How Police Officers Make Themselves Easy to Despise
In most “developing” countries, law enforcers develop nothing but bribes and shakedown money. They’re seen not as upholders of justice but as uniformed thugs to be assiduously avoided, officially sanctioned criminals who serve no one but themselves. Here in the United States, most police officers aren’t blatantly corrupt. They’re merely bullies, and, if provoked by the right set of circumstances, they’re as dangerous as the violent hoodlums we pay them to deter. An Oakland transit cop shooting a prone, unarmed man in the back, killing him on the spot, is the latest outrage. But this sort of thing goes on every day around America in various degrees of egregiousness. It’s what happens when you give a gun to people who otherwise have little chance to make a mark on the world.
Exchange from Season One of The Sarah Silverman Show: A constable on patrol pulls Sarah over for a traffic violation. She rolls down her window.
Cop (to Sarah): “Do you know why I’m standing here?”
Sarah: “Because you got all Cs in school?”
I’m sure this is one of those terribly unfair exaggerations that comics indulge for a laugh, a falsehood besmirching exceptional individuals, good men and women tainted by the stain of generalization. But let’s face it: Very few youngsters, aside from those with power issues (i.e., bullies), grow up with an infatuation for upholding The Law. (Those who are good enough students end up being idealistic attorneys.) Almost no one has ambitions to spend the rest of his life declaring, “I don’t make the laws, I just enforce ’em.” But the appeal of a gun and a badge, and most important, the ability to have an impact on someone else’s life, whether they want to be impacted or not, seems for some folks to be a powerful intoxicant.
Recently, a musician friend was detained by an Officer Miller of the Los Angeles Police Department. Seems my friend’s brake-light was out, or his registration was about to expire, or some plausible reason for a traffic stop. The real motivation for Officer Miller was that he had observed my friend emerge from a Medical Marijuana Collective and sensed an easy opportunity to pad his statistics, curry favor from a superior, or impress the rookie trainee riding in his patrol vehicle. When he was pulled over, a few blocks from the dispensary, my friend had on the seat beside him an unopened brown paper bag, inside of which was 3/8 of an ounce of marijuana, an amount clearly intended for personal use. My friend had $30 in his pocket. And my friend proffered his Marijuana Prescription Card, proving that a doctor had approved and prescribed marijuana as medication.
Officer Miller’s response was, “Your prescription doesn’t mean shit to me,” and proceeded to arrest my friend and charge him with a violation of California Penal Code 11360, Possession of Narcotics.
My friend was taken to County Jail in Van Nuys, where he was strip searched, shackled to a bench, and dumped into a holding cell with 45 other prisoners. Seven hours later, his girlfriend was able to get him out on $20,000 bail. This all happened on his birthday — the date of which is printed on his driver’s license.
This entire nightmare happened because Officer Miller chose to enforce one law and ignore another — namely SB 215, which formally legalizes the possession of marijuana by those with a medical prescription. The charges against my friend will surely be dismissed when he goes to court, but he’s out $2,000 in bail bond money, and he suffered a humiliating trauma, all because a mean-spirited bully found another victim.
While I’m delighted that my tax dollars help give jobs to those who would otherwise be unemployed, I’m dismayed that people like Officer Miller, people with poor judgment and an essentially unkind spirit, are authorized to affect (and sometimes ruin) the lives of their benefactors.
Why do so many citizens mistrust and dislike police officers? Because many of them hurt those they are paid to protect.