By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
When did police become the enemy of the people?
They are not, of course, but you might think that’s true, given the assault upon the profession the past few years — the shootings, the general disrespect, the growing belligerence to authority. You can’t pick up a daily paper without seeing the latest skirmish, and 99 out of 100 such incidents are the fault of a civilian wrongdoer — not the police.
People, it seems, are ready to disobey or bait the law more than ever, and too many of these cases end in tragedy. Making matters worse are the police/public clashes that are videotaped and placed in our ever-bubbling cauldron of social media, which too often drives public opinion — and seldom in context.
My generation was taught to trust in the police in much the same way we trust in our own families. And while family ties are also more brittle in today’s world, I’m not ready to give up on society just yet. I know most people think the way I do; it’s just that the minority who fan the hatred make things tough for all of us.
I came to an appreciation of police much the same way most of us do, by being bailed out of jams. My mother still recounts the time when I wandered off as a 3-year-old only to be returned in a police car a short time later.
In my teen years, I slow-rolled a stop sign in Glen Carbon, earned a ticket and fumed about it for months — until the very same police officer kindly helped my brother during a traffic crash.
And I’ve had some really good friends among the men in blue. One was a former childhood neighbor who grew up to become a terrific detective on the Edwardsville Police Department. Another helped me install flooring in my house.
Today, one of my nephews is a Metro East officer.
I suppose the biggest influence, at least from a career perspective, was the way I witnessed officers handle themselves in court. As a courthouse reporter for a few years, I got to see firsthand the cases they deal with every day. These men and women are forced to confront the dregs of society while protecting the rest of us.
Police have their bad apples, just like every industry. But they also run youth camps, stage marathons for charity, promote Shop with a Cop and so much more. Heck, some of them even give out cash instead of tickets to drivers at Christmastime.
My point is, these are very real people, contributing members of our communities, and it should pain all of us that they can so easily be discredited or disrespected.
State Rep. Dan Beiser obviously agrees with that sentiment. Last month, the Alton Democrat proposed legislation that will increase penalties on those who commit crimes against police officers. Such crimes would be categorized as hate crimes, in much the way that penalties are enhanced in crimes involving disabled people and certain minorities. Beiser said he was acting in the face of a report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which states that 2016 had the largest number of ambush shooting attacks on police officers in more than two decades.
Bravo, I say, for those who take a stand. If we’re to emerge as a civilized society, we’re going to have to overcome this nasty presumption of guilt. Police may be a lot of things, but they are not the bad guys.