“I Go to UVa, You F—king Racists!”

I’m like a dog.  Every time my wife goes out the door, she is dead to me. Until she comes home and I see her again and I’m happy.  I’m told this is how dogs perceive our absence, and my dog bears this out.   My wife, no more emotional than I but far more intelligent, doesn’t see it this way. She trusts I will come back. She has seen such worry and coped.

What she saw, though, for more than 23 years of marriage, was me going off to a job that might kill or injure me.  Married to a police officer, she understood the risks my partners and I faced and worried silently.  Too many bad guys trying to kill cops, too many trying, and sometimes succeeding, to hurt me.

Often, injury and assault began without a plan.  A drunk or disorderly didn’t understand that we weren’t going away, that the little infraction we were there for required him to submit, to go along.   Anger escalated into resistance and lawful commands  –  “put your hands behind your back, you’re under arrest, stop resisting” – were ignored.  Often the suspect would be taken to the ground, per common police training.  At that point, it was far too late for pleas like, “Wait a minute, hear me out, I didn’t mean it, lemme just go home.”

Or, my new personal favorite, “I go to UVa you fucking, you fucking racists!”

One Saturday night on King Street in Alexandria, decades ago, a fellow officer whom I will call Barry (because that’s his name) and I were flagged down by a cabdriver with a sleeping drunk in his backseat.  Unable to rouse the drunk or determine his true destination, the cabbie sought out the police who always walked the bar district.  We awakened the man, persuaded him to pay his cabfare and began to take him into custody for being drunk in public. Yes, that is illegal in Alexandria, as in many places.  We had the option of taking him to a city detox facility where he could sleep it off and walk free in the morning instead of jail but he would have none of it. He began to resist us, “without force” in the legal vernacular that means he didn’t try to hit us. But he did swing his arms, stamp his feet and try to break free.  As we struggled between the bumpers of two parked cars, Barry’s and my choices were: let him go (certainly not, for his safety and our jobs); use pepper spray, an effective immobilizer and aggression-ender, but which would have required us to let go first, and close car traffic on King Street endangered him and precluded that; or take him to the ground where we could wrestle his arms into handcuffs without having to hit him or letting him hit us.  Not getting hit?  Always a preferred option.  Senior officer that I was, I told Barry my intention and swung the drunk over my propped leg.  He chose that moment to go fully limp and let his head fall before his chest, so he smashed face-first to the ground.

Unnecessary?  In the grand scheme of things, yes. Had anyone asked this guy at the beginning of his evening, “Hey, Bubba, after your night on the town, you want to fight some cops and get face-planted?  Betcha he’d say, no.  But at the moment it occurred, with the choices Barry and I had, and the choices Mr. Drunk-guy had made?  No, not unnecessary or unreasonable.  And more than reasonable for us cops.  We don’t like to hit people, but most of all we don’t like to get hit. And my wife hated when I came home injured, had to go to the basement to remove a bloody uniform before the kids saw it.  We know injury, and God forbid, death, are not unlikely On The Job (my former job) but that doesn’t mean we won’t take steps to protect ourselves, for ourselves and our families. Those steps include using force.

So police point guns at men in dark cars who refuse to show their hands.  Shots are fired at deranged men who throw rocks at cops and citizens on city streets, or foolish men who walk through departmentt stores waving weapons.  And as we have all seen in news video by now, 20-year-old UVA  student Martese Johnson got taken to the ground in a  confrontation with uniformed agents of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control on St. Patrick’s Day.  No justification for this action has yet been offered by the ABC, but the ubiquitous video shows Johnson struggling to resist control and cursing the cops over him.  There has been no claim of police brutality, other than that implied by the national media inferring from Johnson’s bloody face that some impropriety must have occurred.  Savannah Guthrie, for example, NBC’s Today Show talker, wrapped up their next-day coverage with, “Those pictures say a lot.”

What exactly do they say to you, Savannah?  That a privileged kid waved his college colors as a shield against responsibility?  That an easily-played race card could be dealt – and bet on – before any facts are released or testimony presented?  Surely not, Savannah.  In your eyes, it is more “if it bleeds, it leads “ journalism to fill news hole, more perpetuation of a popular but dangerously false media theme of police misconduct toward blacks.   Tuesday, Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak decried “sensation and scandal” in Charlottesville for “a bloody arrest for an alcohol infraction,” and “gang rapes/not gang rapes,” a reference to another media failure, Rolling Stone magazine’s false 2014 article on an rumored student rape that local police say never occurred. (To be fair, the Post did come up with the earliest comprehensive debunking of the Rolling Stone piece, but for Dvorak to cite the non-event as a Charlottesville failure is a cheap shot.) The press insertion of a racial dynamic continued Wednesday with Post columnist Courtland Milloy, who drew on his years of police experience (zero) to opine: “A cop who thinks a suspect is uppity is also likely to feel threatened. And that’s all it takes to justify hurting you.”   Uppity?  Wow, that’s a weighty word, Courtland.

