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On Tuesday in Santa Rosa, California, two of that city’s “finest” cowered behind a car door and gunned down a thirteen-year-old boy carrying a toy rifle. This little boy, Andy Lopez Cruz, was walking down the street with a fake plastic rifle when the two “heroes” boldly got out of their police cruiser, hid behind the passenger side door, and called out to him. When Andy reacted like any human being would and turned to face them, our brave boys in blue shot a child carrying a toy, because they were scared.
Physical courage is hardly the highest virtue, nor one linked particularly closely with any other measure of moral worth. But physical courage is a virtue all the same, and one sadly lacking today in our cowardly police departments, who hide behind a comical array of war machines and gun down anyone of any age or species who inspires the slightest tremor of fear in their faint hearts. Family pets, the mentally disabled, the elderly — seemingly anything that can move can terrify our brave police officers, so overwhelming them with abject, presumably pants-wetting fear that they draw their weapons and open fire willy-nilly on whatever has their teeth chattering in terror.
In July in Hawthorne, California, a police officer was so overcome by fear at the sight of a little doggy less than a quarter his size that he had no choice but to fire five shots into the animal in front of its owner. Of course one can hardly blame the officer in question, as he only had three of his colleagues there with him and could not possibly have prevailed against the ferocious animal, which reached nearly to the officer’s waist when on its back legs. Letting the owner calm the animal down was also plainly not an option, as the owner was a dangerous villain guilty of a heinous crime — annoying the police while black.
In January in Maryland, a 26-year-old with Down’s syndrome and a reported IQ of 40 was murdered by not one, not two, but three off-duty police officers because he dared try to see a movie twice without buying a second ticket. The possibility that such an offense might not be worth taking a man’s life over never occurred to our fearless officers, who were put in mortal fear of their lives by his anger at being asked to leave that they were forced to tackle him and “subdue” him until he asphyxiated. Down’s syndrome has such a classic, easy-to-spot presentation that even lay people can readily diagnose it in newborns, but it seems these heroic officers had never watched “Life Goes On.” And who can blame them for their fear? Their victim stood all of 5’6” and weighed nearly 300 pounds, presumably all muscle.
In June, back in California, police officers with the Los Angeles Police Department thought they smelled the trademark smell of someone enjoying an illegal chemical and burst into the home of an eighty-year-old man who, startled in the night by strangers in his home, drew a gun and was immediately killed by a fusillade fired by the heroic officers in question, who boldly executed an old man in his bed. Why these officers could not explain who they were or back out of the room to avoid the old man’s fire is unknown, but one thing is certain — we are all safer now that this eighty-year-old man cannot brandish a pistol at strangers who burst into his bedroom in the middle of the night.
Discussions of police abuses usually turn back to policies and procedures that should be changed and the need for increased accountability. These things are important, but also important is addressing the unbelievable degree of cowardice we tolerate in our police officers today. If you’re so afraid of danger that you’re a danger to those around you, you have no business in any kind of dangerous job and should consider going to work in some nice comfy office somewhere. Physical courage isn’t the greatest virtue, but it is a virtue all the same.
Jonathan Carp is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and a nurse. He lives in Tacoma, WA.