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"Police as Gang Members"

By Michael Haggard

Michael Haggard is a firefighter and emergency medical technician who works with and observes police every day.

You and your companion are driving down a state highway in the desert. Up ahead, cars come to a stop and form a line so you stop. This is really irritating, you are on your way to family business, and highways are not places for slow traffic. You and your companion theorize what the problem might be; a car wreck, construction, or maybe a dragnet for a criminal. Soon two men in black uniforms with yellow embroidery across their chests identifying them as "POLICE" quickly sprint up to your car with 12-gauge shotguns pointed in your face screaming at you to get out of the car. You are incredulous! What can this be all about... you hesitate. Your hesitation is taken as resistance so more officers run up and threaten you with drawn weapons, you notice now that your companion is being physically pulled from her seat out onto the road. You protest, "What is going on? Get that gun out of my face!"

"You dumb f---, get down on the ground, NOW, a--h---!" the officer screams as he pulls you by the collar onto the ground. Officers knee you in the back as they roughly handcuff your arms behind you, straining your elbows and shoulders. Helpless on the ground and with automatic rifles pointed at your head, more officers arrive to tear your car to pieces, you can't see your companion and no one will tell you where she is or why you are being treated so.

"Shut your f---ing face, G--D---IT!" they scream. Why are you being talked to in this manner? What could you have possibly done to deserve this treatment? Are these even really policemen?

This may seem like a fictional beginning to a patriot or conspiracy editorial in a gun magazine, a laughable scenario from a paranoid mind at best. Yet, today I have seen citizen after citizen treated in this very manner, live and in color on my TV screen with news anchor commentary as it happened so that I might know what it is I am to think about what I am seeing.

In the first week of June 1998, the Four Corners area of Colorado saw a horrid event in the killing of an uniformed officer and the wounding of three other officers allegedly by three men labeled as "survivalists" by the media. This act, if factual, is a wretched act that should bring these men, under arrest, into trial and eventual punishment if found guilty. (I would advocate the death penalty, which these men must agree with as one of them had committed suicide by the time of this writing)

However, the reaction of the local law enforcement is very telling of a condition that I have seen growing over the last few years. The police have become a gang. Much like the archtypical groups of delinquent teens rumbling in the 'hood; the modern law enforcement sociology has allowed policemen to become just another group emotionally protecting its own values and members, sans reason or responsibility.

Working as a Firefighter/EMT I have had a great deal of contact with state and local law enforcement. Individual officers are generally likable people who have the same wants and needs in life as everyone else I know. I have great respect for these men and women who risk their lives for others. Few officers are ever the evil "bad-cop" we see pictured in most anti-police media. I have also worked with many gang-members as an EMT and as a counselor and few of them as individuals are unlikable. The trouble is when these people get into groups and are driven by the group's code and pressures.

The case is illustrated by the recent dragnet in the Four Corners. Law enforcement, in mass, has suspended the rights of the citizens and ignored the Bill of Rights in order to catch three men accused of killing another officer. I see murder and attempted murder a little too often in my business, yet I have never seen a city evacuated and the highways shut down for the murder of a housewife or a drug user. Are these lesser citizens? Is the officer valued more highly? Like slighted gang-bangers, these police are committing the moral equivalent to drive-by shootings by creating an atmosphere of random fear, invoking power to get others to do their will on their terms at their whim.

I understand the two things in favor of the law officers. First of all, the criminal willing to shoot and kill a "badge" is a criminal like no other. He is willing to go farther into the darkness of evil than most. He has no fear of perceived authority as most of us do. So, from a law enforcement standpoint, he is a human crime bomb that must be stopped before he guiltlessly satisfies his sociopathic appetites.

Secondly, they know these men that went down under fire. They know their wives and kids. They know their commitment to law, peace, and community. Honor, camaraderie, and brotherhood call these men to do whatever it takes to find these alleged murderers and bring them to justice.

Yet neither of these reasons is reason enough for their hideous acts against free and unaccused, unsuspected citizenry. In fact, both reasons fly in the face of a higher calling that these officers swore to uphold and protect; the Constitution of the United States of America.

Am I a Constitutionalist? No, though I love that old document and cannot foresee a better one to be offered.

Am I a Libertarian? Yes, but even that is not the issue here.

Both of the reasons for the actions of the police are emotive, subjective and criminal in that they cause these officers to throw their oaths, their very sworn word, out the window when it suits them. The problem is not partisan politics nor constitutional freedom nor martial philosophy - the problem is that they are changing the rules to suit themselves, careless of the promises they have made to the people around them, placing themselves above the law and above the citizenry, and that they are initiating the very aggression against the people they have been employed to protect from such aggression in others.

One dark night I responded to a stabbing. A young teen gang member had been stabbed in the abdomen by a rival gang member. As I worked to stop the bleeding, the state funded "Gang Enforcement Task Force" stepped in to investigate. (What an interesting name. Are they enforcing gang activity?) Four men, buff and smelling of maleness, dressed in black BDUs and with matching crew cuts, stepped out of their white unmarked (yet obvious) four door, antenna burdened sedan and into a medical emergency; compromising the delivery of medical care so that they could get the facts they needed to enforce the law. They drilled the young man for names and places as he screamed in pain, his blood soaking the carpet of his mother's living room floor. The other firefighters and I informed the officers that they would have to wait until the patient was stable. The icy looks from all four goons let us know that we were right, but that we should have wished we were wrong. They continued to compromise our care. What were we to do? Call the police?

