15 December 2014
The true face of the police?
Another weekend brought another peaceful but high-profile protest from an NFL football player of excessive use of force by the police. In Cleveland, wide receiver Andrew Hawkins took the field without provocative gestures, but wore a shirt demanding justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford. Rice was the twelve-year old boy killed for carrying a BB gun in Cleveland last month; Crawford was shot down in an Ohio Wal*Mart earlier this year. Compared to the "hands up, don't shoot" display by members of the St. Louis Rams this was a modest demonstration, but it was still enough to enrage the Cleveland police union. As did their St. Louis counterparts, the union demanded an apology from the football franchise. As in the previous case, the Cleveland cops actually expect gratitude. "The Cleveland police protect and serve the Browns stadium," their statement reads. I don't think I read too much into these outbursts if I infer that they threaten the withholding of protection and other services in the future if the players don't show the proper respect. While the Cleveland cops can't accuse Andrew Hawkins of lying, since he made no comment about the Ferguson MO incident, they did express contempt for "pathetic ... athletes [who] think they know the law." Not surprisingly, the police union misses the point. In cases like these, Hawkins and those who feel as he does probably know all too well what the law is. Their sense of justice demands a change in the law, and the last time I looked it was every citizen's prerogative in this country to demand changes in the law -- to demand "justice" -- without being pressured to apologize by offended parties. If a cop feels disrespected by Hawkins's demand for justice, that cop most likely feels that he and his blue line are the law. I'm surprised they don't call Hawkins or those Rams players traitors. But in this case, unlike in the Rams game, the cops presumably had the last laugh of the day. Cincinnati shut out Cleveland, 31-0. The Browns scored a moral victory, however, by standing up for Hawkins's right to "bring awareness to issues that are important to [him] ... in a responsible manner." Usually wherever the police can't tolerate such behavior we call it a police state, while a healthy irreverence toward police is an American tradition, as our pop culture heritage well testifies. A century ago people laughed at tramps evading cops in movies. I wonder whether police unions would tolerate such displays today, but then again I fear that people don't find cops as funny as they once were.