How can this be?  How can an honors student end up bloody under the knee of a cop?  A student who the bar bouncer now says was “cordial and respectful” and not belligerent at the time his identification was questioned and he was denied entry into Trinity Irish Pub by bar staff?

Hmmm.  Why would someone act sweet to sneak into a bar, and act up when cops call him on it? How could this be? And could a bar try to distance itself from the mayhem it caused by refusing Johnson’s entry in the first place?

Here is what little we actually know:  The Associated Press reports that the ABC issued a statement saying that “uniformed ABC Agents observed and approached” an unidentified individual “after he was refused entry to a licensed establishment” about 12:45 a.m. at an area of bars and restaurants near the UVa campus known as “the Corner.”  The man who recorded the video, Bryan Beaubrun, told AP that Johnson was trying to get into the Trinity Irish Pub when he was stopped by a bouncer. According to Beaubrun, an ABC officer then grabbed Johnson by the arm and pulled him away from the bar to speak with a group of police officers.  After about a minute, Johnson asked the ABC officer to let go of his arm and tried pulling away from the officer. At that point, another ABC officer grabbed Johnson from behind and the two ABC officers wrestled Johnson to the ground.  Beaubrun said Johnson hit his head on the ground.

There is no racial component here other than the insults shouted by an angry arrestee.  But that still doesn’t stop the press from inserting one. Today’s Post reports that Governor McAuliffe, “spurred by the violent arrest of a black college student by white Alcoholic Beverage Control officers,” ordered the ABC to undergo retraining. I hope the training includes avoiding hard suspension parts of the bus they’ve been thrown under.

The jury is still out on this incident (far too early to even think about a jury.)  Johnson, a member of the UVa Honor Committee and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, was charged with misdemeanor obstruction of justice without force and public swearing/intoxication.  The Governor has asked the State Police to investigate the arrest, a showy overreaction but politically pretty.  For some reason, UVa Vice President Marcus Martin told CNN that he knew an alcohol test performed on Johnson post-arrest was negative, though he also said he had no test results, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

I wrote in an earlier column that after reading the Department of Justice report on misconduct in Ferguson, Missouri, I can no longer simply defend police, blindly and prematurely guess at justification for questioned conduct based on my hope that the cops acted properly.  So I await an investigation, a court appearance with testimony from sworn, actual witnesses.  Too bad the media and the angry public it incites cannot do the same.

And what a hero, the guy who filmed the aftermath of the arrest, heard screaming, “Yo, he’s bleeding,” at least four times while filming instead of calling an ambulance with, um, the phone he was filming with.

Oh, that’s right.  Calling the ambulance, that’s the cops’ job.

Choosing to Believe, and What

The guy in the parking lot asked me for a few bucks because he was out of gas.  Pure scam.  His story became more elaborate the longer I faced him – his car was just down the road, out of sight, and he needed a gas can too so the bite was for fourteen dollars.  But I elected to believe him, or to act that way. I gave him a twenty and told him to pass the change forward.  I didn’t believe his story, but that day I needed to believe…something.   This  was the day the Department of Justice released its report on Ferguson, Missouri, and I felt sick.

I am the luckiest man in America, as I have told my friends and family ad nauseum.  I survived sudden cardiac death – twice! – underwent open-heart surgery (read: new pipes) and retired to the happy life of a family man, ex-cop and as-yet unpublished novelist.  I had $200 in my pocket.  If I felt tapped by my gift to this guy I could make it up with a slightly thinner envelope at Mass on Sunday.  Alms for the poor, whichever wouldn’t matter.

