Monday, November 24, 2014

An armed society

It was a few years ago. I was traveling on I-480 at the perfectly acceptable speed of 78 miles per hour. A local law enforcement representative, however, saw things a little differently.

The lights went on behind me and I pulled the Mini Cooper over to the berm. Yes, I got a ticket. Yes, I paid the ticket. And, YES, that year, the Goat put a Matchbook cop car in my Christmas stocking as a little reminder of my infraction.

O'Brien Speedway

But this post isn't about any of that. This post is about the way that cop handled the situation and what it says about me, you, and a dead little Cleveland boy.

I've only been pulled over a couple of times in my life, although I might be forgetting a ticket or two. Once when I was 17 and going about 40 in a 25, a cop pulled me over, asked for my license, saw it was my birthday and let me go. Another time I was in my mid-twenties, riding my motorcycle. A cop pulled me over. As he approached me, I took off my helmet and my hair spilled out, which obviously surprised him. He quickly scanned my license, told me to stay safe and sent me on my way.

Those cops were different than the one that pulled me over that day in the Mini. And, no, I don't mean about letting me off the hook. It was in the way he behaved. As he walked up to the immaculate Mini Cooper, he was crouched down, hand on his gun. He inched up to the window and just peeked in, minimizing the exposure of his head in the window. The guy was clearly assuming I was a threat and he was taking the precautionary offense in a potential micro arms race between him and me.

As he went through the process, his manner continued to be overtly guarded--as if I was already a suspect. (Which of course I am. We all are. Don't believe it? Go to the airport and see if they make you take off your shoes.) Nonetheless, I was taken back by his suspicious questions: Where you comin' from? What were you doin' over in Willoughby Hills? Where you going? and how he scanned the interior of my car.

Let's fast forward to the conclusion.

How many times have I heard comments from the pro-gun camp about an armed society is a polite society, or I love guns; I think everyone should have one?

You wanted to be an armed society? Okay, fine. You've got one, pal. And like it or not, we're going to collectively treated as such--whether it's little ol' Erin O'Brien in her Mini Cooper, a 12-year-old kid with a toy gun or a guy reaching for his wallet, cops are assuming we're all armed and dangerous, armed and drunk, or just plain armed and stupid.

So just hope you don't come face to face with a cop that misinterprets your actions or is poorly trained. In fact, best hope to not come in contact with any armed person with poor judgement and a mean hankerin' to stand his ground. Because there is no difference between Trayvon Martin's death and that of the 12-year-old boy killed by an idiotic* cop here in Cleveland over the weekend. They are both about the shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality. They are both about the man with the gun acting as judge, jury and executioner.

I don't care if you've got a badge or not, manslaughter is not an appropriate response to "feeling threatened."

How the hell did we get here? When does it stop? When does it ever ever ever stop?

*a reader took exception to the word idiotic, and I agree it may not be the best choice of words. That said, what is the right word?

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DogsDontPurr said...

Amen Erin. You always voice these things so well. I have a million things I could ramble on about here, but you've once again distilled it down to the point exactly. Thank you for sharing your views on these things, and for the way you share your views.

Bill said...

Armed or unarmed

Erin O'Brien said...

Brilliant, Bill. In 1973, more households had 12 gauge shotguns. You run along and find a dandy graphic of how many semi-automatic handguns there were then and now. Find a graphic of how many people had concealed carry permits in 1973.

Or if you're not up to any of that, please explain why that 12-year-old kid is dead.

Anonymous said...

All valid points, but the real question is why are more and more people thinking they have to be armed? I am retired Army, I don't have a concealed carry, I don't even own a handgun, I have a healthy respect for weapons. I have tossed the idea around based on the local crime rates which seems to be going up. There seems to be a lack of training in law enforcement and in some cases, not this one but lack of common sense in the citizenship. I have no idea why a well trained cop would pull the trigger on a 12 year old. I also have no idea why a parent in this day and age would let a child take anything that looked like a realistic weapon to a a public park. I won't get into the argument about gun ownership, both sides have valid and not so valid points. Like dear old dad use to say, just because you can doesn't mean you should.

James Old Guy

Bill said...

when I was about 12, a neighbor kid accidently killed himself while cleaning his 22 caliber rifle. Can anyone explain why this latest tragedy occurred? Probably a trigger happy cop. I'm certainly not blaming the kid or his parents. There was a similar tragedy here, in the bay area, where a teenage kid was shot by a cop who thought his BB or pellet gun was an AR 15 or something. You are right to point out that, if there were no guns for the cops to worry about, there would be fewer tragedies like this one. As a father and grandfather, it breaks my heart to hear about these things. Given today's climate, I would not let my grandchild play with a toy gun in a public place. We are never going to confiscate guns in this country and the 2nd amendment won't be amended.

Anonymous said...

"The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

There is no discernment.



Bill said...

If you're a mom or dad with a family, living in Oakland, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, it would sure seem prudent to have some protection. I don't know about the other "most violent" cities but in Oakland, it's almost impossible to get a concealed carry permit. Of course, the politicians (pretty much all Dems) can easily get one.

Jack Cluth said...

I have a friend who's a police office at the Portland Airport. His take on society's changing relationship with its police was interesting. He said that when he was a kid, cops generally walked a beat. They knew the neighborhoods, they knew the people, there was a connection.