Later, at the hospital, I asked one of the GETF (what can you do with that acronym?) officers, "How can you identify gang activity in the simplest terms?" I knew the answer. I had worked as a counselor of troubled youth in the area, working closely with the courts and police.

Like an overplayed answering machine greeting, the officer lazily recited, "Gang activity is idefined simply by; the wearing of colors for identity, the protection of perceived turf, and the use of languages and symbols particular to the group."

I grinned, "So, Officer, you are a gang member?"

The icy eyes tried their magic since he had no logical response nor did he understand the comment. He was looking through a cultural blind spot.

"You see, YOU wear colors; why else would peace officers need black battle dress uniforms except to look cool? YOU protect turf from rival gangs, else why would you want to search private property without the entanglements of due process and warrants as the Justice Department has been arguing in recent court trials? YOU also use a language and symbology that is particular to the group, otherwise you wouldn't sound like you are testifying to a jury and judge every time you speak to citizens about the weather or give directions to strangers. In fact I rarely see an officer relax around anyone else but other officers, much like gang members."

I am not popular with the GETF or the Winslow PD.

As I have had more and more contact with people that I personally know to be upstanding, law abiding citizens, and hear of their being harassed by law enforcement for no good reason; I have thought about this problem more and more. I have no real cause to offer as to why officers are becoming more like gang members (except it is in human nature and the nature of such authority), but I can point to a time in history where it may have occurred. At some point in time, not uniform across the country, the police stopped thinking of themselves as "peace officers" and as "officers OF the law" and started thinking of themselves and calling themselves "law ENFORCEMENT officers."

There is an inherently invasive and pre-emptive quality to the term "enforcement." Liberty and freedom are not compatible with a government that is invasive and pre-emptive. We have been reminded by our current elected leaders that we will have to give up a little freedom for better security.

In the early portion of this century, men with enforcement on their minds came to citizens and said that they would have to give up a little freedom and liberty for their safety. These men were called gangsters, mob-enforcers. Peace officers moved to protect the people from such violations of the peace. Later, the peace officers fought for so long against the gangsters and seemingly lost so often that their actions started to look much like the mob's activities. The war escalated and the people cried out for a change. Change came, but much remained that was projectionist in the law community.

Today it seems that officers of the law are all too willing to break the law to suit their emotional needs. A bigger gang with bigger money beats on the smaller gang with less money, neither will win if they both use the same tactics. It is arguable who is the bigger gang with the most money, police or gangsta's. The fact remains that a citizen going home from work to see his wife and kids can get stopped at gun point and wrestled to the ground because of his look or his profile. It seems that even among the police, the colors I wear and the turf I cross is enough reason to point a gun at me and examine my respect for the gang and its language. How long will it be before my colors and turf is enough for that gun to be shot if the language is wrong or the proper respect not given?

Oh, the dragnet in the Four Corners could be a success in some measure. After all, several arrests were made. What were the arrests for? Who knows? Who cares? Criminals were caught as a result of everyone's' rights being suspended for just a short time - for the safety of us all, you understand. It made good TV for the "good guys" often accused of not doing enough for our safety (an accusation made by people who take no responsibility for their own safety). Question is, emboldened by such "successes," how easy will it be for the Police to suspend our liberties for ever increasing lengths of time and for ever less critical reasons. Just as we are seeing greater acts of violence for even the smallest perceived disrespect in the gang culture, we are seeing an ever increasing use of aggression by our police for more and more minor events.

Responding to a call for an officer needing medical assistance, my ambulance rolled into a predominately Hispanic neighborhood. An officer stood by his cruiser having an asthma attack after chasing a suspect on foot for several blocks. His suspect safely locked in the backseat, the officer just needed a little oxygen treatment. Soon patrol cars of all kinds began to arrive with lights flashing. Officers from all over the area came to assist the officer needing assistance. DPS, sheriff and police flooded the block, 12 cars in all. Like all concerned neighbors, even possibly you, the people in their homes began to file out into their yards to see what all of the flashing red lights were about. While attending to the "downed" officer, I heard a DPS officer yell into the crowd like a school principle during a food fight emphasizing each word for authority, "Get - back - into - your - houses, - now, - or face arrest." As I looked up, several officers drew guns at the sound of citizens hotly protesting the order to vacate their own yards when there was no emergency or threat to public safety. Within minutes men and women were up against walls with guns in their faces as others protested for their right to private property and assembly. Other officers were called as my crew left the scene. Wouldn't a polite word have gone farther in the long run? As always it is the bystander that suffers under the shadow of gang violence, no matter what "colors'' the gangs may wear.

End the gang violence, abolish the standing army in our streets.

(c) Michael Haggard 1998.

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29 June, 1998