My friends and family also know I am a police apologist, or at least a police explainer. I try to come up with a reasonable, officer-safety related explanation for whatever the news media so often reports as brutality or insensitivity.  I yell at the CNN announcers who misinterpret police actions in broadcast videos, pointing out to the unaware news talkers on the other side of the TV screen that, for example, “The guy is grabbing the cop’s gun!” Or, “Thrown rocks ARE dangerous, to them and to the public.”  Or, “We’re trained to shoot at twenty feet if he doesn’t drop the knife.”  The media and the public never get what goes through an officer’s mind at critical moments, never appreciate the job dangers and the duty requirements.  Cops see things through a different lens than the public.  Danger is everywhere, and cops have few ways other than fast reflexes and force to protect themselves from anger or assault that can come from any direction, at any time, without any warning.  Ask the officers who were just shot in Ferguson from an assailant hidden in a crowd during a night of protests.  Cops learn to distrust, to question, to doubt everyone.

But I needed to believe this gas guy. I wanted to be the kind of relaxed, normal citizen who happily helps someone in need without cynicism or distrust.  Just like I need to believe that Michael Brown’s mom did not write the horrible things attributed to her this weekend on FaceBook.  And I now must believe that the Ferguson Police Department and in fact the entire town government were, if not are, evil.

I have to believe the Department of Justice report that calls out the police and court system in Ferguson for “harmful…intentional discrimination on the basis of race.”   I sure don’t want to.  I would rather think that it just so happened that a higher percentage of Ferguson’s blacks commit minor infractions that whites, that it’s because the police spend more time in the poor neighborhoods, which are so often the homes of minorities, an operations-based cause that I saw in my career on the police department in Alexandria, Virginia.

But I would be wrong.

From the DOJ report:   Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the     City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs. This emphasis on revenue has    compromised the institutional character of Ferguson’s police department, contributing to           a pattern of unconstitutional policing, and has also shaped its municipal court, leading to     procedures that raise due process concerns and inflict unnecessary harm on members of         the Ferguson community. Further, Ferguson’s police and municipal court practices both    reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias, including racial stereotypes. Ferguson’s own           data establish clear racial disparities that adversely impact African Americans. The      evidence shows that discriminatory intent is part of the reason for these disparities. Over        time, Ferguson’s police and municipal court practices have sown deep mistrust between           legitimacy among African Americans in particular.

Makes me sick. If I hadn’t worked for a fine, balanced, thoughtful and community-responsive police department for fully half my life, I would be embarrassed to have been a cop. But I’m not. I’m proud.   I was good, and my brothers and sisters who remain in uniform are as good as cops can be: fair, impartial, careful, smart and just.  As I always believed, or wanted to naively believe, all police departments are that way. But I can’t anymore.

From the DOJ Report:

Our investigation indicates that this disproportionate burden on African       Americans cannot be explained by any difference in the rate at which people of different    races violate the law. Rather, our investigation has revealed that these disparities occur,        at least in part, because of unlawful bias against and stereotypes about African            Americans. We have found substantial evidence of racial bias among police and court        staff in Ferguson.

Any cop will tell you that attitude tickets are written.  A traffic stop that could have ended with a warning ends with a citation because the driver just didn’t get it, didn’t go along.  It’s more than just yes sir, no ma’am, it’s a perception that the offender doesn’t get the purpose of the stop, won’t refrain in future and so needs a little written reminder.  Tickets are written, or not, every day based on the snap impressions of cops whether to give a break or come down hard with a ticket or two.  But not for the sole purpose of raising revenue. Not like this:

From the DOJ report:  Even relatively routine misconduct by Ferguson police        officers can have significant consequences for the people whose rights are violated. For          example, in the summer of 2012, a 32-year-old African-American man sat in his car            cooling off after playing basketball in a Ferguson public park. An officer pulled up     behind the man’s car, blocking him in, and demanded the man’s Social Security number    and identification. Without any cause, the officer accused the man of being a pedophile,             referring to the presence of children in the park, and ordered the man out of his car for a            pat-down, although the officer had no reason to believe the man was armed. The officer          also asked to search the man’s car. The man objected, citing his constitutional rights. In            response, the officer arrested the man, reportedly at gunpoint, charging him with eight             violations of Ferguson’s municipal code. One charge, Making a False Declaration, was     for initially providing the short form of his first name (e.g., “Mike” instead of     “Michael”), and an address which, although legitimate, was different from the one on his   driver’s license. Another charge was for not wearing a seat belt, even though he was             seated in a parked car. The officer also charged the man both with having an expired             operator’s license, and with having no operator’s license in his possession. The man told    us that, because of these charges, he lost his job as a contractor with the federal            government that he had held for years.

