Midwest Voices

Roger C. Williams Jr.: Lessons from Ferguson and New York: Police stops merit respect and dignity

Protesters waved a banner during the Missouri Senate’s opening day festivities in January in Jefferson City. The visitors gallery was closed after the incident. Demonstrators vowed to return to the Capitol throughout the year’s session as lawmakers consider numerous bills stemming from the Aug. 9 shooting of unarmed black man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
Protesters waved a banner during the Missouri Senate’s opening day festivities in January in Jefferson City. The visitors gallery was closed after the incident. Demonstrators vowed to return to the Capitol throughout the year’s session as lawmakers consider numerous bills stemming from the Aug. 9 shooting of unarmed black man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The Associated Press

Not long ago, I discovered a survey titled: “Do the police abuse their power?” Because past events in numerous cities across America have ignited protest demonstrations and fueled an expanding amount of discussion and debate about the conduct of police officers, the survey's content grabbed my attention.

My dealings with police do not extend beyond those unfortunate occasions when my racing vehicle captured their attention and duty compelled them to crank-up their vehicles and sirens so I could eventually collect my “reward” of a speeding ticket. I’ve only experienced one disturbing incident with police despite participating in a record number of their roadside rendezvous that subsequently landed me in traffic court where I faced distinguished-looking judges who ordered me to pay fines and attend Saturday morning sessions of driver's school.

The incident remains fresh in my memory. Headed home after a long day at work, I appealed for “speeder’s mercy” while parked on the side of the highway as the officer examined my driver’s license.

Without pause, he advised, “Tell it to the judge.” Still, my encounters with police would not prompt me to stereotype all officers as being hardhearted.

Regarding the survey, one respondent wrote: “I see them (police) making illegal turns, speeding down the middle of the highway to see them stopping at the coffee shop. They drink and drive, abuse their spouses, and who knows what else. I wonder where the internal affairs is.... Police should be the best of the best and serve the people, not harass them.”

While this respondent accused police of being hypocrites, another respondent believed the police are doing their job, saying: “The police respond to aggravations when they feel they are being threatened. They patrol the streets looking for those dangerous people who can create a bigger danger zone to the society.

“Those who say that police abuse their power are the ones who have been pulled over or have committed crimes and been caught. If the police are out in the street every day, they deserve to be respected.”

Eighty-five percent of those who responded to the survey contended that the police abuse their power while 15 percent approved their use of it. Are those results surprising to you? I didn’t appreciate the attitude of the officer who instructed me to “tell it to the judge,” even though in hindsight, I must confess that I was guilty of speeding.

Have you heard the expression, “It’s the principle of the thing?” I was guilty of speeding that night, but my plea for mercy and wrongful behavior should not have been considered an open invitation for the officer to deliver an offensive remark.

Isn’t that one of the points that protesters from Ferguson, Mo., to New York City are trying to make? All people — regardless of race — should be treated with respect and dignity even when their actions in the eyes of police appear illegal.

Police officers are extremely valuable public servants. Most people have met “good cops.” However, “bad cops” are tarnishing their image.

When I was a small boy, my father advised me to be more than an “eye servant” — someone who will only do the right thing when people are watching. Perhaps body cameras will help “bad cops” who missed out on my father’s advice do the right thing.

Roger C. Williams Jr., Ed.D., is a retired principal, counselor and instrumental music teacher. He lives in Lee's Summit. Reach him at oped@kcstar.com.

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