To Serve And Protect

This morning I happened to read an article about a police shooting in rural Western Pennsylvania, in the same county where I spent my early childhood and the time my father had custody after my parents split up during my late childhood and teenage years [1]. A domestic violence situation brought a cop to a home, where the abusive man turned his violence on the police officer, opening fire on him, mortally wounding him, before running off on a chase that extended into the next county before he was arrested. The cop later died at a hospital, and the suspect will likely be taken to prison after having his own gunshot wounds attended to at the hospital. The death of this police officer, who was apparently a well-respected local cop who worked between two small police departments in the area outside Pittsburgh, is the third death this year of a police officer in the rural area of my early childhood; the other two deaths were from car accidents, once where a drunk driver driving on the wrong side of the road hit a police officer head on, and the other where a police officer was trapped inside a burning car after being hit. It is clear that this is an extremely bad set of coincidences given the fact that communities of police in that area tend to be small and fairly close fraternities.

What struck me the most, though, was a set of profound ambivalence about the matter, an ambivalence that I consider particularly troubling. The job of police officers, as various portrayals of cops never tire of telling us, is to serve and protect the people. Yet this is not necessarily the case. In my own life, I must admit, police have done very little obvious serving and protecting. During my early childhood, the general shadiness of my family’s behavior led the police to be viewed at by my family in a hostile light, especially because an uncle of mine had a still and was seeking to hide his moonshine production, and he was not the only relative of mine who had something to hide. More recently, I have found my relationship with police to be a bit testy in Thailand [2] and have found the threat of police action against me for my friendliness in particular contexts to be a matter of considerable irritation and concern, besides my more frequent interactions with various traffic cops who have falsely suspected me or divers in cars where I have been a passenger of DUI [3]. Suffice it to say that I have not found cops to be particularly inclined to serve and protect me, nor have I felt myself to be the kind of person who other people have needed to be protected from.

The aspect of serving and protecting among police is a problematic one. In a country with corrupt and wicked government, the police, and often the military as well, serve and protect those corrupt regimes against loudmouthed critics and potential or suspected revolutionaries. As someone who is congenitally loud-mouthed, this does not make me feel any safer in such areas, given the fact that I am largely unable to keep silent about those things that deeply bother and concern me, and far too articulate to make others feel safe if they happen to be among my concerns. Even in a country like the United States, though, serving and protecting is an ambivalent matter. It is good to serve and protect those who are dealing with domestic violence, but to serve and protect murdering abortion doctors is less praiseworthy. Nor is the threat of police action against people who are innocent and blameless of crimes but who could easily be painted in a harshly negative light itself a blameless act. It is not the existence of police that is problematic, for wherever private vengeance and vigilante justice is to be avoided there must be some sort of organized constabulary of some kind, but it is the fact that the police themselves can often become involved as the tools of private wars and vendettas that is troubling.

What is there to be done about this? Clearly, the police themselves do not like being viewed with ambivalence and suspicion, if not outright hostility. Those who are decent and law-abiding people should not have any reason to feel uneasy about the activity of the police, given that those who obey the law and those who seek to enforce the law, assuming those laws are good ones, should be on the same side. Far too often our own communication fails, and because we cannot resolve difficulties personally, people take recourse to law because of violence or intransigence on the part of one or more of the parties involved. How then are we to resolve our difficulties better so that we do not embarrass ourselves in the larger social picture. How are police too, whose natural areas of interest appear to be finding and dealing with evildoers, to understand the complicated and nuanced situations into which they may be unwillingly placed by what appear to be open-and-shut cases? To what extent are the laws of various countries corrupt, leading the defenders of law and order to act in ways that protect and endorse evil? How, in an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion, are people to prove themselves honorable and trustworthy, even if those people are police? Why, so often, do matters circle back over and over again to the same questions of trust, reputation, and communication, and the resolution of interpersonal difficulties? Surely, if the same things are important so often and so widely, they would be problems that we should become skilled enough to deal with over the course of our lives, right?


[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to To Serve And Protect

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Tyranny Of Good Intentions | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Thus I Fight | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: The Temperature At Which Books Burn | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Do You Speak American? | Edge Induced Cohesion

  5. Pingback: A Summer Of Resistance | Edge Induced Cohesion

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