I was a cop in the Air Force when I was young, too young to be carrying a gun. For 5 years I had a gun strapped to my waist every day. Now I'm sure you can imagine that there is not a lot of crime and gun play on small Air Force bases in the United States and you'd be right. No unemployment, no abject poverty, quiet neighborhoods.
I was on a large Air Force base in southeast Asia during the Vietnam war and I never even drew my weapon against another human being. I did once pull my weapon against a cobra, but that's another story.
After the war was over I was stationed at a small training base in the Southwest. 2nd lieutenants would come out of the Air Force Academy and come to our base to learn to fly we had t-37 and t-38 training jets. Anyway, this is where my only confrontation ever happened in this quiet little piece of desert.
There was a young African American Airman on the base who liked to drink a bit too much and he liked to drive a bit too fast. He had been cited multiple times by myself and others, even lost stripes for it. All the cops knew who he was, knew his car and knew that he had anger issues and feelings of being persecuted because of his race.
He had recently been detained for DUI and as a result had his license suspended and his on base driving privileges revoked. So, one day I spotted him driving in the base housing area and he was speeding so I initiated a traffic stop, he knew me, I knew him. I got out of my patrol car and he got out of his car with a rifle pointed right at me. Nothing between us but air... I almost peed my pants.
I quickly drew my sidearm and there we stood for what seemed like ages locked in a standoff. Cars were stopping, people were coming out of there houses to gawk. I didn't want to get shot, I didn't want to shoot him, I didn't know what to do.
I started talking to him in a low and calm voice, calling him by his first name not using his rank, not giving him orders, no authoritarian tone just talking. By the time my backup arrived he had agreed to put the gun down and backup officers cuffed him and transported him.
Now I took a lot of criticism from most of the other cops and even my supervisors because they say I could have and I SHOULD have shot him. My position was I didn't want to shoot him and I didn't NEED to shoot him. I just tried to put myself in his position and empathize with him, and I was right even though many others thought I was wrong. He was court martialed, dishonorably discharged and sentenced to prison.
The point is this he lived, I lived. He will have a tough road ahead of him but he has an opportunity to get the help he needs to deal with his depression and anger and feelings of persecution. No one that I knew was picking on him because he was black although I can understand why he might have felt that way.
To a man everyone I worked with wanted nothing more than to get out of the Air Force and join a civilian police department. I got out and learned computers, I've never owned a gun since. We were trained to shoot first, to use overwhelming force to resolve conflict and it is this police culture of violence that has led to what we see every day.
You can't report that you think Trayvon Martin is suspicious and a police officer should contact him a find out he was just on his way home from the store. You confront him, conflict ensues and you kill him. Eric Gardner is selling loose cigarettes in New York and a whole pack of 6 or 7 cops tackle and kill him, instead of 1 officer approaches and smiles and writes him a ticket. Police and non police vigilantes thrive on conflict gets the adrenaline pumping and if a young black man winds up dead they call themselves heroes.
It is human nature, what is the point of having all that power over peoples lives if you never use it? I'm glad no one fired that day in the desert long ago and I am aghast at how often it happens on the streets, completely unnecessary, senseless acts of power tripping young men with badges and no compassion or morality.
21 year old men, just barely done being teenagers do not have the experience in life, the wisdom or the gravitas to be policemen. All they have is what they have been taught and they have been taught to use overwhelming force. As they grow older and more mature all they have to draw on is their experience and if their experience has been violence then that is how they will resolve the situations that arise during their day to day activities until one day they kill an unarmed African American teen for walking in the street.