As I seethe with rage at the news of another appalling shooting by police, I have to concede that I have never walked in a law officer’s shoes, and I wouldn’t want to. Theirs is a job I do not envy.
I met a lot of police officers as a reporter, of course. Some were nice. Some were not.
One burly sergeant in Timmins, Ontario grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and sent me flying out of a house that was cordoned off as a crime scene. I tumbled across the back yard, my notebook landing in the dust several yards away, my clothes a mess.
Fortunately, I wasn’t physically hurt. But my feelings were.
Still, I couldn’t complain. I was breaking the law by ducking under that yellow tape. He could have arrested me. I suppose he was really being lenient.
Many of the cops I encountered during my long career as a reporter in Jamaica, Canada and the US were reticent and wary. They obviously didn’t trust the press. But some were amiable, and a few even became my friends. When I worked for the Daily Gleaner in Kingston, we played ping-pong together, and when they were off duty, we enjoyed a brew or two at a nearby bar.
Of course, it’s the bad eggs that make the headlines. The good guys are taken for granted.
Yes, I know, that’s a tired old cliché. But it’s still worth keeping in mind. At a time like this, clichés matter. We must keep in mind, for example, that cops are people, too. Some people are decent,. kind, brave and virtuous. Some are prejudiced, mean, spiteful – even homicidal.
And – here’s another cliché that matters – you can’t tell a book by its cover.
Once, I interviewed death row inmates at a prison in Florida and to look at them, you would never guess how vicious they were, what ghastly crimes they had committed. They seemed just like anyone else, you or me, our friends and acquaintances.
It’s all very well to censure America’s law enforcement agencies for doing such an apparently poor job of screening the people they entrust with our lives. But it’s hard to tell what’s in the hearts and minds of the applicants getting interviewed. You never know how they will react under pressure.
As they say in Jamaica:
If you don’t mash ants you don’t see their guts.
In a society as tense as today’s America, you tend to get “mashed” – especially if you’re a cop.