Officer Friendly unquestionably exists. S/he just does not make the news like the recent police and National Guard riot in Lafayette Park.
When police and National Guard brutally attack demonstrators who are not engaging in any unlawful act, how is “police riot” not the correct descriptor? That they were ordered by their commanders and the President to clear the park, that they were organized in their assault does not mean their behavior was not riotous.
When police riot, it gains national attention. However, every day—with the possible current exception of Atlanta police—police officers engage in acts of kindness, compassion, humanity and protection. What about the officer called to a home where a woman had gone into labor and the officer delivered her baby before paramedics could arrive? What about the accident victim who would have bled out and died were it not for aid rendered by a compassionate police officer? What about the child injured in an accident who is tended to with care and empathy until paramedics arrive? What about the out of town visitor who gets lost and asks an officer for directions, and the officer leads the visitor to her/his destination?
Far too often, Officer Friendly does not receive the recognition and appreciation s/he deserves. As I have said before, these officers are the best of who we are. The questions are, how do we get more of them; and how do we eliminate cops who abuse the public trust they have been given? There are answers; not an answer. One answer is changing the culture of police departments, and that will not be easy.
Given the tremendous (and continuing) demonstrations over the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop, one would think police chiefs and precinct commanders would be cautioning/urging their officers to be on their best behavior, to be super careful in the use of lethal force. Apparently officers in the Atlanta Police Department did not get the memo. Another African American man, Rayshad Brooks, was murdered—shot in the back while trying to flee—by another criminal cop who then viciously kicked Mr. Brooks as was on the ground mortally wounded.
Mr. Brooks was killed by officer Garret Rolfe because Brooks managed to take Rolfe’s taser away from him. Mr. Brooks was not shot because he posed a danger to anyone. A taser in the hands of a civilian is no more a lethal than in the hands of a police officer. Why else other than having obtained Rolfe’s taser and/or racism would Rolfe viciously kick Mr. Brooks after he was mortally wounded?
(Full disclosure, I lived in Atlanta off and on for over 15 years, graduated from high school there, earned two degrees from Georgia State University, and have had multiple interactions with Atlanta police officers—most good, some bad, and one extremely bad encounter with a Fulton County deputy sheriff.)
Officers and police chiefs who say they want their departments “cleaned up” should approve of the arrest of Rolfe, who (appropriately in my opinion) has been charged with felony murder and faces the possibility of life in prison without parole. Actually, Georgia, unfortunately, still has the death penalty, which also is a potential penalty for felony murder.
Since most readers probably have seen video of officers Devin Bronson and Garret Rolfe interviewing Mr. Brooks at length, and probably have seen video of the scuffle and Mr. Brooks being shot in the back, there probably is no need to provide a detailed summery. What is extremely unfortunate in the aftermath of Mr. Brooks’ murder is the petulant, infantile temper tantrum being pitched by far too many Atlanta police.
Of course, Mr. Brooks’ murder is the second recent incidence of Atlanta police using unjustifiable force against African Americans. On 30 May, six Atlanta officers were involved in excessive use of force (brutality) against a male and female college student while riding in their car during protests in Atlanta’s Centennial Park. Both were tased, then forcibly yanked from the car. Four cops have been fired and are being charged for their criminal actions. Interestingly of the 6 cops involved in that incident, 5 were African American. As will be discussed in a future column, “diversity” might not be an answer to the culture of police violence against minorities.
The Atlanta police union says all of these officers are being denied “due process”. Think about that. What if six civilians are involved in stopping a car, breaking the windows (forget the tasing), and violently dragging passengers out of the car? How long would it be before they were arrested? How quickly would their employers fire them after their crimes?
What if you got into a brief scuffle with someone, that person started running away from you, and you shot that person twice in the back? How long would it take after you were identified for police to arrest you and the district attorney to charge you with murder? Days? Hours? Or minutes?
However, these piqued officers do have a point. Such quick action by a District Attorney is unusual. Police officers are not used to being held accountable for their actions, for their abuse of authority, for their crimes against the public, for their murders of African Americans. They are used to being permitted to act with impunity. This is a huge part of the police culture of violence, and it absolutely must be terminated.
So what the Atlanta police union really means by “due process” for Atlanta police officers is officers should be given exceptional treatment; their crimes should be tolerated. For how long? Indefinitely? Exactly; indefinitely.
To show their displeasure at criminal cops being treated like the criminals they are, for being treated as would a civilian committing these same crimes, many officers now are shirking their sworn duty. Some have contracted the “Blue Flu”, which apparently is even more contagious than COVID-19. Others are reporting to work, but are not doing their jobs. Some officers reportedly are saying they will respond to a call only if another officer is in danger. But, if Atlanta police are not doing their jobs, what “danger” can a fellow officer be in?
Every officer in the Atlanta police department took an oath to perform their duties, and to perform those duties in an appropriate and lawful manner. By not responding to calls, or by delaying response to calls, these officers are shirking their duties. Would we tolerate emergency room doctors reacting similarly if one of their colleagues were arrested for murdering a patient in the ER?
Atlanta police believe, by calling in sick, by slow-walking their duties, they have leverage against the city. But what they actually are attempting to do is hold the citizens of Atlanta, and non-residents who might be in Atlanta, hostage to their demand for “special treatment” of criminal cops. They are saying they do not care if people are robbed, mugged, women raped, people murdered. Well, why should they care about people being murdered when they condone their own murdering African Americans?
What if Mr. Brooks had been white, and everything else had been the same—slightly intoxicated, a long, polite and compliant conversation with officers resulting in a brief struggle? Would Rolfe have shot him twice in the back and then viciously kicked him after he was mortally wounded? And if so, would Atlanta police be in a rage over him being arrested for having murdered a white man?
If these officers refuse to do their jobs, where is Officer Friendly when a pregnant woman goes into labor and paramedics are not there yet? When an injured person is bleeding out and will die without immediate aid? When a child is hurt and needs comforting and care before paramedics arrive? When out of town visitors are lost and need directions or a kind officer to escort them to their destination?
These piqued cops say they are standing up for their comrades? But are they? They apparently have no regard for fellow officers who, out of their sense of duty, integrity, decency, morality, continue to do their jobs while shouldering the tremendous burden these derelict cops dumped on them.
So, what should Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms do in response to their temper tantrum?
Fire the lot of them; every single cop who has the “Blue Flu” or who is slow-walking his/her duties. Some might say, “but that could be half the department. Won’t that leave the city vulnerable to crime?” If half the police force is not doing their job, isn’t the city just as vulnerable now? How is the city worse off by firing these cops?
Indeed, isn’t the city better off by firing every one of these excuses for a police officer? Fire them. Hire and train new, but train the new officers correctly. And send a message to every police officer, not just in Atlanta, but throughout the nation. “You refuse to do your job; you slow-walk your duties; you will be out of a job because dereliction of duty will not be tolerated. Do your job or be fired.” Don’t give them time to think about it. Initiate mass firings yesterday. Ideally, revoke their law enforcement licenses for gross negligence and dereliction of duty in the process.
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