            And so on, for 100 pages.  Dozens of examples of misconduct ranging from inappropriate words to abuse or police power to excessive force.  So I can no longer grin confidently back at any police detractors with the certainty that cops, as a group, just don’t do that. I can’t automatically default to defending any cop’s actions as just, proper and dictated by the circumstances created by the offender.  Cops shoot people who have to be shot.  Officer Darren Wilson had to shoot Michael Brown that day last August.  I believed so when I read the first reports, and the Department of Justice believes so after extensive investigation.  But I, and police across the country, have lost our reliance on the automatic assumption of lawful justification for our actions.  Many police departments have a large supply of positive community relations in the bank, and can weather or even avoid public anger and skepticism when their officers take unpopular action.  Others like Ferguson suffer the negative consequences of neglecting the outreach and communication their communities needed, and are quickly judged faulty when tragic or questionable events occur.  According to the DOJ, in Ferguson, “(t)he confluence of policing to raise revenue and racial          bias thus has resulted in practices that not only violate the Constitution and cause direct             harm to the individuals whose rights are violated, but also undermine community trust,        especially among many African Americans. As a consequence of these practices, law    enforcement is seen as illegitimate, and the partnerships necessary for public safety are, in some areas, entirely absent.”   (I will have more on the DOJ Ferguson report in a future column. Or two.)

And most departments are failing to reach out and educate the main offender spreading negative imagery and opinions of the police. The national news media knows nothing of how cops operate, why shootings occur, what makes cops tick.  When news anchors can claim cops shot an “unarmed” man who was doing nothing worse than throwing rocks at them, we as a law enforcement body have failed to make clear the bottom-line bedrock facts of cop life:  we use lethal force to protect ourselves and the public from death and serious injury.

I recently suggested the media should ask so-called Ferguson protestors of police shootings, what would you have the police do instead?   Let’s ask the reporters, “What would you do?  If I punch you in the face and try to take control of a gun, if I grab rocks and bricks and throw them at you hard enough to kill, if I advance on you with a knife in my hand, what would you do?”

All cops know what we would do.  Why can’t we make this clear to the rest of the world?

And another thing I believe. I do not believe Michael Brown’s mother made the vicious anti-police entries in Facebook that some have published recently. Malefactors and rabble-rousers on both sides of the issue of alleged police brutality have lied, shaded and misquoted often since last August.  I choose instead to believe Michael Brown’s family feel the way they showed in a statement released shortly after a St. Louis County officer, 41, and a Webster Groves officer, 32, were shot last Thursday. From that statement:

“We reject any kind of violence directed toward members of law enforcement.         We specifically denounce the actions of stand-alone agitators who unsuccessfully attempt    to derail the otherwise peaceful and non-violent movement that has emerged throughout          this nation to confront police brutality.”

            While the former newspaper reporter in me would have preferred to see the word “alleged” in front of “police brutality,” I choose to focus on “peaceful” and “non-violent.”  I am sure my former brethren in blue would prefer that too, though they unfortunately must remain watchful, armed and ready for anything.


Prejudice or Racism? And the Difference Between

Did the furor die down about the police shooting on Skid Row in Los Angeles or did I just stop watching the news?  Or did a more recent death in Madison, Wisconsin steal the spotlight in the current news cycle?

Another young black man was killed by police Friday night, and people were interviewed to say how impossible it was that unarmed Tony Robinson could have done anything bad enough to get shot.  And again the press on the scene didn’t ask these character witnesses about Robinson’s confession and conviction for a home invasion armed robbery, nor about the multiple calls to 911 reporting him running in front of traffic and hitting passersby before he  attacked a responding officer. (Future columns will return to the falsehood that only armed persons can be lawfully shot by police.)

A protest group called Young, Gifted and Black has called on the police in Madison to cease patrol in the black community. Again, no media questioning of how this departure from safety, law and logic will work but the local police chief has already renounced this unreasonable request.   Cops need to be in the black community, as in any neighborhood, among both the lawbreakers and the good, kind and lawful majority of residents there.

These “killing of an unarmed black man” stories are easy for the national press to present, requiring little effort at the shallow depth of current coverage.  Video shows shouting protesters, crying family, skirmish lines with angry crowds on one side and beefy cops on the other.  No need to prove or document anything – someone on camera however distant or disassociated with the events at hand attacking the police with accusations of racism, terror or murder is enough to guarantee about two minutes of newshole filled at the beginning of the broadcast.

If it pleads, it leads.

