Recently, I had this dream – a bad dream.
were getting shot with regularity. In fact, some were being hunted, ambushed
and killed without even an interaction with anyone. In my nightmare, law
enforcement was synonymous with racism, brutality and corruption, so much so that
police became the object of cynical late night jokes. Comedians would get an
easy laugh talking about some poor “person of color” being the target of a
drooling, bigoted policeman.
This dream saw public perception of police in such a state of disrepair that people would slow down whenever they saw a policeman stopping or encountering someone. They would take out their smartphones, eager to capture a harsh word or, even better, a physical confrontation, so they could add it to the social media bonfire and get “likes” and “follows” for furthering the cause. It became cool to say “f__k the police” and it showed up spray painted on walls everywhere, in every city.
My dream had fractured scenes of Portland, Oregon, where masked hoodlums gathered in droves on city streets, menacing and violently beating anyone who they thought might be conservatives. The police, by order of the mayor, were nowhere to be found – and, oh, the gray areas of conservative and liberal, Republican or Democrat had all been chopped off into two groups: You were either with the movement to overhaul capitalism or you were a “Nazi.” There was no middle ground. And, if you tried to argue otherwise or tried to use reason, well…don’t do it in Portland, that’s for sure, because you would get a brick in the head and law enforcement was invisible.
Hey, folks, imagine this: People in my own family even expressed their hatred for police and posted things on Facebook about how you have to be a bad person to be a cop. They never talked to me about it; they just…said it. I think I might have cried during the dream.
So bizarre was this dream that police officers in New York City were being doused with water while locals berated them and delighted in their unwillingness to retort in any way. The cops just walked off in shame, dripping and humiliated.
To combat this – and that’s when I knew this just had to be a dream and I would wake up soon – law enforcement agencies everywhere initiated brilliant plans to get the public back on their side: We’ll pull people over and give them ice cream on a hot day. Yes! What a great tactic! And, we’ll stop and play basketball with inner city kids. Oh, what awesome and compassionate good guys we are! And, we’ll show videos of us rescuing animals. Yeah, we’ll put tourniquets on injured armadillos and rescue deer from frozen lakes. We’ll inundate LinkedIn and Twitter with these heartwarming images and, oh, people will be sending us flowers and apologizing for casting us all in such a bad light and all will be well.
No, no…I murmured in my sleep, sweating…it can’t be. It’s too nonsensical, too scary, too disturbing….and then I woke up. To my horror, none of this was a dream. It was all real.
I sat on the edge of the bed, letting the images of the dream swirl, hopefully, into the atmosphere and dissipate like steam. But, they didn’t. I checked my LinkedIn account today, Sunday, August 25, 2019. An Illinois Trooper died of gunshot wounds he sustained while trying to serve a warrant. I went on Twitter – there’s some guy broadcasting his podcast, encouraging listeners to go out and kill capitalists (in an office full of high-tech equipment he most likely “bought” somewhere). Everywhere, there was hatred, cynicism and hypocrisy. In post after post, story after story, on CNN, Fox and every social media platform you can think of, the same people who are telling you to not trust the police are calling for “investigations.” They call the police liars and racists, but are riveted to every word Robert Mueller – former law enforcement – writes in his report.
I’m not here to profess anything political. I’m here to despair with you the death of reason, discourse, patience, and respect. We’ve descended from a nation which used to enjoy “debating” ideas into a maelstrom of name-calling, demonization, lies, and ugly accusations. So, for a moment, let’s forget all that because we can only change what we do. How does law enforcement combat the insanely vicious lies and misperceptions people are hurling at us? How do we shift public perception and get that prophetic “pendulum” to swing back the other way?
I submit to you that we do not accomplish anything by backing off. We don’t soften our stances and start micromanaging every patrol officer’s every move. We don’t march and dance in special interest groups’ parades, as the British police recently did in London. We don’t make videos of officers giving people ice cream and break-dancing on the street corner with kids. You only gain respect by doing your job effectively, professionally and fairly. Throughout my bad dream, I’m still convinced that, across this land, the majority of citizens (though some won’t come out and admit it) want us to protect them and serve their needs. They want us to take action when action is needed. And, when one of us f’s up (and it will happen from time to time), admit the mistake and keep moving forward. But, when something is justified, be proactive and tell the public, “This is justified.” If they want to learn more, offer them town hall meetings and observer ride-alongs, so they can learn the realities of our job. Don’t start backpedaling and don’t start getting soft. Get more police officers back into troubled neighborhoods and start making more arrests for drugs and illegal gun possession. Go back to community policing. It works. We did it in 1981 in one of the worst neighborhoods you’ve ever seen and the vast majority of the locals loved us for it.
One hundred fifty-five years ago at the Battle of Gettysburg, on Little Round Top, Colonel Joshua Chamberlain commanded the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Little Round Top was critical to the Northern defensive line. They repelled Rebel advances on his defensive position again and again, but the Confederates were getting closer each time and the Union soldiers were running out of ammo. Finally, Chamberlain realized that they didn’t have enough ammunition to withstand another Rebel advance which was certain to come. So, as the Confederates came back up the hill again, he ordered his men to fix bayonets, jump over the breastwork walls they had hidden behind and charge downhill at the Southerners. The Confederates were stunned and quickly defeated. Many instantly surrendered.
In dealing with the continuous onslaught on our principles and on our profession, we should take a page out of Chamberlain’s book – be proactive and be more vigilant in carrying out our duties. Had Chamberlain retreated, the Union would have been lost. If we retreat, the very same thing could occur.
Fix bayonets and charge. Take back the streets. That’s how you get respect. That’s how you shake the cobwebs from a bad dream.
Ramesh Nyberg retired from law enforcement in November 2006 after 27 years in police work. He now owns his own private investigation agency, Nyberg Security and Investigations, and can be reached at Ramesh@NybergPi.com. He enjoys getting feedback from readers.