“All generalizations are dangerous, even this one.”
In more than two decades as a journalist, I worked closely with a lot of police officers. I’ve seen at close range how hard their job is, and how important it is. I call many of them friends, and I’m honored to have them think of me the same way.
Most of the men and women with badges I’ve come to know have been fantastic. I’ve seen a cop step in front of me at a moment when both our lives were in danger, moving without hesitation to put himself in harm’s way to protect me. I’ve seen a state trooper hit in the chest with a bottle remain calm. I’ve seen officers defuse potential violence without ever touching a weapon. I’ve been on the scene shortly after officers gave their lives in the line of duty, and anyone who knows me knows I think of those officers and many others as heroes.
I also understand that some police officers are absolutely horrible human beings. Others, while perhaps decent or even good people, are simply not cut out for the job. To quote a favorite philosopher, they “don’t have the right temperament for the trade.” Note: video contains adult language, and awesomeness levels which may blow your mind.
This week, the Cobb County (Georgia) Police Department announced plans to fire an officer, Lt. Greg Abbott, for telling a woman “Remember, we only shoot black people.”
Also this week, Salt Lake City police apologized to a nurse who was handcuffed and arrested for doing her job according to hospital policy agreed to by the police. She refused, correctly and courageously to violate the policy and a patient’s rights when Det. Jeff Payne ordered her, without a warrant, to draw blood from an unconscious man who was not under arrest.
Greg Abbott is no longer a police officer. I hope Jeff Payne won’t be for much longer. Neither of them has the “right temperament for the trade.”
It’s absolutely possible, and in fact quite sensible, to think of many police officers as heroes while recognizing that some are anything but. It’s even possible, and again in fact quite sensible, to believe that some officers can serve honorably and well for years, but eventually make a mistake serious enough to force an end to their careers.
I have never met Greg Abbott. I have no idea whether he is a racist. Watching the video of his comments, I believe he was trying to make a joke. I also believe he should never again wear a badge. In 2017, in his profession, that kind of bad judgment is inexcusable. In many jobs, there are things one cannot say in public and remain employed. It certainly applies to me. It probably applies to you. It must apply to Abbott.
What Abbott did was stupid. Payne’s actions were even more so, and utterly inexcusable. It was his job to know the department policy on acquiring blood samples. It was his job to understand the Constitution. It was also his job to keep his temper, use good judgment, and understand that handcuffing a nurse and handling her in a way which to most rational people seems to be nothing short of assault was a very bad idea. If, as Payne says, his supervisor told him to arrest the nurse, his supervisor should also be fired. It still does not excuse Payne.
Firing may sound like a harsh punishment, but it is absolutely justified. Police officers are trusted with the lives of those they are sword to protect and serve. They should be paid more, and respected more, but that is a separate discussion. Abbott said something which made every single police officer look bad. Racism among police is a problem, one which has cost lives. It’s not a topic for jokes, ever.
Payne used excessive force. He also, from all indications, lost his temper. Even if he had been correct in arresting the nurse (he wasn’t), it could have been done without assaulting her. On camera, she asks why Payne was so angry. Anger is a normal, human reaction, but it is one every police officer absolutely must learn to control and suppress. The moment a police officer acts out of anger, he or she puts lives at risk.
We’ve seen incidents like this locally too. Sean Groubert and Ben Fields should not be police officers ever again. They may be wonderful men, as may Greg Abbott and Jeff Payne.
I don’t have the temperament, nor the courage, to do what police officers do. I love them and respect them for what they do. That love and respect makes it all the more important to me that we weed out those who don’t belong in the profession, so that those who do can have the honor they deserve.