A novelist I know wrote about relations between patrol officers and the black community, and why it appears that inordinate police attention is paid to blacks instead of whites. Here, from the book, is a conversation between a Field Training Officer (FTO), a senior cop, and his trainee, a recruit fresh out of the Police Academy, as they drive around discussing the requirements of a patrol officer’s job and the routine and constant demands on his or her attention.  They’re rolling now as the FTO speaks:

“How about the pedestrians you passed. Look at them?  Recognize them?  Do they belong here?  How can you tell?  We have blacks, whites, browns, yellows, everybody is here.  And everybody walks here, so a few black kids in a white neighborhood, while rare, doesn’t mean what you might think it means.  They could be just passing through.  Or they could be looking in cars for stuff to steal, so maybe you should go around the block and give them another look.  White guys in a black neighborhood?  More  rare. Are they buying drugs?”

          The Recruit snapped him a look.  “So all black neighborhoods have drugs? They the only ones with drugs?”

          “The only ones where drugs are sold openly on the street.  Sure, there’s powder cocaine in the bars, and probably in lots of the nice houses we drive past.  But we can’t see it.  We can see the dealers on the corners.  And there’s more of them in the projects, ‘cause that’s where they’ve always been so the buyers know to go there to buy.” 

          The FTO slowed, choosing his words more carefully here.  “Drugs like crack and PCP are more popular among the poor than the rich. Not that the rich don’t do drugs, just not street drugs.  Poor people are likely to be in project housing.  So drugs are likely to be in project housing.   And in this town, poor people are more likely to be black. Does that mean that black people are always gonna be poor, or drug dealers?  No.  But there is more crime in high-density, poor neighborhoods.  And in this city, that means black neighborhoods, ARHA neighborhoods.  The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority owns and runs project housing in three of the six major drug areas in town.  ARHA does what they can, even hires cops themselves to run patrols on detail.  But fill an area with poor people, drugs appear.  Go to the southwest, poor areas might be Hispanic.   Maybe the projects in Quebec are full of poor jobless French folks.  We’re getting a growing Hispanic population now.  They’re poor.  Hard to get good jobs when you don’t speak English, harder still when you might be illegal.  Still hard for blacks to get jobs, because of racism, lower educational offerings.”

          “Isn’t what you’re saying racism?” the Recruit asked.  “You’re saying black people are poor and drug dealers.”

          “No, not what I said.  Listen close.  We find drugs, street drug use and sales, in areas with poorer populations, and in areas where drugs have traditionally been sold for years.  Here in Alexandria, those areas are highly black.  And those are the areas we patrol, mostly.  You’re not gonna spend much time in Beverley Hills or the south side of Old Town, just driving through.  Nobody’s on the street, nobody’s speeding or running lights, nobody’s walking around to rob or get robbed. No, you’re gonna come down to the projects or the edges of them, where the people are.   So, it’s not racism to patrol black areas. It’s prejudice. You pre-judge.  In your judgement, you know you will do more good patrolling where people are, and where crime is, than where it’s not. That’s logic.  And it better be what you learn now.

          “Now, here’s where it looks like racism.” The FTO was spun up now, developing and explaining a defense of what was often cited as unfair police practices.  “We make dozens of marijuana arrests every month in Alexandria.  You figure, you’re a smart kid, figure blacks and whites smoke pot the same.  Reasonable?  Sure.  But we arrest five or six black people for every white person with pot.  That’s racist, right?  Sure has a racist effect.  But we don’t go looking for black people instead of white people.  They come to us.  They’re standing around where we can see them, and they get busted.  Sucks, but that’s how it is.  Tell me how we get around it?”

          “What if we patrolled high-visibility, lots of marked cars and uniforms, made it clear we’re out here so they’d go away so we wouldn’t have to arrest them,” the Recruit offered, his voice dropping at the end as he realized how weak that sounded..

          “Two things. We’ve tried that, but two things. One, they don’t stop doing stupid stuff, they just go around the block where we aren’t and do it there. And two, is it right not to enforce a law just because somebody might say it’s not fair?

          “It’s not racist, but it looks racist and feels racist, so they think we’re racist. And here’s where it can get really bad.  Sometimes we are racist, or we get that way. Spend your career arresting mostly black people, you can start to think, it’s ‘cause they’re black.  You gotta fight that.”

          The FTO tried to spin back down. Race relations was a touchy subject for most police. There were no simple answers to why more blacks than whites were arrested, were incarcerated. And the things that might affect this imbalance – jobs, education, bigotry – were outside the reach of a patrol officer’s arms.  Back to the job he could reach: training this kid to patrol safety and fairly.

