L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 77, June 19, 2000
The Thin Blue Hood
by Michael Haggard
Special to TLE
Working as an "on-call" Firefighter/EMT, 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 defined simply by; the wearing of colors for identity, the protection of 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.
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 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 and 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 protectionist 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 social 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?
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. 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, everyone. I just want to go home.