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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.

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Comment Preferences

  •  You make some really interesting points about (28+ / 0-)

    being in law enforcement from the perspective of a reasonable cop.  I can only wish that there are more police who are like you.  Thanks.

    A word to the wise is sufficient. Republicans need at least a paragraph.

    by d3clark on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 09:59:16 AM PDT

  •  I was an MP from 69 to 75. Was fortunate to stay (25+ / 0-)

    stateside. Not sure how that happened but I was grateful. Like you I never had to pull my hand gun. I didn't even keep it loaded. One of the problems was I am left handed and the Army did not issue or allow left handed holsters. You had to wear it on the right side. Something about the uniform code.

    You are right about the training and using overwhelming force to solve problems. Never did agree with that.

    UID 35,098 Nov. 12, 2004. Seems like yesterday.

    by flatford39 on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 10:00:55 AM PDT

  •  I spoke, just yesterday with my sister about this (29+ / 0-)

    overly aggressive, violent response of police in America to almost every contact which they have with citizens nowadays.

    She noted, as you relay in this tale, that our police forces are filled with former military, which she believes has a critical relationship to how these former soldiers now view the citizens whom them are supposed to be policing.

    I agreed with her, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it's not just that military background which is driving these aggressive and violent interactions.

    I believe it's related directly to the rampant gun culture in America. The police appear to believe that every single contact they have with a citizen is a danger to their life, that everyone they approach is possibly (and I think they think it's likely) holding a firearm which can take their life.

    They don't see the civilian population as peaceful or in need of assistance so much as armed and dangerous, ready and willing to shoot them without the slightest provocation.

    There are, after all, now more than 300 million guns in America, one for nearly every single person in the country (including babies in their cradles).

    So I think it's both things, the military training and experience and the pressure of the gun culture and the proliferation of guns in every town and city across the land driving this behavior on the part of those who are supposed to Protect and Serve, but who seem to be more likely to shoot first and ask questions later in scenarios which cry out for assistance and not gunfire.

    "I like paying taxes...with them, I buy Civilization"

    by Angie in WA State on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 10:19:19 AM PDT

    •  Which I've now turned into a diary, if anyone (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      llbear, Lujane

      is interested in discussing this aspect further...

      #TheTimeIsNow for a national debate on "Justified Deadly Force"

      "I like paying taxes...with them, I buy Civilization"

      by Angie in WA State on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 01:48:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Quibbles... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Angie in WA State, llbear, Lujane
      I believe it's related directly to the rampant gun culture in America. The police appear to believe that every single contact they have with a citizen is a danger to their life, that everyone they approach is possibly (and I think they think it's likely) holding a firearm which can take their life.
      The numbers show that folks are WAY FAR more likely to die in a car accident than die in an airplane crash - but the crazy HUGE difference in the news airtime that is devoted to the plane crash instead of car crashes results in people having the completely backwards feeling as to what is more likely.

      The same topsy-turvy switcheroo is going on with guns and shootings. Gun deaths isn't all that high when placed alongside all the other causes of death in the country, but the "Blood Grabs Viewers" news channels skip right past a dozen other higher-bodycount issues in order to splash blood on the television screen.

      And it doesn't stop there. The FBI tracks every single officer that gets the slightest injury "in the line of duty" (how's THAT for a military phrase?) but then sweeps under the rug the numbers of people that are shot and killed by officers. Really, they don't publish THAT number, because it would be embarrassing to have reporters ask the head of the fbi about why cops shoot so many more people than the armed citizens do.

      I'm serious. Because they don't take their data and pin down the number of people shot and killed by cops, it's hard for us to nail it down due to the way definitions vary between published statistics that end up lumping A and B into the numbers in one study and A and C into another study. As near as I can attest, with full faithfulness to seeking the hard concrete truth no matter what it says, what I have seen in the numbers indicates to me that MORE cops shoot and kill people than are killed by armed citizens.

      There have been studies that show that armed citizens commit fewer crimes and less-serious crimes than the police. That is an embarrassing thing to have to face, if you are police. What is very much needed is for a push to happen that causes the FBI to track the numbers of people that are shot and killed by cops.

      They don't see the civilian population as peaceful or in need of assistance so much as armed and dangerous, ready and willing to shoot them without the slightest provocation.
      You can likely tell from the previous response, but I'll say it directly.
      I have more fear of being shot by a cop without the slightest provocation than I am of being shot by ANY random citizen.