          “So, you drive by and see a white pedestrian or a black pedestrian. Male or female.  You’ll make a judgement about whether they need your attention.  Ok, maybe a prejudgement, but still, you gotta decide do I stop and talk with him, check him out? Yes or no. Drive right by or get out.  If yes you’re gonna stop him, do you need backup?  Does he look like he might be armed, or have a knife, or just be big enough to knock you out and take your gun?  If he takes your gun, he’s not just gonna keep it or sell it.  Guy takes a cop’s gun, he’s gonna shoot him.  So if a guy’s about to beat you up, can you shoot him? Ever think about it?  You better.  You should be thinking all the time about what happens if.  If…whatever. And have a plan for it.  And by the way, the answer is yes. If a guy’s gonna beat you up, you can shoot him.  You are authorized to use deadly force in defense of your own life or the lives of others. 

          “But you’re also still following that car. Is it speeding?  What’s your speed now?”

(From Apprehension, copyright 2015 by JohnMarkBergin Enterprises Inc. Used by permission of the author.  Me, in case you haven’t guessed.)

One unusual note in this tragedy. The family of Tony Robinson is insisting that he be considered biracial.  Unsure how that figures into the national narrative. I bet it is ignored.


“Unarmed” and Alarmed

Another day, another dollar, another “unarmed” black male killed by police.  This week, Los Angeles officers scuffled with and shot a man during a robbery investigation.   Caught on camera, the event instantly flared into a national news media event with television talkers quoting sources calling for investigations of, yet again, police terror.

It matters.  But the truth does not.

“Unarmed” is in quotes here because the man wasn’t, despite the hints of outrage that slip past the news anchors’ lips.   Charly K. Keunang, 43 (AKA Charley S. Robinet , the false name under which he served 13 years for armed robbery)  was shot dead in front of a crowd of onlookers, one with a cellphone camera. He was shot because he had a gun in his hand.  That the gun was also held or holstered by one of the LAPD cops doesn’t alter the deadly threat the combative man posed to the cops – and the nearby public.  Like the other allegedly newsworthy deaths from police shooting that are clumped together by the pundits and rabble-rousers, this one was started and finished by the man who died trying to take a cop’s gun.  Keunang’s actions forced their hand.   His move dictated his ending.  His choice.

Hands up? Won’t shoot.

In Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown chose to attack an officer and grab his gun, and was shot to death in self-defense.  In Cleveland, Ohio, Tamir Rice chose (as much as any preteen makes choices) to point a pistol at passersby, and was shot by police.  In Beavercreek, Ohio, John Crawford III chose to walk through a Walmart waving an assault rifle-lookalike, and was killed by responding officers.  People make unimaginably stupid choices – because they’re high, or young, or foolish or for no reason at all – and cops react according to their training, their experience.  And their mission.  The police actions were proper in all three cases.  In the brutal parlance of street police these were “good shoots,” reviewed by grand juries and, in the case of Ferguson, vetted and approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, which this week announced it had found significant systemic failures and race-based improprieties in the town of Ferguson and its police department.  (More on this in a future blog.)  And the DOJ report discredits any idea that Brown raised his hands to surrender. Didn’t happen.

Despite all the hand-raising by sincere street protestors, pro ball players and pandering Oscar performers, whether to taunt and insinuate that police are out-of-control aggressors or to honestly plead for an end to violence, the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” movement is a lie. The belief that police want to shoot, especially when the target is black, is offensive and so far beyond insulting that many cops I know can’t believe the news media continues to cover so-called Ferguson protests without a hint of fairness or examination – self or otherwise. The media adopts as factual the protestors’ unsubstantiated assumption that police are bad, so the story accelerates in high-gear into, what do we do about this “fact.”

But the fact is, no police officer wants to shoot. Are they prepared to shoot? Yes.    Ready?  Definitely.    Scared to death of the need to do so?  Likely.  Willing to risk their own life to avoid the need to take life?   Sometimes.  I was.

As a patrol officer in Alexandria, Virginia sometime in the late 90s I was sent for a report of a disorderly person yelling on Mount Vernon Avenue in the Arlandria neighborhood.  Before my backup arrived, a man ran at me swinging a silver baseball bat.  Much shouting and gun-pointing ensued before Kevin (last name available to sworn personnel) dropped what turned out to be a hollow plastic wiffle-ball bat.  “I was just messin’ with you, Bergin,” Kevin told me with no further explanation.

