When I see the videos and read about the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, it brings me back to my 20 years as a cop in New York City. As a white cop, working in high-crime areas of the city that were predominantly black, I can relate to the situation in Ferguson. It happened to me a thousand times, except for the firing of my weapon; to which I say, ‘there, but for grace of God, go I.’ A typical scenario would be that I stopped someone on the street in connection with a police action. Let’s say I came across a guy from a wanted poster. After establishing the correct identity I tell him he’s under arrest. That’s when the potential for serious injury or death occurs.
“You ain’t takin’ me nowhere, motherf….r!” he says. Okay, whatever happens from that moment on was brought about by the person resisting arrest. Keep in mind that the officer represents the law. He has performed his sworn duty by stopping and identifying a person wanted for the commission of a crime. He has told the person that he’s under arrest. There’s simply no turning back! Hence, if the person refuses to submit; what would we expect the officer do; walk away? You think the streets are unsafe now? Imagine if cops were cowed by the bad guys into backing away from the lawful pursuit of justice? It’s bad enough that so much crime is not preventable, but, when a cop is facing it right in front of his eyes, he must take action.
In the Ferguson case it appears that Brown was stopped by the officer and a fight ensued. Reports are that Brown was struggling to get the officer’s gun just before the shots rang out. If that’s true, it’s not hard to imagine the ultimate outcome. What would have happened if Brown had gained possession of the gun? Would the cop be dead? If he had been murdered by Brown, would the looting and rioting have occurred? Would the NAACP have held an emergency meeting? Would Al Sharpton have traveled to that little Missouri town to rile the residents? If you answered ‘no’ to those questions it’s because you, like most of us, have seen this circus act before.
After making hundreds of felony arrests during my police career I can tell you that no cop starts his tour of duty looking for an opportunity to shoot someone. Nevertheless, every time a cop wears that badge and gun he represents something larger than the individual. Without law and order we may as well arm ourselves and put bars on our windows, and even that is no guarantee of our safety. I’ve been involved in countless incidents in which the person being arrested became violent and had to be physically subdued. When that happens to a cop, the first thing he fears is that the assailant will take his gun and use it on him. Again, what happens after that should not be blamed on the cop. Anyone vicious enough to fight a cop for his gun is vicious enough to use it on him.
One of the things you learn early as a cop, especially in high-crime areas where some people have multiple arrests on their records, is that anyone willing to fight you is willing to kill you. That’s because another arrest could mean a prison cell for the rest of their lives. Here’s the thing; you may not know how desperate they are, but, you’d better assume they are extremely dangerous if they try to get your gun. First of all, what type of person gets violent with a police officer? Even if you feel the cop’s action is wrong, you’re unlikely to take a punch at him. What kind of civilization would we have if everyone decided to resist the law with violent behavior toward its enforcers? Cops are there to protect and serve, not to be abused, beaten or killed. Most cops just want to do their job and go home safely to their families. If the facts come out in the Brown case the way it’s been reported so far, it seems like another Trayvon Martin type of tragedy. The president has already weighed in on it, so it’s like déjà vu.
Sooner or later we must arrive at a consensus in this country about the police and the communities they serve. Residents of every city must decide if they want order or anarchy. Yes, cops can make mistakes and some can abuse their authority. However, a sensible person doesn’t respond by resorting to violence. There are numerous ways to report inappropriate police behavior; ways that can result in the cop’s termination, or worse. Police organizations are very sensitive these days, so complaints are taken seriously. The average citizen has a lot more clout than he may realize. If you think a cop has treated you unfairly; write a letter to the chief or to a newspaper. Trust me; cops fear that type of criticism because it may be a deciding factor in their future advancement. One thing you should never do is fight the guy wearing the uniform. If it doesn’t result in a death, it might result in a prison term. Either way; it’s a losing proposition for the pugnacious citizen.
Bob Weir is a veteran of 20 years with the New York Police Dept. (NYPD), ten of which were performed in plainclothes undercover assignments. Bob began a writing career about 12 years ago and had his first book published in 1999. Bob went on to write and publish a total of seven novels, “Murder in Black and White,” “City to Die For,” “Powers that Be,” “Ruthie’s Kids,” “Deadly to Love,” “Short Stories of Life and Death,” and “Out of Sight.” He also became a syndicated columnist under the title “Weir Only Human.”