In my second career, I taught criminal justice, a natural progression from a first career as a judge and the various roles I played in the justice system before taking the bench.
Sometimes people assume that all my students were future police officers. That’s not quite so, but they were a practical bunch and most were happy to describe their ambitions
More of them intended law school than were destined to get admitted, and I got more than an even share of them because I taught all the law focused courses at one time or another. I did my best to match them all with a law school where they would have a chance.
From watching my graduates, it appeared that most of them spent time as probation or parole officers. Maybe a third of them became law enforcement officers, and some of that third were getting out of debt before attempting law school. Of those intending a law enforcement career, they most often had one of two views of policing.
I call the first one Officer Friendly. They emphasized the community caretaker part of policing. Calling somebody at work to tell them their garage door is open. Hunting for lost children or the other way around when a small child is found without an adult. The go-to guy when a Little League or Pop Warner coach has to drop out just as the season starts. Officer Friendly looks for the reason teenagers are fighting rather than just trying to arrest everybody in sight.
The more common view of police work is Sir Lancelot. A truthful man with noble values whose primary function is protection. He stands between the powerless and persons who would do them harm. He sweeps up wife beaters and other bullies and he shows up for the trial. Writing traffic tickets is something he has to do while waiting to test for detective. He looks forward to locking up robbers and rapists.
Sir Lancelot expects to face more danger than Officer Friendly but they are both willing to take on risk to be of service to the community
(Russell digression™ According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, policing does not crack the top ten most dangerous occupations. I suspect the exaggerated sense of danger comes from popular crime literature and from the fact that the harm done to law enforcement officers is done purposely, while the injuries and deaths among construction workers and farm workers and so forth happen by accident.
To my knowledge, only one of my students lost his life in some 20 years of teaching. He was a border patrol agent. No, he was not killed by one of those criminals Mr. Trump claims Mexico sends us. He was just going on duty when he heard a Sheriff’s Deputy on the police band calling for back up to a domestic disturbance. With any luck, a “back up” does not even get out of the car, but my student answered a call for help from a different agency and was shot to death.)
This last year brought the most horrible death I’ve ever seen broadcast on television. Those of us who did not turn away in time saw George Perry Floyd, Jr., 46 years old, held down by a police officer’s knee on his neck for 7 minutes and 46 seconds or 8 minutes and 15 seconds. Somehow, 8 minutes and 46 seconds is the time that has become attached to the folklore of the case and the exact time does not matter. It was long enough for Mr. Floyd to say that he could not breathe more than once and for a middle-aged man to cry out for his long-deceased mother before he went silent and still. It was long enough for those of us in the audience to think, “If you don’t let up, you’re going to kill that man.”
Mr. Floyd was being arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit 20 dollar bill. Last time I looked, that offense did not carry the death penalty and, even if it did, the government tries not to take 8 minutes to kill a condemned prisoner.
Mr. Floyd’s gruesome death went through my mind recently. I had CNN on most of the day, watching the mob Donald John Trump had sent to “fight hard” and stop the vote counting from the election he claimed was “rigged.” He also promised he would be at the Capitol with them. He was not,
Trump also told Vice President Mike Pence to reject the vote totals submitted by the states. Mr. Pence, on advice of his lawyers, said he had no authority to do that. I doubt it was coincidence that the mob erected a gallows in front of the Capitol and periodically broke into a chant:
Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!
Watching the view of my country being shown to the world was more than I could stand. I turned the TV down but not off and started some research, until my attention was grabbed by a blood-curdling scream. I looked up and the picture on the screen was a metal and glass door. There were so many people on both sides of the door and they were making so much noise I could not tell which way it was into the Capitol.
A uniformed police officer was pinned in the door. Some of the hands in the picture were pushing the door closed as others tried to claw it open. The officer’s eyes were rolled back and I could no longer hear him, but I could read his lips:
I thought I saw some blood in his mouth. Just as I was thinking, “If you don’t let up, you’re going to kill that man,” the opening side briefly prevailed in the tug-of-war and yanked the officer out of immediate danger.
This happened late enough in the riot that there were several law enforcement agencies in the melee, so I don’t know which agency employed the fellow who had the close call. Why in the world would they kill him, or even take the chance?
It was a joint session of Congress, but no law was being made. They were not even counting votes. They were accepting the vote totals from the states, where the counting (like the voting) took place. Why hurt or kill somebody over a purely ceremonial agenda?
The President told them to use violence to stop the count but the count was over. Would they follow that futile order?
They would. We learned later that Officer Brian D. Sicknick, 42, of the Capitol Police, died from injuries received when someone in the mob hit him over the head with a fire extinguisher.
The Capitol Police have the closest thing to an Officer Friendly gig a cop is likely to find. The duty involves seizing weapons at the metal detector and directing traffic, mostly foot traffic and mostly families, around a major tourist destination.
Officer Sicknick was the fourth Capitol Police Officer killed in the line of duty in the entire existence of the agency. That’s about one death every fifty years.
Mr. Trump’s Brown Shirts claim they will appear for President Biden’s inauguration. Mr. Pence has accepted Mr. Biden’s invitation to come. Mr. Trump is not expected this time, but you may see a guy with funny hair in the parking lot selling MAGA hats. Pay no attention to anything he says.