in Missouri murder that young man? Lock him up and throw away the key. Or, if you believe in capital punishment, execute him.

No one is above the law. But it can be well-nigh impossible to enforce the law in an unimpeachable way — in a way immune to criticism.

We all have huge sympathy for the policeman after he is dead. We tear up at those funeral processions, watching the men march in their dress blues, listening to the wail of the bagpipes. “Our finest! Our finest!” we say. Sometimes our finest have to scramble to stay alive, and protect our behinds. They have to make hasty decisions in harrowing circumstances.

But it’s their job, you can say. Sure: but what a job. Well, they didn’t have to sign up for it. They could work in a hardware store. Sure. But thank heaven someone is willing to do this job (and I wouldn’t sign up for it).

I have had family members on the wrong side of the law. I have not had a family member, to my knowledge, who has worn a badge. I know about police abuses, and, even more, about fear of such abuses.

But I have great sympathy for the police, and gratitude for them. I remember my little experience umping. Maybe I should try policing for a day, for an hour — not in some cute Mayberry, but on scary streets.

Also, I recognize, or think I recognize, that life can differ greatly from theory. It’s one thing to theorize at your desk, another thing to be out on those streets.

One last word (for now): I have been in a couple of police states — real police states, a lot different from America — and have tensed at the sight of uniforms. But I know that our policemen generally stand between us and barbarism (same as our military does). I know that the job can be incredibly hard and thankless.

We want the police not to be too rough. We want them to be white-glove clean. We should. And if the criminal gets through to us, and hurts us, we may turn to the police and say, “What the hell happened? Why aren’t you doing your job?”

I’ll stop now, as promised. You get my drift (and I have been repeating myself, like a bad journalist, and blogger). Police abuses have to be guarded against, 24/7. But a lot of us cut the poh-leese some slack, and maybe too much at times. Are we Nazis for doing so? No way.

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