In 1988 I arrested Tyrone (you don’t need his last name, he’s in prison) for something minor. Walking him back to the car for a search with my Tactical Unit partners, we asked the standard, “Do you have any drugs or weapons on you.”  When he pulled a black and silver handgun and slapped it on the car hood, I dropped to the ground so I could shoot him upwards, hoping my bullets that might pass through him wouldn’t hit the cops close behind.  As I sighted in he stepped back, and I didn’t have to shoot.  The gun turned out to be a toy that Tyrone carried, he said, “because I’ll be into a lot of (stuff) out here, and you got to have something for protection.” (He later upgraded to a knife, killed a guy and is serving a life sentence.)

One afternoon in 2004 I left my driveway to respond for a report of a man running in the middle of Interstate 395.  I stopped in the highway fast lane, prayed my blue lights would protect us from traffic, and got out to confront him. He ran at me moving his hand inside his jacket, yelling, “Kill me, I’ll kill you.  Kill me.”  I didn’t.

I should have.  Should have shot each and every one of them.  But I didn’t, hesitating in desperate prayer or cowardly fear, gambling my life in the hope that I might – just might – resolve the deadly moment without causing death.  I regret those failures. But I was lucky.  Took risks I would never have asked of any officer who worked for me, and got away with them.

Many cops can tell stories about the people he or she didn’t shoot, the morons whose actions were so threatening at first glance that deadly force was the obvious and justifiable choice.  Many of us are lucky that way.  Other officers, in recent cases made famous by cellphone video or angry community activists, are not so lucky.  And the press never questions the inflammatory and defamatory charge against police, piles on with innuendo, chooses buzzwords that insinuate misconduct and repeats the “big lie” assumption of a basic “truth” that is itself a lie.  National reporters and even local news anchors repeat the phrase “police killing of young black men” as if it were a thing, an established fact and not the politically-expedient creation of attention-seekers and axe-grinders.

Here is the question the press never asks.  When the public or the pundits or the professional publicity-hounds and race-baiters who show up at these events claim that police overreacted, why doesn’t the media  ask a simple question: “What else should police have done?” or, “ How else could they have handled it?”  Or, “What more could they do?”

Cops have a mission, a duty to their community and their oath.  Whether it starts with a call to 911, a shout from a victim or an observed offense, the cops have to solve the problem, whatever it is, as quickly as reasonably possible.  They are paid to uphold the law, to patrol for violations, to protect and serve.  While the activities of the Ferguson PD and the city as a whole are under a cloud for targeted enforcement against minorities, at the moment of contact between Michael Brown and Officer Darren Wilson, Wilson had a job to do. He couldn’t pass by a violator, even as minor a violator as the jaywalking teen.  Who attacked him.  Citizens reported Tamir Rice, 12, as a man with a gun. Could Cleveland PD ignore the call, tell the public, “Well, maybe it’s only a kid, not a real gun, your fears are groundless and we will ignore our duty to protect you”?   Should the cops summoned to Walmart have waited outside in the hope that Crawford might eventually wander out, or put down the gun he carried throughout the store? Can cops not act?

The night the I-395 thing happened, over poker and beer, I told a friend’s elderly father about it.  He cursed me out, saying I had failed because I did not protect the people around. I should have shot him, this man said, because the guy could have beaten me and taken my gun.  “Shoot him, it was the right thing to do.”


Brown robbed a convenience store and attacked a cop, grabbing his gun.  Rice had a pistol in a park.  Crawford had a rifle in a Walmart.  Keunang on Skid Row grabbed a cop’s gun.  Any of these were potential felonies, hazards to the people, crimes in progress.  Each could have ended safely but all of these fatal encounters were precipitated by the suspects.  What else could the cops on the scene do?  Let the thug beat him and take his gun?  Folks, bad guys don’t grab cops’ guns to sell them or for souvenirs. They use them to kill the cops.  Let the gunman in the park point a pistol at them, or at others nearby?  Allow the man with the rifle time to prepare himself for the arriving police, take cover, make a stand?  Walk away from the disruptive and combative robbery suspect and say, “Hey, talk you later when you calm down. Don’t rob anybody till we get back, okay?”

No. And hell no.  Grab a cop’s gun, wave a gun or what looks to everyone like a gun, and the cops will use lethal force against you, for their safety and that of the public. It’s what we pay them to do.  Again, what else would you have them do?

Hands up, don’t shoot is a myth.  Ask the Department of Justice.

