Fixing the foundation

I’ve worked in newspapers for about 30 years and, during that time, I’ve worked closely with law enforcement officials of all kinds.

I’ve worked with officers in communities so small the “town cop” was also the guy who drove one of the plows to clear the streets in the winter and ran the mower in the parks during the summer. And I’ve worked with the U.S. Secret Service, covering visits by three presidents and numerous candidates to areas I’ve been in.

I’ve worked with the Texas Rangers, the Wyoming Highway Patrol, and local and state police and sheriff’s departments, almost beyond counting. And, I feel it’s safe to say, 99% of the officers, troopers, agents and more I’ve worked with have been good, conscientious individuals, many times trying to do a difficult job under trying circumstances.

But, it’s that other 1% who’s behavior is under the microscope of both legal and public opinion right now. I’m not going to paint law enforcement officials with a broad brush, but I’ve heard them described as “bad apples,” “exceptions,” and a host of other terms – some much less flattering – in recent weeks.

And that 1% should be described such. Law enforcement officials, in general, should also be held to a higher standard – they are the ones charged with protecting public safety. When, instead of protecting the public, they themselves injure, maim or kill, that is not acceptable.

Karen, one of the ladies I worked with in Deep East Texas had an apt description for those types of individuals. She called them, “Banty Roosters,” in part, I think, because of their approach to everything in their lives.

The website describes the banty rooster thus: “a banty rooster is a smaller, more aggressive rooster. An example of a banty rooster is one used in fights.”

They’re a lot like bullies in one respect – many times, individuals who bully were themselves bullied. Often times, they were smaller and weaker – either physically or mentally – than their peers, making them easy targets for ridicule, physical abuse, or both.

Karen’s contention was these banty roosters felt put upon by life. When they found a career that put them in a position of authority over other people – usually those at some type of disadvantage themselves – they jumped at the chance, the chance for “pay-back” for all the slights life had dealt them, real or imagined.

I’ll give you another example: In another life, I used to raise fish. I had several aquariums and I bred and raised stock, selling some of the offspring to a couple of pet stores around the area where I lived.

One of the most difficult fish to breed in captivity is the betta, known in the vernacular as the Siamese fighting fish. You’ve all seen them; long, flowing, brightly colored fins. You often see them for sale at pet stores or other places that sell fish, segregated, each to its own small cup. 

The reason for keeping them separate from each other – and part of the reason for their name as fighting fish – is the males particularly are extremely aggressive. Put two of them in the same container and they will immediately try to tear each other apart.

And that’s what the banty rooster is like – constantly looking for confrontation, a chip on their shoulder, out to “even the score” for an insult or a “raw deal” – whether real or imagined. 

I realize I’m over-simplifying a lot of this. And it’s not simple, not by any stretch of the imagination. Many of you will have never had an encounter with law enforcement, other than seeing officers on the street at a parade. Consider yourself fortunate.

Now, I’m not going to insult anyone by saying I understand what it means to be a person of color confronted by law enforcement in this day and age. And I can’t pretend to understand what law enforcement officials go through every day, when they’re confronting people they usually don’t know at arguably the worst moments of their lives.

There’s no way I can.

What I can understand is the feelings of many today that a tough look needs to be taken, a deep examination needs to be made. The calls to defund police departments may be a knee-jerk reaction but look at the fact police especially today are called upon to do so much more than enforce the laws and “protect and serve.” 

And they’re put into these situations, sometimes with little or no additional education beyond their regular police and law enforcement training. That’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to the public they interact with. If anything, law enforcement budgets and agencies may have to be expanded to include individuals knowledgeable in mental health issues, conflict resolution and so much more.

But, at the bottom line, it’s the officers who patrol the streets every day who are often the first ones on the scene. They need to be armed with that additional information and training as well.

And just as “one bad apple spoils the bunch,” one bad officer can ruin public perceptions and relationships it may have taken years to develop. Don’t lump every police officer, sheriff’s deputy, special agent or town cop together for condemnation because of the deplorable actions of a handful. 

It seems to me, it’s kind of like burning down your house because the foundation leaks.

Don’t demolish it; fix it.


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