06/16/2019
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By: Jefferson Weaver

The boy had to stretch a little to make it atop the vinyl-covered stool, and he had to stretch to reach the scarred Formica counter top. Like most diners of the era, cigarette smoke and the smell of the lunch special dominated the air.

The boy had about a dollar, and he knew he could get a Coke on ice and have some change left. He was hot, his feet hurt from his cowboy boots, and the restaurant was busy. The waitress was in the middle of the mill lunch period, and didn’t have time for a dusty boy. The boy waited patiently. He wasn’t scared, because he knew who to ask for help as soon as the man came through the door.

The cadaverously thin police sergeant with white Elvis hair sat down beside him. “Hot, ain’t it?”
“Yessir. Can you call my dad?”

The cop looked at him sideways. “You run away from home, boy?”

“No, sir,” the boy said. “My daddy always said, if I ever need help, find a policeman.”

He went on to explain that he had caught a ride to a friend’s house on the edge of town, but no one was home. He lived in the next town over, so he walked to the diner, the only other place he knew was open, since the barbershop was closed on a Wednesday.

More than 20 years later, that officer regularly reminded me of how we first met.
I have known some bad cops. One or two rebuilt their lives after their misdeeds came to light. Some went to jail. At least one, maybe two, were likely victims of politics, rather than malpractice. A few even skirted being fired or charged with crimes, and were able to retire.

I have known some bad cops—as a reporter, it’s inevitable that you occasional run across them. But the bad apples make up only the tiniest percentage of the officers I have known and occasionally called friends in the three decades I’ve been in the news business.

I do not have the courage, patience or selflessness to be a policeman; I doubt most of us do. Every officer out there is faced with the reality that he or she might someday have to stand between danger and someone who not only doesn’t appreciate the police, but actively dislikes anyone with a badge.

By no means would I try to excuse the bad behavior – or in most cases, alleged bad behavior—of a crooked law enforcement officer. They take an oath to be held to a higher standard, and that standard should always be met and exceeded. Indeed,  people often get angry over their child’s arrest, when it was the result not of the policeman’s actions, but poor parenting. That’s when a law enforcement officer has to be his or her most professional.

I cannot comprehend why it’s cool to write songs and make movies glamorizing the murder of police officers, any more than I can understand why there is an immediate assumption of guilt on the part of the cop when someone is hurt by a law enforcement officers. Common sense tells me that if the officer with the authority to question my actions gives me a legal reasonable instruction, I need to be polite and respectful, even if I disagree with him. Most officers I know and have known practice a lot of on-the-spot discretion; if it weren’t for that good judgment, the jails would be a dozen times as full as they are right now. Good manners go a long way.

Something that really confuses me is why, if someone is physically threatening a police officer or another person with a weapon (be it their hands or a machine gun) that suspect or his family is surprised or offended that the suspect’s quite likely to be injured, if not killed.

If I insist on touching a hot stove, despite being told not to do so, I’ll get burned, and it’s my own fault. If I were to refuse to put down a weapon when told to do so by a policeman, there’s a better than average chance that the one with the best training, who did everything right, and should have the law his side, is likely the one going home. Folks who can’t understand that actions have consequences don’t need to be killed, unless there’s no other alternative, but they don’t need to be coddled and allowed to hurt and kill others, either.

The officer’s number one job is to protect the public, then himself. Last on the list is protecting the life and health of someone who has decided to break the laws designed to protect him and the rest of the general public. That’s how it should be, in my opinion.

Yet we have a new culture, one where the officer making the split-second decision has to put aside the distractions that he or she can quickly become a national enemy, unemployed or even charged with murder for killin’ someone who quite possibly needed, or at least deserved, killin’. Even if the officer is cleared for a shooting or other injury, the vulturine nature of the civil process means he or she can still be sued and financially destroyed – even if the officer was right, and the suspect wrong.

Do not get me wrong—officers who make heinous mistakes should be punished, but whether or not their decision was the right one needs to be decided in a courtroom, not in the media. After all, the people they arrest are generally allowed their day in court, and it’s often paid for by the taxpayer.

I just have to wonder where we would be if all the police officers, Highway Patrol troopers, deputies, Wildlife officers, state and federal drug agents, detectives, and local officers decided at one time that it just ain’t worth it, and walked out. So many of the same people who scream about police brutality and abuse and militarization are the same ones who are incapable or unwilling to stand up and defend even their own homes, much less their communities. They regularly kick the sheepdogs who guard them.

Yet—professional law enforcement officers just shrug and drive on. I doubt my skin is thick enough to accept the abuse many of them receive, both on the national and personal scale.

By the time you read this, the mother of a newborn child will be buried in the Midwest. She was a police officer, and was assassinated, killed from ambush, a trend which is somehow becoming acceptable in some parts of society.

There likely won’t be a federal inquiry into her death. I’m sure there won’t be protests, or riots, or burned vehicles, or lofty insults from the floor of the United Nations.

Her little girl will grow up without a mother, but I’m willing to bet, when that baby becomes a child, and finds herself in trouble – she won’t call out for a national politician, a movie start or a gangster.

She’ll call out for a police officer, and I’m sure one will be there, for her and every other kid who needs a friend, a confidante and a sheep dog in this land of wolves.

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