      I flip-flop a bit between the two groups which I feel are the scariest people in the world. The first group is "Those who feel that whatever they do is a-okay just fine with their god" and the second group is "Those who only follow the rules because some Authority says so".

      The first group, those are the folks that might pack their station wagon with diesel and fertilizer and try to crash through the front wall of a planned parenthood, or the campaign office of some political candidate that is of a hated religion, or pick some other target that some religion has decided to hate. Those people are scary shit.

      The second group, the ones that only follow the rules because they were told to do so, are scary because rules change and have loopholes. There are laws regarding use of force during questioning - what happens if those laws change? Do the rubber hoses and the water boards come out of the closet? There are laws regarding sexual conduct, what happens to the cop that pulls over an attractive woman if those laws change? Does "work off your ticket with your mouth" come back into the cop's workplace? People that have no personal moral compass, that use what they believe as the rules of law to tell right from wrong, their conduct can be bought for the small price of changing some ink in a book or changing a policy. Even worse, "It's only wrong if I get caught" means ANYTHING might happen if it can be concealed. That sort of mercenary morality is also scary shit. And the cops as a group are already released from a number of those laws of conduct, leaving only their personal morality to decide whether gunning down a black kid in the back is go or no-go.

      MLK never really took back these words - "Maybe we just have to admit that the day of violence is here, and maybe we have to just give up and let violence take its course. The nation won't listen to our voice - maybe it'll heed the voice of violence."

      by JayFromPA on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 02:12:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  To be fair the bit you blockquote is only (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TracieLynn, Lujane

        related to deaths due to killings by Law Enforcement, and your comment is more aimed at the overall death from guns in our society.

        The facts are that crime of all types is DOWN since the 1990s. All crime. Including gun crime.

        The gun crimes are getting an inordinate amount of attention, as opposed to crimes and killings using other weapons (fists, knives, cross bows, etc), I agree.

        But you know why that is, don't you?

        Because it's happening NOT just in the place most Americans are used to hearing about violence and death: the inner cities and vast urban areas of places like the greater New York City metro area and Detroit and the wider LA Metro area.

        It's happening in small towns like Aurora, Colorado and Miami Gardens, Florida and Ferguson, Missouri.

        Additionally, while overall the numbers of dead from gunshot is declining - the mass shootings of complete strangers in public places is on the rise.

        From Politifact: Mass Shootings have TRIPLED since 2000.

        "I like paying taxes...with them, I buy Civilization"

        by Angie in WA State on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 02:39:20 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Now THAT's a hero - someone who can talk him down (28+ / 0-)

    THAT takes skill, nerves and belief in both yourself and in the the gunman.

    How effective is it to talk someone into putting down his/her gun? If you do your job right, pretty darn near 100% effective.

    Ask me how I know . . . .

    Every day, I get up and pray to Jah . . take the skinheads bowling . . take them bowling . .

    by thenekkidtruth on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 10:20:47 AM PDT

  •  Luck is a wonderful thing. n/t (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    keyscritter
  •  Sometimes a person can know intuitively what to do (11+ / 0-)

    --it isn't necessarily luck.

    In Georgia, acting the fool with a gun is not only legal, it is encouraged by the governor and the state legislature.

    by Mayfly on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 11:13:45 AM PDT

  •  Some police departments have found female (9+ / 0-)

    officers tended to be better at defusing certain tense situations by talking through them rather than immediately using force.  That was because the women tended to be smaller in stature, so they weren't so quick to believe they could physically subdue suspects.
      Realizing that such "protocol" worked for the female officers, some departments started training the male officers to do similar whenever they could.

    My Karma just ran over your Dogma

    by FoundingFatherDAR on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 12:02:58 PM PDT

    •  You would think this would be in section (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama, Metric Only, chimene, llbear

      NS of the police training manual. "No sh-t." Or perhaps under "YT:" "Ya think?!."

      At least, I wish that was where it could be found :-P

    •  It is not just that (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Another Grizzle

      Also, having a female police officer patrolling an area asserts the right of women of women to be in that space. Having only men patrol an area where street harassment and/or sexual assault is endemic just strengthens the view of the abusers that those spaces are owned by men.

      That is another reason that it is important to have some police officers of the same background and ethnicity as the people in the neighborhoods where they work.

  •  Great diary, especially (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Steven D, Shockwave, llbear, TracieLynn

    the part about the attitudes of the rest of the MPs who went on to become cops.  They wanted you to shoot, and probably were envious of your opportunity to gun down a black man.  

