May 15, 2011
Martial Virtues and the Survival of CivilizationBy Bruce Whitsitt
Four years ago, I met and became friends with a police officer whom I'll call Brett Harrison. As I got to know Brett, he shared more and more about his work life. It was fascinating, but also troubling. The multiple pressures on police officers from different sources increasingly make the job a balancing act between fighting crime and avoiding doing something that will end one's career.
Brett provided me with the opportunity to observe his work closely in two separate ride-along trips. Both of these tours gave me greater respect for the demands of the job and the people who take on this largely unappreciated duty.
Cops are sent into harm's way in the worst neighborhoods and witness horrific crimes, but we want them to always be politically correct, obey ludicrous rules of engagement that hamstring their efforts, and observe innumerable court decisions that affect everything from what constitutes probable cause in pulling over a car to what must be said to a suspect so that his rights aren't supposedly violated.
If an officer is attacked and defends himself, or if he uses force to protect a fellow officer, a victim, or a passerby, he had better be ready to face a review, possibly criminal charges, and imprisonment -- or at the very least, the calumny of the community. For example, in Los Angeles, there was a recent community protest in reaction to an officer's exoneration in a shooting case. The incident took place in MacArthur Park in September 20111. A drunk, knife-wielding illegal alien tried to stab several passersby. Officer Frank Hernandez, a bicycle officer, arrived on the scene. Witnesses attested to what happened next: in both Spanish and English, the policeman ordered the man to drop the knife; instead, he rushed at Hernandez with the weapon. The officer did what he had to: he shot and killed the attacker.
Riots in the neighborhood followed this incident. A commission scrutinized the officer's actions and, after a lengthy investigation, found the shooting to be justified. Afterwards, more protests took place, with people carrying signs saying things such as "STOP KILLER COPS." The family of the attacker, from their home in Guatemala, is suing the Los Angeles Police Department.
No one seemed to care that the officer, a man who swore an oath to protect the citizens of Los Angeles, was forced into a deadly and untenable position and took action that saved not only his own life, but also the lives of innocents nearby. What kind of psychological devastation has this cop experienced from having to kill a man? How does he feel, being unjustifiably labeled a murderer and a pariah by some of the very people he was protecting?
These things are constantly on Brett's mind. Every action he takes has the potential to blow up in his face. Inaction or a mistake can lead to the same, and mistakes inevitably happen in violent human interactions, where split-second decisions have to be made.
On the ride-alongs, Brett explained to me the many court decisions that dictated his approach to a car. He had them memorized, and he knew exactly what he could and could not do, as decreed, in most cases, by liberal judges with no knowledge of police work. Ideology trumps common sense in law enforcement, and many decisions that favor the suspect's rights do so at the cost of making the police officer's life more difficult and dangerous.
On most traffic stops, Brett was patient and polite. However, there were times when courtesy was a luxury he couldn't afford. On the second ride-along, he received a call on the radio for assistance. We pulled up to a seedy apartment complex next to a methadone clinic.
As we stopped in the driveway, we could hear loud, repeated threats of "I'LL CAP YO' ASS!" Brett grabbed the beanbag shotgun and was out the door. He charged into what could have been a deathtrap: the complex was two stories tall with an inside courtyard. Someone wanting to kill a cop could have easily shot him from the second floor.
Brett shouted at the two men who were posturing and threatening. He racked the non-lethal shotgun, which got several people's attention. In seconds, with no backup in sight, his "command presence" had the situation under control.
What impressed me was his apparent fearlessness in entering a dangerous hovel, where things could have gone south quickly. His sense of duty propelled him toward the danger, as I nervously hung back on the periphery. That duty, and the act of honorably adhering to it, is what separates cops from average citizens. In order to save someone's life, to avert harm, or to bring calm to chaos, police officers risk their lives every time they put on their uniform and go to work.
When you think about it, police and our military share many of the same difficulties -- many of which stem from a culture that no longer values martial virtue and is deeply suspicious of the people we entrust to protect us. Peace is always preferable to conflict, but in the past, Americans understood that sometimes you must resort to military violence and police vigilance to achieve peace. Evil is a reality that far too many people refuse to acknowledge. This is one of the triumphs of the political left. The media are now showcasing this effete attitude by questioning the actions of SEAL Team 6 in Osama bin Laden's death.
Many Americans have unconsciously absorbed the shibboleths of the left regarding police and our military. They don't seem to realize that some acts are so heinous, such an affront to civilized society, as to require drastic reaction. They don't see that victims of crime or terrorism seldom get justice; after all, a murder victim is silenced forever; a beating victim is often left physically afflicted for life; and a rape victim might never recover psychologically, emotionally, or spiritually.
People march with placards emblazoned with "Stop Killer Cops" or "U.S. Military = Terrorism" because they all too easily believe the leftist premise that police and soldiers are at best corrupt and authoritarian bullies and at worst killers on the loose. However, if these same people were to become victims of crime or terrorism, they no doubt would be crying out, "Where were the police?" or "Where was the military?"
We make superhuman demands on our police and soldiers. Yet so many of them are unappreciated, ostracized, or misunderstood, and as anyone who has had to do a long and difficult task can tell you, morale is sometimes what keeps a person going when there is little else. When we undercut our law enforcement's efforts, disparage their character, or belittle the enormous significance of their task, we make their terribly difficult job of protecting us that much harder. Eventually, we will pay a dear price for our lack of gratitude as their efforts are undercut by the courts, the media, ignorant public sentiment, and the threat of litigation. Criminals and terrorists know when the pressure is off, and they will increasingly take advantage of these breaches.
1 Rubin, Joel. "LAPD Officer Acted Lawfully in Shooting of Day Laborer, Oversight Panel Rules." Los Angeles Times Online, March 15, 2011.