I really want to be on the side of the cop watchers. I do. Ferguson makes me think the more eyeballs we can put on police incidents the better. But I watched the YouTube video on the people arrested in Arlington over the weekend, and there's no way they were in the right.
What I saw on the video was a sizeable group of people clustering round the police saying a lot of F-words at them and generally expressing hostility. And by the way, I don't have a big personal problem with F-words or hostility. I don't even mind disrespect for authority. In fact at one point I may even have carried a bumper sticker on my vehicle urging people to do just that.
Sky Chadde's eyewitness account here included what I thought was the key information: "An officer told them to stop, but the watchers continued to walk, getting within about 30 feet of the traffic stop." That's never ever gonna work.
What's missing is a realistic grasp of the position cops face in this world when we ask them to go out on the street and protect us from drunk drivers and bad guys -- to fight our fights for us, in other words.
Few of us are out there much to see how it really works, but Youtube isn't a bad way to get a hint. Just Google "YouTube cop shot," and you're in for a horrifying trip down nightmare alley.
The most routine traffic stop or other interaction with a citizen can turn into some son of a bitch whipping out a pistol and pumping bullets into a cop's face. Here in Dallas we saw the endless loop on the TV news a year ago when a Montague County sheriff's deputy was shot during a traffic stop, but YouTube will show you horrifying dash-cam video of the same thing happening all over our nation.
Look, YouTube shows it all. You can also find video like the soccer match five years ago where fans invaded the pitch to rescue a fan from a brutal night-stick beating by sadistic riot cops. The first time I saw it I cheered the fans.
But if you go back to the dash-cam videos of police officers getting shot while properly doing their jobs, one theme dominates: Every time police officers interact with citizens in this world, they have to maintain total control of the situation, remain hyper-vigilant, see out of the backs of their heads, hear pins drop, or they're not going home. They can't survive, can't live, can't avoid winding up blowing in a straw in a wheelchair if they lose control of an interaction for one split-second.
I'm not apologizing for bad cops. I'm not saying you can't state your case to a police officer. But you have to state it in a way that never challenges that cop's physical control of the scene for even an instant. If you do challenge, if you get rowdy and start F-bombing and moving around, then the cop has to assume you're high, you've got a gun stashed on you, you're watching for your moment, you're going to pull out your piece and shoot him in the face when you get your chance.
Believe me, the cops all watch all of those dash-cam videos. Their spouses watch them. Their kids watch them. Everybody knows the odds. And when a spouse, a commander, a son or a daughter, mother or father says, "Please be careful out there," they mean do not take one ounce of shit even for a second if it means you won't come home.
I still think citizen monitoring of police is a good idea, if and when there's a way to do it properly. But on that Arlington video, all of the police officers I saw were under perfect self-control, and the cop watchers were acting crazy. That's not going to work, ever.
Listen, I don't want to have to go out and stop drunken drivers in my neighborhood myself and walk up to their cars and wonder if they're going to shoot me in the face. I want the police to do that for me. If I come home at night and my neighbor comes out and tells me he thinks there may be a burglar in my house, I don't want to go in my own house and catch the bad guy myself. I want the police to do that for me. Why? Because I'm scared shitless. That's why.
But if I'm scared shitless and I tell the cops, "You go do it for me," then I have to have at least enough honor and decency to back them up.
Again, cop watching isn't wrong, if it can be done the right way. The right way is going to require a great deal of self-control. The cop watcher doing it the right way has got to signal to the police in every way possible fashion, "I am not here to physically interfere with you or impede you in any way."
Look at that Arlington video again. See how self-controlled the cops are. Now multiply that by three, and you've got a good idea how cop-watchers need to act. It will take at least as much self-discipline to watch the cops as it takes to be one. Maybe what the watchers need is some good training.
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