Earlier today I saw someone having what looked like a mental health situation. He was a homeless man (assumed due to a shopping cart for his stuff) who had his things spread all over a sidewalk and he was swinging a pole around like he was practicing martial arts. Each time a car drove by he stopped swinging, made eye contact with the driver, and pointed.
He was not being destructive and I didn’t feel threatened. He just looked like someone who was having some sort of meltdown and could use some help from professionals.
Here’s the thing though. He was African American. Anyone being honest knows that is going to make the police look at this situation in a different light.
I did not want to be responsible for him getting gunned down or anything awful like that, so I did not make that call. I feel guilty about not calling but would have felt a hell of a lot worse if I had gotten him killed by some trigger happy racist.
I don’t live in a place with a bunch of gun-nut yahoos running around doing the “open-carry” thing. Around here, the only guns that have a high likelihood of being a danger to that man belong to the police.
I realize that I was just naïve when I was younger. I think that before the proliferation of cellphone cameras, many of us were.
When I was a kid, I was taught to go to a cop if I needed help. Now I tell my son to only call the cops if violence is an acceptable response to whatever the problem is.
If someone has assaulted you or you see a house being broken into, then, yeah, call the cops. If someone has already been violent, then you should not feel bad if cops use violence to subdue them. While some people would not agree with me about the break-in, I say that there is no way to know what someone’s intentions are if they are breaking into your home. It could just be a thief, or it could be a rapist or killer. Don’t wait to find out. Let the cops deal with them.
I don’t call the cops on loud neighbors or people who “look suspicious.” Isn’t it amazing how many times those allegedly suspicious people that have the cops called on them are just people of color going about their lives?
Unfortunately, that means that I didn’t feel safe calling the police for help for that homeless man. The city I was in when I saw him even has a special unit of their police department that has supposedly been trained to deal with mental health situations. I still could not get over my fear that they would harm him.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to live in places where the police are known to be trigger happy. We don’t really have that problem here. There are occasional police shootings but most have been pretty clearly justified.
That is not to say that our police are angels. When I was a kid we had a highway patrol officer who murdered a young woman while he was on duty. It came out during the trial that he had been pulling young women over in that secluded spot for a while. I bet if he had not been caught with the first murder there would have been others.
Sexual assault seems to be the thing for local cops to do around here. There have been quite a few cases, including one where the city paid the victim off with a quarter of a mil and the cop was never charged, just made to resign. Another cop was charged in dozens of cases and that is still working its way through the courts — both criminal and civil. Those were on-duty activities.
I wish that I had a solution, but I don’t. What I believe is that many people cannot handle power. If you give power to people who are not able to handle it, they will abuse it. I don’t know if that is a screening issue or a training issue or both. All I know is that most police departments in this country seem to fail at controlling their officer’s bad behavior.
Many years ago, I was briefly involved with a man who was a trooper in another state. He told me that a lot of people he worked with would be criminals if they were not cops. I think that sums up the problem pretty well.