When I was a kid, growing up around Boston, this is what the police looked like. There were lots of protests going on against Viet Nam. I skipped school one day in high school and went with some friends to sit in at the JFK center in Boston. I watched the police release german Shepard police dogs on protesters as hundreds of us locked arms seated “indian style” on the concrete. People trying to go to work dressed in suits and dresses stepped over us to get in their offices. It was scary…terrifying at times…but even being a witness to that, I still had a respect for the police. I said to myself, “They were just doing their job.” Maybe things got out of hand a bit but we were taking a chance of being arrested and we knew it. The thing was I didn’t feel like I was the ENEMY. It was very conflicting times and I felt like my generation was as odds with “the establishment,” including my own Dad and I, but we weren’t at war with each other. “We,” America,was at war…though undeclared…and I wanted it to stop. So did all of my friends. I still felt in my day to day life, if I ever got into trouble, I could do what my parents had always said. “Go find a police officer…someone in uniform…they will help you.”
In my 20′s I was out of work and I saw an ad for a job a police officer. I didn’t hate them…actually I thought they looked pretty snappy in their uniform and some of them even rode horses. I could see myself doing that. And back then it was one of the few jobs where a woman could wear pants instead of a skirt. Being a baby lesbian at the time, I took things like this into consideration. The “cool” factor was important. Anyway, I applied for the job and went through the background check, the physical testing, mental evaluation and interview process. I passed all of it. Found out I could bench press almost 300lbs with my legs. Of course, I never told them I was gay. I was told there would be an opening at the police academy soon. As I waited, still unemployed and needing a job, I met my future bosses. They were not cops…they owned Treasure Coast TV. Before I was called back to begin my police training I was offered a job an “account executive” selling ads for a brand new 24 hour news channel called CNN. There was a huge poster on the wall in their office of Ted Turner, dressed in cowboy boots. It said, “I was cable when cable wasn’t cool.” The money was very good compared to a police salary although most of it was in commissions so I knew I’d have to bust my butt to pay my bills. I took it. I’ll never know if I would have made a good cop but I believe if I had become one and I saw the job change into what it is today, I would have left the profession.
I don’t know what changed police work. I think the so called “war on drugs” started it. I think the “war on terror” completed the process. Look at these 2 photos and tell me things haven’t changed.
There’s an excellent piece on Randi Rhodes site and alternet about the militarization of our police. I urge you to read it. This isn’t a right vs left issue. We all are paying for this. When I walk into an airport and see cops with M16′s (or whatever it is they use nowadays) I feel sad because it doesn’t feel like my country any more. We never had that here in the US before 9/11. When I went to Denver to cover the Democratic convention on my blog and I saw a black armored vehicle going down the street with a dozen police dressed in riot gear it felt like I was somewhere in a war zone.
Soldiers and police men and women are 2 different things. One is trained to hunt and kill. The other is trained (or was) to serve and protect. I don’t think police need military grade equipment and weaponry to do their job. I don’t think they should be using homeland security grants to pay for it. I don’t think you can hand all this to somebody not expect them to turn into a “soldier.”
I still will walk up to any mounted police officer I see on the street and ask if it’s ok for me to pet their horse. I will admire their fine saddlery and riding boots. I still respect that they put their lives on the line for us every day. However, we still have the Posse Comitatus Act. If the military can’t be the local police but they hand the local police everything they have at their disposal than what’s the difference? I wonder if in my lifetime I’ll ever see a “neighborhood policeman again.” You know who I mean…the guy walking the beat, carrying his stick and his hand gun…keeping the peace. On TV we called him “Andy” but around Boston he was always some Irish guy with a big smile.