When an off-duty state trooper strayed into the area in his official vehicle, many in the crowd surrounded the car, pounded on the roof, and shouted angry threats. Turns out the trooper was just a guy trying to get home after taking a class at nearby Coppin State College. But in the eyes of many in the crowd, he symbolized abusive power and his presence at the rally was a deliberate provocation.
I watched all this on television at a dinner party with a group of about 20 people. Many of those present were incensed by what they saw.
"Those marchers make me sick," one acquaintance growled, pointing an angry finger at the screen. "The minute you have an incident involving the police, people come crawling out of the woodwork, whining about justice. Look at them!" He was practically gnashing his teeth in rage. "Politicians. The NAACP. They're nothing but a bunch of publicity seekers and ambulance chasers! If they care about justice so much, why don't they rally against violent crime? Why don't they march against drug dealers? What about justice for ordinary people who are tired of being victimized by crime? No, the only time people get worked up is when police are involved."
This point of view always makes me mad, and this happenstance was no exception. I'd have leapt across the table and whipped the guy's butt, except that, as everyone knows, I can't fight. But I'm not going to let the matter drop, because I suspect many of you agree with the guy at the party.
You wanna know why people seem more worked up about alleged acts of police brutality? I'll tell you: Because police are not outlaws, stupid! Police are not supposed to think or behave the way criminals think and behave. Police exemplify law and order on the streets. But more than that, police are instruments of public policy. And if a segment of the public expresses concern about police behavior, the rest of us had damn well better listen.
The rally, organized by the All People's Congress, was held to demand justice on behalf of Eli McCoy, the West Baltimore teenager who was shot and killed by Housing Authority police officer Kenneth M. Dean III after the victim of a purse-snatching identified McCoy as the suspect. According to newspaper accounts, Dean thought McCoy was reaching for a weapon. Witnesses claim the young man had surrendered and was on his knees with his hands in the air when the officer shot him. This shooting is very reminiscent of the death of Larry Hubbard on Oct. 7; witnesses to that incident
claimed Hubbard also had surrendered when police shot him. The Hubbard shooting is being investigated by the city and by the U.S. Justice Department. McCoy's family wants an outside investigation of his death as well.
For the record, I personally find it hard to believe that officers would deliberately execute unarmed men, as some of the witnesses in these cases seem to suggest. It seems more likely that the common element here is fear. Officers in so-called tough neighborhoods overreact to the slightest provocation and make mistakes. It is no coincidence that "tough" neighborhoods are, more often than not, located in underprivileged minority communities. We used to call them ghettoes, and that is precisely what they areisolated ethnic enclaves where the ordinary rules of law and order do not apply.
The people in those communities have every right to express their outrage. They have every right to question public policies that make such mistakes all too commonplace.
These people would march against outlaws tooif outlaws responded to expressions of community outrage. They'd write biting letters to the editorif outlaws read the paper. They'd issue denunciations from the pulpitif outlaws went to church. Community leaders and elected officials would give outlaws such a scolding that the outlaws would never forget itif outlaws gave a damn what community leaders and elected officials thought of them.
I should think the distinction between criminals and police is obvious. What I really do think is that deep down in the dark and hidden recesses of your souls, many of you want to blur the distinction between the law and the outlaw. You want police to adopt outlaw tactics, much as gunslingers like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday cleaned up Tombstone by bending the law a littleas long as those tactics can be confined to the ghetto.
You all are part of the problem. You are part of the reason police officers are so afraid in certain neighborhoods and why citizens in those neighborhoods are so afraid of police.
I wish you'd all just shut up.
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