    There's no practical way to work it that I can think of, but the first disqualifier for anyone applying to a Police Academy is if he answers "yes" to "do you want to be a cop?"

    "When I was an alien, cultures weren't opinions" ~ Kurt Cobain, Territorial Pissings

    by Subterranean on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 12:08:16 PM PDT

  •  One thing about police officers (4+ / 0-)

    is that they are always armed.  

    I was considering a diary on a similar subject.  Like the OP, I have not picked up a firearm since my Army discharge in 1968.

    Until I sold my business to my (Black) employees a few months ago, I spent a lot of time in the 'hood where they lived.  It's a historically poverty and crime ridden enclave where all the local Black population was de facto confined for decades.  The law there is enforced by deputies.  For these officers duty there is the bottom of the barrel.  It's Siberia for the veterans and Training Day for the rookies.

    On the other hand, as a longtime employer, I am likely the most popular white guy there.  I went to high school 50 years ago with some of the residents.

    A few years ago I came in for a "DWW" stop because I was the only white guy hanging in a parking lot where another Black guy would be invisible.  My friends, who are more expert in police behavior than police are in theirs, warned me by cellphone that I was being stalked by three deputies, and that a traffic stop was a certainty.  Forewarned, I was careful not to commit a violation, but I was stopped anyway.

    Here's my point.  Not one of the deputies who enforce the law there would DARE, as a white guy, to walk unarmed across that neighborhood at 2 a.m.  I would.  I'm never armed with anything more than my humanity, but I do not worry about my safety.

    There are probably some "youngstas" there who might mess with me, but if such an unlikely thing were to happen, I would know the next day who did it, and I would not have to go to the deputies for justice.  That's because I see people, while the deputies see nothing but trouble.

    You reap what you sow.

    Orwell was an optimist.
    My Home Page

    by RepackRider on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 01:47:07 PM PDT

  •  As I replied to xxdrzombiexx in another diary (0+ / 0-)

    It (2+ / 0-)

    doesn't have to be this way.Police can find relief from the stress of their jobs through mindfulness.

    I'm not holding my breath, though.
    http://www.dailykos.com/...

    "The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

    by Lily O Lady on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 01:51:46 PM PDT

  •  power tripping has a lot to do with, but the rw (0+ / 0-)

    would dearly love to see a full-blown race war erupt -- especially on prez obama's watch.

    The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. ~ J.K. Galbraith

    by bluezen on Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 02:46:13 PM PDT

  •  Other countries do it so differently. I watched a (0+ / 0-)

    show one time about the thwarted transatlantic airline bombing plot back in roughly 2007 or 2008.  When the would-be bombers were arrested in Britain, it happened quickly and at an unanticipated moment, long before the planned arrests were to be made.  The English police men (and women, as I recall) who were surveilling the suspects at the time simply moved in and made the arrests. They were not carrying weapons, but they acted before their backups arrived on the scene. There were no delays because a SWAT squad was still in the process of getting their camo and armor on. How odd that sounds to anyone grounded in our gun loving culture.  

  •  When I was in Asia (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis

    as I told you, I was very young and I was a cop on a large base in the jungle.  One of our jobs was to "sweep" the river.  We would put on camo fatigues and we had these modified M-16 short stock automatic weapons besides our sidearms and we would go into the jungle rivers on base in search of nationals who had sneaked onto base to steal mission critical supplies, like scrap metal and cardboard.

    In a country where poverty really means something, dirt poor women and children stealing cardboard.  On one such occasion we came across a group of women and boys who had scrap aluminum and cardboard and one of the young women dropped her stuff and ran into the jungle.

    My teammate went after her and grabbed her by the hair and punched her in the stomach with his gun.  I had just arrived at the base just turned 21 and I was the new guy but I was sickened by what I had just seen.  My teammate wore a name tag velcroed over his real name tag that said Batman, so he couldn't be identified.

    This young man wanted nothing more than to be a cop after the war so he could f**k with people.  I am ashamed to say I did not rat him out because you don't do that and I was new and I was young, but I think I decided then that if this is being a cop, I don't want to be one.  He probably became one!

  •  I keep wondering, when conflict and face off (0+ / 0-)

    situations occur where the police negotiators, and negotiation skills and training went.  

    They do work.

    Now cops ar wild west cowboys acting out in a civilized society. and we keep wondering who is more dangerous cops or criminals.

    The police don't help themselves in the long run, don't help society with their violence.  They may get the war they seem to want, but they will have been the largest cause of it.  And when it comes what will they do with it.  

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