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Editorial: Blind obedience just as dangerous as blind mistrust of law officers

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Ben Franklin 1Obey.

The word itself has many connotations. Usually when someone says it or writes it, they do so in relation to some kind of authority. Obey the law, obey your parents, obey god, obey your teacher.

Authority and obedience go hand in hand, and oftentimes that’s perfectly normal.

All six-year-olds should obey their parents, in most cases, because parents want to see their child grow up to be a productive adult. Unless, that is, a child’s parents are incapable of guiding them due to some extreme circumstance.

Similarly, laws are, for the most part, on the books to help keep everyone safe. Drunk driving laws are there so people who get hammered by alcohol don’t get behind a motor vehicle and injure themselves or others on the road.

Speeding laws are there so some hot-shot with a new Corvette doesn’t drive through a school-zone going 90-miles-per-hour and end up hitting a third-grader.

The thing is, though, obedience also takes some thought.

What if the people who demand that you obey them aren’t worthy of that trust?

Take for instance, a teacher who demands that his students obey him and follow his rules regarding conduct, but then is found to be having sex with several of his middle-school students?

Or, let’s talk about police corruption for a minute.

I believe that by and large police officers deserve respect, until they don’t.

Meaning, without knowing anything at all about a policeman or woman, the institution was created to “protect and serve” the citizens of it’s community.

If you mistrust a police officer solely because he or she is wearing a badge, you’ve misunderstood the concept of what police are paid to do.

I bring this up because it’s National Police Week across the U.S.

Pittsburgh's Police Chief McLay resolves to challenge racism at work.
Pittsburgh’s Police Chief McLay resolves to challenge racism at work.

Earlier today in Great Falls, a collection of police held a memorial for fallen officers at Overlook Park, followed by a parade of patrol cars running through the heart of downtown.

Now, this column isn’t one where I’ll tell you all how you need to respect all of the police all of the time, nor is it one where I’m telling everyone that police are not to be trusted at all because they all are “racist” or “prejudice against certain minorities.”

I’m simply advocating that we all need to be smart about whom we pledge our obedience.

Police are people just like you or me, and they sometimes mess up. That doesn’t mean they’re evil. Most police officers do what they do because they want to keep the peace, and they deserve praise, thanks and, yes, sometimes, even obedience.

But at the same time, some officers, and in certain cases some entire departments, do things that make it nearly impossible for any sane, rational person to respect them.

Last weekend, the Million Moms March took place in Washington D.C., sponsored by Mothers for Justice United, which is an organization of mothers whose children have been killed by police officers and others. The march went from the U.S. Capitol to the U.S. Department of Justice, where people demanded changes in certain police practices.

Now, I’m sure if you were to ask any of those demonstrators, they would tell you that they don’t believe all police officers are “bad people,” or “corrupted by power.”

black lives matterJust like if you were to go up to any of those officers driving the vehicles in the parade in Great Falls, they wouldn’t tell you that all minorities are more likely to commit a crime than other people.

And that’s where learning to think for yourself, question authority and use your better judgement when it comes to who and what to obey will do you more good than you could ever imagine.

Personally, I will admit that police officers can at times make me nervous. But, I have a reason for that — I’ve been involved in several circumstances where I felt like the police officer I was dealing with was not fairly assessing what happened.

I’ve been pulled over by police officers who thought I was hiding drugs when I wasn’t. I once got pulled over by an officer who told me my “license plate light” was out. Another time I got pulled over for making an incorrect turn into the wrong lane, something I didn’t even know was illegal to do.

I’ve also once gotten a ticket for having my front tire more than 16 inches from the front curb in a residential street.

Now, you could easily make the argument that in nearly every one of these cases, except the first one, I was in the wrong somehow and I won’t be able to argue much against you.

However,at the same time the laws I was supposedly breaking had no bearing on whether or not the people around me were safe.

And that’s where I have a problem with obeying any old law enforcement officer.

Today, for instance, I was trying to drive to the bank to cash a check. The streets were all blocked off downtown, and nobody seemed to know why.

When I finally did see the parade of police vehicles, it seemed strange to see a parade taking place on Monday morning with hardly anybody but a handful of curious business owners, watching. Why did nobody know this parade was happening? Why weren’t the news stations aware of it? Who’s idea was it to have this parade on a Monday morning when most everyone was at work and likely needed to drive to places downtown?

It’s these types of questionable behaviors that make it hard for me to obey at all times.

But, I do get it. These are the same people who keep the gun-wielding lunatics off the streets and in jails and sometimes they can do things that might not make much sense to those on the outside. Perhaps there was a good reason for having that parade this morning that nobody who isn’t a police officer could understand.

It’s important to remember that these are the folks working to keep pedophiles from getting their hands on small children, or gang bangers from taking over entire neighborhoods and killing innocent people unless they pay for their survival and protection.

I know the boys in blue are the ones who risk their own lives in order to help keep the rest of us safe, which is a thankless job.
I respect those who risk getting killed by evil doers night in and night out.

What happened to Deputy Joe Dunn last year in Cascade County, and the way he was killed, is something that should never happen to any decent human being. Yet that’s the risk these officers undergo all the time.

But while I respect the police, at the same time, I’m probably never going to obey the police blindly because sometimes I disagree on the laws of minutia. Nor should anyone else, for that matter.

I also don’t believe we can easily go back to obeying those who have violated people’s trust, as was the case in the handling of what happened in places such as Ferguson, Missouri and how, according to statistics at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in NYC,

“Dozens of black men and women have died at the hands of police going back as far as 1994 and that while these incidents happen regularly, it often takes a high-profile case such as Michael Brown’s in Ferguson, to  bring other incidents to national attention.”

This same article states that, “The Justice Department has investigated possible systemic abuse of power by police in at least 16 cities.”

Let’s keep in mind that there’s an old cliche saying that, “there are lies, damn lies and then statistics.” Meaning that for every point someone wishes to make, there’s likely a whole lot of statistics that prove their argument or disprove another’s.

But while we can throw around facts and figures, points and counterpoints until our faces turn blue, one thing has been made more clear than ever before.

You should never obey someone without first asking why you should.

Take the time and look at what’s being done in your community. Are the police acting in your best interest? Why or why not? Is everyone getting the same level of protection? Why or why not?

Blindly defending an institution without asking difficult questions about whether or not things could be done better is just as dangerous as assuming that all police are corrupt.

Until we start examining the grey areas involved with obedience and law enforcement, nothing will ever improve.

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