You have to sympathize with decent cops. Not only do they deal with danger every other day, they have to put up with the nut-jobs who detest authority, of whom there is no shortage nowadays. One problem pattern, nowadays, is this: The cop issues an order which the subject won’t obey. The situation escalates into a test of wills. Authorities can panic or succumb to fear of seeming impotent when not obeyed. If you will not cooperate, your
failure to comply becomes the focus of the whole charade, eclipsing the original complaint – e.g., your jaywalking offense. Add further tension when the suspect claims (and may be right) “Your order’s not legitimate!”

It was snowing like crazy on 2/22 of this year, after President’s Day. Six friends of mine from everywhere had sent me links to a Washington Post article about a 12-year-old girl “journalist” who’d been confronted by a small-town cop, commanded to stop taping him, and allegedly threatened with jail time if she didn’t. The threats were illegitimate, of course. This generated lots of YouTube hoopla, as you’d guess. (Ahem! The First Amendment and all that.) The headlines didn’t say where the small town was. Until the seventh email, from a friend right here in town, who’d written in support of Marshal Joe, I didn’t know that the story featured Patagonia.

Both carelessness and lying undermine authority. I read the article. Joe had messed up. Still, Patterson’s a pretty decent guy, most of the time. I got to know him, years ago, when very crazy friends of mine, in separate incidents, had “crossed the line.” He could have been a macho jerk with them, but he was not. He handled them with patience and respect. Of course, we do live in a bipolar world, so you’ll also hear stories around this small town in which it’s said he’s sometimes been more brutish than need be. And, so it goes.

I taught high school for many years. All teachers, as you know, must keep their classes in control. It’s what they have in common with police. You represent authority and have to figure out real quick what you can do if someone won’t obey. You mustn’t ever let things
go too far. The other 27 kids – instinctive libertarians – potential rebels, too are watching with real interest, like young hawks, to see how you will either cope or fail. And that includes the damaged ones who – sad to say – are gonna spend some later time in jail.

In videos depicting tough arrests, it’s clear that cops sometimes become both frightened and confused. Perhaps cops could be better trained or screened for better character. But, like your average teacher, till he’s given better pay and more respect, the guy who pulls you over or kicks down your bedroom door at 3:00 a.m. will rarely be a Nobel laureate.

It must infuriate a cop to have so many citizens, including child journalists and mouthy know-it-alls like me bombasting our opinions at what seems like his expense. Still, even with their hardships and responsibilities, authorities must first ensure that they police themselves. When officers of any kind – elected or appointed, or born into their high role – abuse or just grow careless with the powers given them, you face a classic symptom of
societal decay which, unopposed, will never go away.