And the guy on I-395?  Never noted his name.  I went back home off-duty, where I had been when this started, and on-duty officers took him for a mental evaluation. Doctors ruled he was not a danger to himself or others so he walked free.

Note:  As this is being sent out, another police-involved shooting is being reported from Wisconsin. No details beyond the race of the dead man: black.  Two other shootings by police occurred this week.  In Burbank, California, a robbery suspect described as Latino was killed after he rammed a police cruiser with his getaway car, and in Aurora, Colorado an undescribed male suspect was killed during a kidnapping investigation.  I saw no national media coverage of these.  What a shame that the only reason the Wisconsin case is “news” is the dead man’s race matches the story line.

Talk about profiling.

Arrogance and Apprehension

     What kind of arrogance does it take to jump into a hole in the internet and start typing thoughts and opinions in the hope they interest and attract an audience?     

     This kind!     

     After 28 years on a police department, and the past one-point-five as a writer (not yet author, more on that in a moment) I caught up to this decade and decided to start a blog – short for weblog, as these were known when I started dabbling on the internet solely to send emails.  The time when writers wrote on paper, and you bought books in stores and opinions were found in newspaper columns. And you could find newspapers.     

      I used to be a newspaper reporter. I ran around with a police scanner in my ear for four years, chasing the ambulances that led to crashes and gunfights and fires, even got an award,  until I decided I wanted to be on the other side of the yellow crime-scene tape and joined up.  After nearly three decades on the Alexandria, Virginia Police Department in Patrol, street-level drug enforcement, recruit training, community support and eventually supervision, command and a safe, quiet desk job, I died. I had two heart attacks in the same morning, shortly followed by the opportunity to meet some fine doctors and nurses who rearranged my coronary plumbing well enough to get well but not to stay employed as a cop.  Police work was too much stress for my bacon cheeseburger-clogged arteries. Too bad, because I miss the job.    

     But too good for my wife and kids, who after I quit revealed the stress they’d hidden over my profession.  It was hard, apparently, to see Dad walk out with 22 pounds of gear – bullet resistant (not bullet-proof) vest, pistol with 40 rounds, handcuffs, gas, radio – and not imagine what use these items would see that night.  And in this modern media age, with the proliferation of imagery and videos and cameras in every phone, little reason to just imagine what cops go through,  No longer do shootings, accidents and deaths invade our homes solely via the nightly news, an avoidable outlet, one whose reach could be blocked by a call home from a critical scene to tell my wife, “Don’t let the kids turn the TV on for a while. I’m okay though.”  Too many calls like that, and no more such in my peaceful, off-duty future. I hope.     

     The stress, where it lately appears, rides in on that same nightly news, now in 24-hour waves.  Waves of significantly anti-police bias seem constant, and on all media.  News-only cable channels show marches and speeches without challenging the sentiments of the shouters, national newspapers decry violence against “unarmed” suspects and include in that category men who grab officers’ guns or wave deadly-appearing replicas as threats, or local news anchors who report on protests against “police terror,”  as if that were a thing, and without according the journalistic deflection of “alleged.”    

     And so, this. Arrogance.  The self-importance of a blog. A stress-relieving vent to my frustration and fury at my former journalistic colleagues for their failures to tell the whole truth but maybe a forum to share ideas and perceptions about how to bridge the gap between what police know and feel and what the public gets to be told.  And an outlet for my occasional writer’s block, as I sit between novels.    

     For I have written a book, about police and violence and stress and race relations.  It is called Apprehension, is (probably) complete at 296 pages pending an editor’s efforts and incoming critique from my beta-readers, and is patiently awaiting success from my ongoing pleas to agents and publishers.  I will try hard to avoid the ultimate arrogance of self-publication, but that route becomes much more attractive the more I learn about revenues and royalties. Money not just for me, but for my law enforcement brothers and sisters.    

     As I awaited double-bypass surgery, a nurse told me my condition – 100-percent blockage of the left anterior descending artery – was known as “The Widowmaker,” and was not normally found in living patients but at autopsy.  She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “God’s got something more for you to do here.”  So…    

     Novelist?  Potentially.  But how about advocate for police suicide prevention?  In my 28-year career, I lost one fellow officer to murder, but three others shot themselves to death. And two Alexandria deputy sheriffs took their own lives.  The killing of cops is newsworthy and well-known, but the greater number of police suicides seems hidden.     

     We can change that.  I hope my book Apprehension will. And I am pledging ten percent of my profits to programs preventing police suicide.  So you all can change it, too.  Details follow.