OneOldCop would like to say he was surprised by the chaos that has overtaken the United States since the Ferguson, Missouri incident in August 2014. Unfortunately, of all the feelings generated by what is happening in the country today, surprise was not high on the list until recently. Now there is a bit of surprise and concern.
Like many former police officers and civilians, OneOldCop has watched and read the news over the last year with mixed feelings. There was sadness for the lives being lost, and anger at some of the things being said. There was disgust at the widespread destruction of personal and public property. There was disappointment with the leadership or lack thereof being shown by many elected officials. Unfortunately, there was little surprise. For as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun.
In some ways, the chaos is a form of deja-vu-all-over-again. The initial response to Ferguson, and other incidents since then, set a cycle of anger, demonstration, unrest, and chaos in motion. From the burning and looting of local businesses to the chants of “fry ‘em like bacon,” there was nothing new.
This writer and many others have seen the hatred and chaos before. From the antiwar activists during Vietnam to the Rodney King protests to the occupy movement, police officers have been objects of hate and ridicule periodically. In fact, one can see a pattern or cycle in the way this has played out in the past.
Something will trigger a period of unrest and demonstration. It may be something such as Vietnam, Rodney King, perceived civil rights violation or some police involved shooting that hits the headlines. Whatever it is, a cycle of violence ensues. Officers are forced to take action to protect the public and themselves. In limited cases, mistakes are made or outright misconduct takes place. Activists and so-called civic leaders use these incidents to fan the flames of outrage and mistrust, leading to attacks on police officers and citizenry.
The next part of the cycle is the overreaction of bureaucrats and politicians. As we have seen in past months, politicians and bureaucrats placed police officers and their activities under a microscope. Officers are threatened with everything from discipline to termination to indictment if they make a mistake. Eventually they do the only thing they can. They try to minimize the possibility of a problem arising. Unfortunately, street cops have only one or two ways to protect themselves from the higher level officials looking for scapegoats and sacrifices.
One way officers protect themselves is by making certain they only arrive at a crime scene after the risk of confronting a suspect is minimized. That may sound like a stretch, but it has happened in the past. According to the director of the FBI it may be happening again.
Officers responding to crimes in progress know they may face deadly force situations. Even so-called nonviolent crimes can become violent when the police arrive and the criminal realizes he or she is going to jail. The only way an officer can be certain he or she will not be assaulted or required to use deadly force is to minimize the possibility of confrontation.
FBI Director Comey stated police officers may have become less aggressive since the Ferguson incident. This could, in his opinion, be leading to a rise in violent crime. Of course, the White House quickly denounced his comments. However, there is ample reason to believe this is happening, just as it happened in the past. Yes, there is really nothing new about what is going on today, with one exception.
Social media adds a new dimension to what is happening. Whether it is police action, demonstrator action or just random chaos, it spreads through social media like wildfire. Before the blood is dry on the street pictures of the dead and injured are available online. Before EMS or fire services can respond, videos of violence are available on smart phones, tablets and cable news.
Due to the rapid spread of information, misinformation spreads like a cancer. In some cases it is spread by well-meaning citizens, in others it is spread by activists trying to stir up chaos, and in some cases it is spread by government officials looking to deflect blame from their own incompetency. By the time the truth is known, the lies or mistakes have prejudiced people on both sides of an issue to the point battle lines are drawn, and more chaos ensues.
Historically, the chaos and unrest settled down as investigations were conducted. The facts of cases came out. People were charged or exonerated. Tempers calmed, and people moved on with their lives. I fear that is not going to happen anytime soon. Now, some of the same people who were raging through the streets of our cities are on our campuses. They are sowing more seeds of unrest while the authorities are still trying to deal with results of the chaos over the last year.
Another problem is the lack of leadership in Washington and across the country. Whether by design, incompetence or opportunism many of those who should be working to bring calm and reason to bear on the situation are stoking the fire. One can only hope reason will prevail at some point. Otherwise, the lives of police officers and those who depend on the police for protection will be in jeopardy for a long time to come.
© S. E. Jackson – 2015