To outsiders the extremists within a group tend to become the poster children or face of the group. Unfortunately, such views lead to stereotyping. Examples include the millions of otherwise rational people for whom members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) represent the face of American Southern Whites. For many, ISIL and al-Qaeda worldviews have come to represent Islam. Outrageously, to others the term “terrorist” is synonymous with Muslim. Similarly, highly publicized instances of brutality by law enforcement officials, a few examples are listed below, have led to the stereotyping of police officers as renegade agents of brutality. That belief is unfair and untrue.
Listed below are the names of police officials known to have exercised brutality against peaceful and unarmed citizens.
•Bull Connor, former Commissioner of Public Safety for the city of Birmingham, Alabama during the height of the American Civil Rights movement
Justin Volpe, a former New York police officer who sodomized a prisoner with a broom handle
•Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Missouri police officer who gunned down an unarmed civilian
•the five Los Angeles, California police officers caught on camera mercilessly beating Rodney King in 1991
•The murder of Oscar Grant (Fruitvale Station) by a police officer
The previously referenced examples coupled with the countless incidents of intimidation and abuse of power by police officers that are not reported (because of fear;;) or that are not investigated when they are reported, have helped shape the stereotypical image of police officers as legal bullies. That characterization is unfair because there are probably millions of police officers who are committed to serving and protecting the public and not to using their authority to kowtow civilians.
Law enforcement officers have a tough job. They put their lives on the line every time they put on the uniform. Following is a very short list of law enforcement officials who were murdered while performing their jobs, or who died as the result of injuries sustained from criminals who attacked the officers while the officers were in the commission of their jobs.
•Rookie Cop Melvin Santiago, in Jersey City, New Jersey; ambushed and killed by gunfire
•Agent Carlos Rivera-Vega, Puerto Rico; killed by gunfire
•Police Officer Krisitian Willihight, Burns Flat, Oklahoma; killed in a vehicle pursuit
•Sergeant Cory Wride, Utah County Sheriff’s Office, UT; killed by gunfire
•Deputy Sheriff Jonathan Scott Pine, Orange County Sheriff’s Office, FL; killed by gunfire
•Correctional Officer Amanda Baker, Scotts Bluff County Detention Center, NE- killed by assault
•Detective John Hobbs, Phoenix Police Department, AZ; killed by gunfire
•Officer Jason Crisp, United States Department of Agriculture – Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations, US; killed by gunfire
•Police Officer Daryl Pierson, Rochester Police Department, NY; killed by gunfire
•Trooper Christian Skinner; New York State Police, NY; killed by vehicular assault
The names of the officials listed above are unknown to most of us. The stories of their tragic deaths have been woefully underreported, and except in a few cases the national media has paid very little attention to the violence perpetrated against the officers.
As the preceding list indicates, there are sick people willing and, in some cases, determined to harm or kill police officers. Their crimes are every bit as heinous as those committed by the corrupt law enforcement officials noted in the first list. However, unlike police officers civilian assailants are not sworn to uphold the law nor to serve and protect the public. Moreover, we expect law enforcement officials to be more moral than the criminals with whom they come in contact.
Distinguishing good cops from bad cops is a difficult task for many. Therefore, as in other cases of stereotyping corrupt cops have become the face of law enforcement. That is not a good thing and police departments must work hard to change that image by regaining the public’s trust.