Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Standing by ... in Ferguson

Have you seen, “A Time To Kill”? John Grisham's book made into a movie with Michael McConaughey.  At the end of the trial scene, McConaughey gives a stirring speech. I love that speech. I think of that speech when I watch Ferguson burn. I hear McConaughey’s voice as I read all the remarks Facebook friends make in their status updates. And I wonder. 

I’d like you to imagine. Imagine a cop, on his beat. Earlier in the day he watched a gang of young punks hanging out, lounging on a park picnic table, while families made a wide berth around them. They are talking loudly, music blaring, and scowling at anyone who looks their way. The cop doesn’t like how they’ve taken over the parks, and in the winter time the only two malls in town. He knows people fear them, because he fears them a little. He is intimidated by how they look, their size, and that angers him.  

 The cop doesn’t see it, but he just knows that the occasional person that stops by and shakes hands with this gang of thugs is really buying drugs. He is tired of it, but they are a small city and don’t have the money for the proper man power it would take to police all the suspicious activity. All he can do is observe. He’s had to spend five days in the last year in trainings that are supposed to help him do his job better, but he doesn’t see much good when the community he is supposed to be helping hates his profession so much.  

This profession that he thought would be such a great way to serve, but also get a little ahead in life, has turned out to be a disappointment. Repeatedly he has been passed over for promotions, for raises, for special assignments. He is learning, the hard way, about the politics of his job. It seems it has little to do with justice. Who gets ahead, who gets targeted, everything to do with politics.

A call comes in. Robbery in progress. He and his partner race to the scene. The perpetrators are long gone. The owner of the small corner grocery store has a bloody face where one of the thugs had punched him before taking everything in the till. A paltry $25 and a fistful of change. The owner swears he saw a gun in the waistband of one of them, but the surveillance tapes don’t show lower than counter high so it is impossible to tell. If the men are caught with guns, they will be charged with armed robbery, otherwise it could be knocked down to a misdemeanor. The cop shakes his head. This is not the town he grew up in. Too many good people moving out, too many others moving in. The population constantly changing and it is hard to get a read on the people in the neighborhoods he used to know like the back of his hand.

 He studies the video tape. Try as he might, he can’t see anything more than a general description of the two men. He can make out height, weight and race and that’s about it. He barely had to note the race, he knows the statistics on which race had the most drug problems. Nothing else physically stands out about the men, both wearing hooded sweatshirts and sun glasses. It frustrates him to no end that good, decent, people can’t even come to the corner grocery store without the fear of running on the foul side of one of these punks.

His partner’s shift is over. Because of cuts in the budget he only has a partner for half the shift. The other half is solo. Unemployment is high and taxes go unpaid, and it always seems like law enforcement takes the first hit when the city has to decide what to cut. His frustration mounts. Little resources,  Even if he could identify the guy that did this and arrested him, the punk would be out before he finished the paperwork. Especially if they don’t find a gun on him. Deep down, he sort of hopes he does find a gun on the next creep. That’s the only thing that would keep him in jail until the trial. The more he thinks about it, the angrier he gets.

Suddenly, he thinks he sees one of those gangster-wanna-bes alone, strolling down the sidewalk, acting like he owned the place.  The cop hollers to the guy, tells him he wants to talk to him. He isn’t sure, yet, what he’s going to do. The guy looks at him and the cop motions him to come closer. The guy does and the cop asks him his name. Begrudgingly, the guy tells him. The cop asks him if he was in the grocery store that had been robbed.  The guy tells him to go to hell, he’s not answering any more questions. Anger swells through the cop. He is now sure it is the same guy. He hollers that if the guy isn’t going to answer questions here, he’s taking him down to the station to answer questions there. The cop gives the slow wink and follows with a glare that shows he means business while adding through a snarl, "if you make it to the station." That should show the punk who is in charge.

In response, the guy reaches through the window and punches the cop in the face!  The cop is outraged. How dare this two-bit, wretched piece of garbage touch him? How dare "scum" physically assault HIM? The cop screams that he’s going to kill the punk and as he reaches for his revolver the guy reaches for it, too!

What the hell? Is this thug going for HIS gun? 

Are you imagining it? The wrestling over the revolver, the anger and frustration of the cop, then the panic that this disgusting piece of garbage that was ruining his community was going to do the most humiliating thing that could happen to a cop, have his own gun wrestled away from him and maybe even used on him! The cop frantically claws and finally grabs the gun free from the guy and fires. The guy staggers away. Adrenalin pumping, the cop jumps out of his vehicle, he chases after the thug and fires again, again, and again until the guy is on the ground, not moving. "Never will  this garbage rob another grocery store nor hang out dealing drugs in another park," the cop thinks as he holsters his gun.

Can you see this scene unfold?

Now, imagine the cop is black.

Are you still standing by him?

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