Does it surprise anyone that around the anniversary of Mike Brown’s death, we get an interview with ex-Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson; his first since the controversial shooting of the unarmed young man. I read it and came away with mixed feelings.
It bears witness to the complexity of things when you try to pigeonhole human behavior into neat and nice brackets, highlighted by racial, cultural or age differences. Things are truly not always black and white; there exists a whole lot of gray out there.
On the other hand, it gives us a previously unseen look into the psyche of an ex-cop and one who’s run the gauntlet from service to criminal prosecution to legal vindication and eventual community vilification. Hopefully, we’ll come away with a greater understanding of the mindset that exists in those who patrol our city streets armed.
By all accounts, Darren Wilson had a rough upbringing; one that rivals the trials of any troubled inner city youth. To his credit, he didn’t stray down that illegal path but looked to a career in law-enforcement as a way out, like many do of all races. And he had as his mentor; a worthy, seasoned and tolerant officer who laid a good foundation from which he could grow in the department, at least that’s what the interview will attest. That he sounds callous is a confusing point of contention.
Some will be ensconced firmly in the camp of See, I told you so! while others will be more than willing to give him a pass with a forgiving What do you expect from a man ostracized and denied an ability to provide for his family in the manner that he’s been accustomed to. It’s a clemency that does nothing to determine exactly how he got to where he is in the first place.
I’m of a mind that his indifference was always there and that’s it’s the same dangerous insensitivity that continually raises its ugly head across the country, killing unarmed black people in the process. It’s also a condition that we must eradicate from the ranks of law enforcement. Here are some of the more questionably, narrow-minded musings of ex-Officer Wilson.
On whether the overt racism of past decades affected people in the present; “People, who’ve experienced that, and were mistreated, have a legitimate claim. Other people don’t.”
On his role as a police officer in the present; “We can’t fix in thirty minutes what happened thirty years ago. We have to fix what’s happening now. That’s my job as a police officer. I’m not going to delve into people’s life-long history and figure out why they’re feeling a certain way, in a certain moment. I’m not a psychologist.”
On the views of an elderly black Ferguson resident, who felt lack of jobs was a big problem; “…there’s also lack of initiative to get a job. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”
On whether or not the Justice Department’s report on institutional racism was accurate, Wilson called such numbers, “skewed” saying; “You can make those numbers fit whatever agenda you want.”
And finally, on the internal results of a police shooting; “You know, a typical police shooting is: you get about a week to a week and a half off, you see a shrink, you go through your Internal Affairs interviews. And then you come back.”
Looking at the totality of Wilson’s childhood experiences, you get an idea of how his mental outlook was shaped. I won’t argue the merits of his stances-how they enabled his survival and growing up-either way. I’ll simply say that such adult ideas have no place in the future of police work; especially any model that promotes the benefits of community engagement.
Everybody wants “the cop on the beat” but nobody wants law enforcement to take the time to establish the requisite emotional attachment with the communities they serve. And we see in the case of Wilson, even some in law enforcement don’t want the challenge.
The new millennia cop has to become the everything for everybody, i.e. confessor, confidant, wife, mother, father, partner and yes, therapist. More than his sidearm, his ability to defuse a volatile situation with only his tongue and the words he or she utters will be his deciding strength. In fact, his gun should be an instrument of last resort, used only in case of the gravest of dangers to him or others. And when it is used, empathy and regret should be emotions we witness in the aftermath.
Here in South Jersey, absentee Governor Christie has touted the CCPD as a model for the rest of the nation to follow. I don’t know about that; only time will tell. There have been signs of improvement in the city but for the sake of this argument what stands out to me is their motto; service before self.
If nothing else, those three words should be on the minds and in the hearts of every member of every police department across the nation. It speaks to a code of conduct that you’ll wear like a sidearm every time you step outside in uniform; and even when you’re not in uniform.
It has to be that way because policing is a vocation, not a job. You have to care about the people you’re meeting on a daily basis. You don’t care if you’re unwilling to listen to their problems, to offer words of encouragement or simply just to give a hug maybe every now and then. That’s community policing.
Unfortunately, Mr. Wilson could not cut it in that regard and his words illustrate that fact. Regardless of how you feel about the Brown shooting-justified or not-now that we know how he feels, he should be barred from ever putting on the uniform again, anywhere.