Then came the '60s and the attendant strife. Suddenly, police were in cars and behind windshields and riot helmets. The connection that had once existed began to fray and eventually disappeared altogether.

Today, police are highly militarized and in some cases extremely paranoid. When you spend your career in an "us vs. them" environment, it hardens you and keeps you on edge. It's no wonder that police fear for their safety- they are, after all, human beings.

Police today are observed, scrutinized, and criticized to a degree that few of us can imagine. That's not meant to justify cops who go off the reservation, but law enforcement is a damned tough and thankless job.

Society has made it almost impossible for cops to do their jobs. Yet who do we call when we're in peril?

I think there's plenty of blame to go around. No, police shouldn't be shooting innocent children. We ask them to protect us, and we're within our rights to expect that of them.

Conversely, police should be able to expect to be able to do their job without their every move, word, thought, and deed being parsed under the assumption that they're bad seeds.

Until both sides stop assuming the worst of one another, things will only get worse. I shudder to think where that might lead us.

Erin O'Brien said...

A very thoughtful and evocative comment--and I daresay accurate, Jack. Thanks for leaving it.

Erin O'Brien said...

"I have a healthy respect for weapons."

You know, James, that is the damn core of this thing. When you start reading details of "accidental" shootings, three things invariably come up:

--they did not assume the gun was loaded

--booze was involved

--they pointed the gun at another person they did not intend to shoot.

Growing up the gospel in my family was: alcohol and gun powder don't mix (and trust me, there was plenty of both around), always assume a gun is loaded, and never ever point a gun at another person.

Now we hand a nine-year-old girl a fully automatic loaded Uzi to shoot and wonder why something went wrong.

People have lost respect for weapons and there is, somewhere in there, a tether to a little kid with a "toy" replica gun that looks every bit as deadly as the real thing.

Thanks for the comment.

Erin O'Brien said...

"While surveillance video from the shooting is public record, police said they don't plan to release it anytime soon out of respect for Tamir's family."

The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Anonymous said...

@-Jack Cluth-

Besides 'strife', a more picayune cause for the move away from 'beat' policing by the period of the '60s was driven by the growth in suburban living: departments could no longer physically cover their jurisdictions on foot.

Of late many departments are trying (at least to the extent it is physically possible)to move back to the old model, under the rubric of 'community policing.' Neighborhood sub-stations, bicycle patrols, and community involvement are becoming more prevalent.

I've got a personal perspective on Sixties strife: for most of the period from the later '60s until the early '90s my late father was a police officer; he was the duty dispatcher for the department at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. In thirty-plus years he never unholstered his weapon in the line of duty. Not once.


Anonymous said...

@ Bill-I personally don't know anyone who would advocate striking or even significantly modifying the Second Amendment. It's risky: Slippery slopes make people dopes*. There are too many opportunities for mischief if we pop the hood on the Constitution.


I know I speak for a truckload of people on this side of town who would be satisfied if people would simply apply it they way it was written: Quit pretending that the militia clause doesn't say what the militia clause says about a militia.


*-Say, not a bad one, eh? I gotta start writing this crap down.

Anonymous said...

I have had a change of heart regarding the possession of arms in this nation. The other day I heard some brainiac on rightist talk radio quote one of the Founding Fathers on the subject, to the effect that U.S. citizens, in order to be able to resist (and even to replace) the nasty, old federal government, ought to be able to possess the same type of weaponry as is in the hands of the government. I guess that that FF just wanted a level playing field in the event of such an insurrection. Sounds eminently fair to me.

That being the case, I now make my demand: Very fearful of the harm that an untrammeled government can visit on a free person, I want to own a nuke! Not one of those sissified fission weapons, either; for me, it's fusion or nothing. The world needs more helium and less hydrogen, anyway, right? Just ask the passengers on board the Hindenberg …

Oh, yeah, I know that the NRA — that unholy nest of godless, limp-wristed, pillow-biting commies and liberals — will say that I should just be satisfied with a tank or perhaps an aircraft carrier. Well, I'll just give them this to chew on: As long as the government has hydrogen bombs and I don't, I'll never spend another night of undisturbed sleep. Get busy, Pierre La Wayne (or whatever your name is), get me my H-bomb and make yourself worth the dues money you want from me.

«Senex Ægypti Parvi»

Erin O'Brien said...

"Quit pretending that the militia clause doesn't say what the militia clause says about a militia."

The second amendment was about being able to go get your musket if the pesky Redcoats showed up. A' course, that model didn't mesh very well with the NRA's bottom line.

Very nice note about your Dad, MR.

Senex: don't give them any ideas ...

Anonymous said...

Of course, your first clue in gauging my seriousness must have been my use of the phrase "rightist talk radio" and the word "brainiac" in the same sentence.

«Senex Ægypti Parvi»

Anonymous said...


"Idiotic" is good. I've also been getting good results lately from 'brain-donor' and/or 'plankton'.


J9 said...

I favor plankton.

Anonymous said...


DAMN if I don't hate typos!.


Anonymous said...

"You shall know the truth and the truth will make you mad." A Huxley.


Anonymous said...

@ RJ-I'll see your Huxley and raise you a Declan McManus:

"History repeats the old conceits, the glib replies, the same defeats..."


Bill said...

I thought that, "...the truth will make you mad", quote was from C. Huxtable.

Anonymous said...

@MR- Strong Hand. I fold. And I've learned something. Thanks.