Playing Cop

“Why was a 73-year-old insurance company executive riding around playing cop?”

This question was asked by the Washington Post in reference to the tragic story of a Tulsa, OK “reserve cop” who accidentally shot and killed an unarmed black man last week. He says he meant to use his taser, but used his gun by mistake:

When Robert Bates pulled his weapon and shot 44-year-old Eric Harris on April 2, he said he thought his handgun was his Taser. In a video released by authorities over the weekend, a gunshot fires and Bates says, “Oh, I shot him. I’m sorry.” The incident was one of two shootings this month in which a white officer shot and killed an unarmed black man — and it has created a backlash for many reasons, one being Bates is not a real police officer. He’s a reserve sheriff’s deputy. And some fear he wasn’t qualified to be one.

So who are these “reserve officers” out on the streets playing cop? The Post tells us they’re insurance salesmen, bankers, lawyers, teachers. They are movie stars like Steven Seagal and Lou Ferrigno, and NBA stars like Shaquille O’Neal.

And what the hell are they doing patroling our streets, armed with tasers and guns?

It’s all part of the big push to outsource community policing from the public police force (and their unions, and pensions) to private citizens which I touched on last week. While conservatives and the NRA and other groups like to go on and on about “the right of citizens to protect themselves and their families,” what’s really going on here is a dismantling of a public function handled by public employees and turning it over to ordinary individuals.

These volunteer “reserve officers” are just another piece of that general philosophy. The fact that it’s being implemented by the local police and sheriff’s office just tells me they’ve bought into a narrative that has devalued their training and expertise and tells ordinary citizens that this is a job any asshole can do.

This is the issue underlying our gun debate, and it’s one we haven’t discussed because nobody seems to realize it’s even going on. So now we have “Glock Blocks” — a stepped-up form of neighborhood watch, now with firepower:

Tolomon and a group of Jennings Lodge neighbors say they’re responding to escalating crime on their block by also making fliers that read “This is a Glock block. We don’t call 911.”

It’s mostly petty crime that neighbors are sick and tired of: stolen lawn ornaments, vandalism. But for neighbors like Tolonen, a breast-cancer survivor, that’s enough: “I will defend myself — and my home,” she told KOIN 6 News.

Shooting at someone who stole your Lily Rose lawn ornament is not exactly the best, most appropriate response. But as yet another American institution fails, this is what happens. This is how civil society crumbles.

And then you have useful idiots like Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, NRA hero, who famously recorded a PSA telling the citizens to not bother calling 911, but to instead arm themselves:

“With officers laid off and furloughed, simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option,” Clarke intones.

While I don’t buy into Clarke’s fearmongering about dangerous criminals lurking behind every bush — crime rates have consistently fallen as the population ages — he has a point. Our national infatuation with tax cuts tax cuts tax cuts has cut services at all levels of government, finally reaching once-sacred cows like local law enforcement and education. Shit needs to be paid for, but since we’re unwilling to do that these days, we’ll just have to take matters into our own hands. Let’s all homeschool our kids and get carry permits. Maybe we can operate our own water and sewage treatment plants, too. “Public” functions have been denigrated and devalued — no wonder, they don’t function so well on starvation budgets — and people are left to think they can do this stuff better themselves.

And that’s why our state legislature wants ordinary citizens out armed and concealed-carrying, in parks and schools and everywhere else. They don’t have to pay for that, do they? These are volunteers “playing cop,” too. People who may do something stupid like shooting themselves accidentally checking to see if the gun is loaded (news flash: it was!). Or, here’s one out of David Clarke’s home turf: a guy driving a van accidentally hits a toddler who ran out into the street. When he gets out of the van to check on the child, someone shot and killed him — and the teenager who was with him. For some reason. This is justice, American-style. We don’t need no 911, no police force, no judicial system. We’ll be judge and jury and executioner, too. Welcome to modern America.

This is how civil society dies. It starts by denigrating all things public — public employees, public schools, public servants of all kinds. Make “public” a bad word, tell everyone you can do a better job yourself (or the private sector can).

You can pretend it’s all about freedom and self-protection and defending your castle, but stop kidding yourselves. It’s about the slow descent into anarchy you guys have been fearmongering about. You’re the useful idiots pulling the string that will unravel our society and you don’t even realize it.

17 Comments

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17 responses to “Playing Cop

  1. SiubhanDuinne

    One of the best, most incisive, most comprehensive rants I’ve ever read. Excellent analysis. What a tragedy and disgrace that it was necessary to write it.

  2. mary l. wilson

    SB, Please upload this article to FACEBOOK. Our Legislature is now owned and caters to NRA’s every pronouncement and lie. The information spouted at their Convention was so bogus and twisted, and yet the lemmings who hang on their every work BELIEVE IT.
    Hell, this country does not even adequately their own about gun safety, correct procedures when arresting, or even stopping cars. And we do NOT need home grown NUTS playing cops, like George Zimmerman. Please submit and/or post this one on ALL social media….ASAP. thanks

  3. chrome agnomen

    this descent into the privatization of public functions prepares us for the ultimate return to a feudal society of city states. the reversal of this slow swing of the pendulum will take some greater amount of time than this generation has, and so i expect the situation to worsen considerably before the preponderance of people is able to shake off the mass psychosis of the time. that so many people can be so easily played in symptomatic of the dismantling of our educational system, and the general sowing of the seeds of distrust in government institutions which has been the goal of the right throughout history. the stupid does indeed burn!

  4. ThresherK

    Trying to make a joke about how my nephew won a contest to be Honorary Bat-boy for the New Britain Rock Cats, whereupon they let him pinch-hit in the game and afterwards sent him to play second base.

    Too enraged to finish it.

  5. Kathleen

    “Why was a 73-year-old insurance company executive riding around playing cop?”

    Because he’s rich and white. He supposedly has purchased toys and goodies for the department. Next thing you know they’ll be putting “criminals” in preserves to be chased and hunted. Just because they can.

  6. Kathleen

    And, Ms. B, that was indeed a righteous rant.

  7. carolinabeachbum

    Great post! I agree with every word. This part rang true in a number of ways:
    Shit needs to be paid for, but since we’re unwilling to do that these days…
    Here in the conservative wonderland that is South Carolina our roads suck. Both the republicans and democrats in the state legislature have gotten together and said we need to raise taxes to fix them. But no, our glorious Governor Nikki says she will veto any plan that raises taxes. South Carolina has always been a joke but she has raised it to an all new level. I’d leave the country entirely if it was possible because I expect we will degenerate to some sort of feudal system before long.

  8. He paid to play. Obviously highly trained. Couldn’t tell the difference between a taser and a pistol. Probably stressed when he decides on latte flavor.

  9. “This is my Taser, this is my gun. This one’s for killin’, this one’s to st–!

    My bad!!”.

    Considering the difference in weight, grip size, color, length, etc., it’s hard to believe that anyone who is self-aware, never mind “well trained” would have any problem telling the difference–at night, in the rain. Otoh, if the guy is so caught up in the “Fog of battle” he’s volunteering in the wrong area.

  10. ThadGresham

    Southren Beale, I was with you right up to the point where you ran off the road with the pro-tax and the anti-choice ( home education vs. state mandate). The remainder is your basic blah-blah-blah. Go back to your knitting babe.