17 July 2020

Excessive Force

I've see it since the 1960s when I first went into law enforcement. Cops beating up people. How did Steinbeck put it in The Grapes of Wrath? – "Whenever there's a cop beatin' up a guy."

During the 1968 Democratic Party Convention, we witnessed Chicago police attacking demonstrators. It became known as 'The Chicago Police Riot'. Recently, demonstrations in the streets have triggered more police rioting. It is a horrible sight.

When you assemble heavily-armored police officers and put them in direct proximity with protestors, the cops adopt a mob mentality. They act like a mob and used the tools provided to intimidate and attack with tear gas, pepper spray, tasers, nightsticks, pepper balls, rubber bullets, while uttering the mantra taught in police training classes, "Quit resisting." They will use deadly force uttering their other montra, "I was afraid for my life."

When will police chiefs see this? When will mayors and governors see this? When will they see the videos of officers beating unarmed protestors and immediately identify these officers, fire them and arrest them? When an officer beats an unarmed and peaceful protestor with a nightstick, the officer is committing a crime and should be arrested. Excessive force is a crime. Excessive force with a weapon is aggravated assault and aggravated battery.

We've all seen it on cell phone cameras. If you doubt me, go on twitter, go on facebook and other social networks and see the brutality of heavily armed police officers beating people.

Police officers are allow to use force to overcome resistance but not to punish people, torture people. They are torturing American citizens with no accountability.

It is not just bad cops. It's systemic. It's a terrible mindset, a deep exaggeration of US against THEM. Not US against law breakers, but US meaning the police and THEM meaning everyone else.

I joined law enforcement twice in my lifetime. In the 1970s, I went through an excellent police academy which taught us the laws were were to enforce and how to be peace officers. In the 21st Century, I became a police officer again, joined an American law enforcement community far more akin to the military training I received in the US Army than any prior police experience. No longer peace officers, these law enforcement officers were trained to punish people, hurt people.

And now, I'm retired and look back and –

silence is not an option
I feel a great sadness
sometimes, tears well in my eyes as I see my fellow officers beathing people unmercifully
with nightsticks
hitting them with tear gas and pepper spray and tasers
eager to inflict pain
on peaceful protestors who are in someone's way
we are the police
we are not Nazi storm troopers
we are peace officers
take off your riot gear
dress like a cop
you're not in the military
if someone gives you an illegal order
don't do it
if the streets get blocked, go another way
let them demonstrate
they don't live in the street
they will leave
if someone breaks things
move in and stop the breaking
if you can
go an apprehend
you don't beat them
don't commit a crime against a person because of a crime against property 
let them say, "horray for our side"
don't automatically take the other side
we're not supposed to take sides
we're supposed to keep the peace
not attack nonviolent citizens
these are our people
they are us
Americans like you and me
if this was 1775, would you be so eager to wear British red
would you attack Americans pulling down a stature of King George III
if this was 1861, would be eager to wear gray
would you attack men in blue
men fighting under the star and stripes
how could you fight to keep people enslaved
how could you wave their flag, wear their paraphernalia, think of them as anything but traitors
I feel a great sadness
sometimes, tears well in my eyes

Since this is a writer's blog, I'd like to report how I am still asked, "Where do you get your ideas?"

My new answer is this –

"I hear voices. In my head. Female voices. In Portuguese. I have to get an interpreter."

That's all for now.


  1. Coming from a cop, this says a lot more than the commentators, politicos, etc. Agree with Richard, thanks for giving an inside perspective.

    I have a question. Is this police mindset mainly applicable to major cities? I know individual cops in small towns and in rural areas may have similar feelings. But, as a whole, I'm not seeing it. I live in a county where I can't imagine what we're seeing on the television due to the leadership of the Sheriff's Department and the Police Chiefs in our community.

    Am curious to hear your thoughts on the matter.

    Again, thank you for these insights.

  2. Interesting soliloquy, O'Neil. Two conversations come to mind as I read it.

    The first was with a guy I worked for. He enrolled in Boston's auxillary police not because he needed a side job– he was in the process of becoming wealthy– but he liked the power. He bragged no end beating an ƒ-ing hippie senseless with a 5-cell flashlight… and ruined it in the process.

    The second was a guy I worked with who seemed a bit of a jerk when I first met him. One night after working late, he began drinking and revealed he'd been a US Marshal. He and another marshal had to transport a prisoner across country on a train. The other guy enjoyed making the prisoner as miserable as possible including physical violence and not giving the prisoner anything but cold french fries to eat during that long trip.

    The prisoner was uncuffed during restroom breaks and during one of them, a passenger suffered a heart attack and was on the point of dying. With one cuff on and a gun pointed at his head, the prisoner administered CPR, saving his life. That made no difference to the one marshal– he didn't even mention it in his report, but continued heaping abuse on the prisoner just because he was black.

    The guy telling the story did what he could for the prisoner, but it prompted him to leave the service shortly thereafter.

  3. O'Neil -- I'm always interested in the way you, as a former police officer, see all this. I also think your perspective and experience makes the characters and plots in your stories and novels more believable as well, but that's another matter.

    Great post as usual.

  4. Thanks O'Neil - your memories and experience are very important here.
    I think we'd like to believe this is an urban problem, however - let's face facts, all those Southern tales of small town sheriffs / police chiefs who rule along strictly color-biased lines - violence to the blacks, courtesy to the whites - weren't told / written for nothing. It happens everywhere. Even up here. (replace blacks with Native Americans.)


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