The Vicious Cycle

I’ve talked extensively on this blog about my constant battle with the demons of war. Even though they are largely managed, they are still there and the fight is still raging on inside my head. After years of training, counseling, and progress, it is much easier to keep the negativity suppressed. Lately, that’s been a bit harder to do. Now, since I know that my critics in the gun control crowd are always choking at the chance to tag something on me, I’m not talking about violent tendencies. I’m talking about creeping depression, feelings of failure, and other areas of anxiety that PTSD tries to drag you down with. This time, I’m specifically talking about anger.

As I sit here at 0130 in the morning – again trying to find sleep in vain – I’ve been thinking a lot about my case. It infuriates me that I still don’t have closure as we move into the 4th year since my unlawful arrest. Tonight (or this morning), I’ve been trying to process my feelings towards government and law enforcement and how those feelings have changed since that fateful day. I find myself in a battle over whether I should feel bad or not about this change of thought. How did I get to a place where I can no longer look at a cop and feel safe; where instead of feelings of pride and patriotism, I feel feelings of loathing and contempt? I try to tell myself that I don’t “hate” cops, but I find it more and more difficult to convince myself that it’s true.

I used to want to be a cop. In Jacksonville, Florida, I was in the Explorer program and used to do a lot of fun things with the police. We used to help direct traffic, assist with parking, and other fun things with the police. Then, when I was in high school, I went to a dual credit school to earn credit towards criminal justice. I went to the Westside Skills Center for half a day and my regular high school – N.B. Forrest High School – the other half. I excelled in that field and loved it. I learned to do plaster casting, finger printing, and other useful investigative techniques. I even placed first in fingerprinting at a state competition. When I was approached to join the Army, I wanted to be an MP, but at the time there was a height requirement – that I didn’t meet.

Even though I wasn’t able to get into the law enforcement field until a few years later, I always held a special respect and reverence for the profession. Even while I was in the Army, I found time to go on ride-alongs with various departments on a weekend here or there in Las Vegas while I was stationed at Ft. Irwin. My time working with them as a kid was always positive. I saw them as the good guys. We helped people with flat tires or pushed their cars a few blocks if they ran out of gas. Either I was only exposed to the positive side, things have changed drastically, or I was incredibly ignorant, but I don’t feel the same way anymore.

I was stationed at Redstone Arsenal when my perception of the good cop was first shaken. It was 2009 and I was embroiled in a heated issue over school uniforms with many other parents at my kids’ middle school. As I walked into a PTA meeting, I noticed that there were five uniformed Huntsville PD officers and three school security guards. That had NEVER happened at a PTA meeting. After an incredibly heated exchange in which I ultimately slammed my hands on the table in objection to the PTA president’s behavior and began to leave, the police officer that had been hovering over me the entire meeting was in my face and forcing me to leave anyway. He trailed me down the hall not a half step behind me barking orders in my ear the whole way. I told him several times calmly to back off of me before I turned around to tell him to his face to back off. At that point, he threw me into the wall. I cocked back my arm about to defend myself when my wife snapped me out of it and implored me to back down. I told the officer to let me go through clenched teeth and he did, so I continued down the hall and out of the school. I filed a complaint against the officer for assault (the school cameras were miraculously down on that hallway that particular night – go figure) and agreed to a sit down with the chief and the officer. I learned that the officers had been lied to about my actions at previous meetings and they were told that I had made several threats and they “feared for their safety.” Based on what they were told, I understood why they had such an aggressive mindset and excused the behavior because they were given false information.

The school issue caused me a lot of trouble in Alabama. It created friction between me and Army leadership, Army leadership and the school, and me and the school. I had already completed my minimum First Sergeant time and worked out a plan to relocate. My command said I could go wherever I wanted and I chose Fort Hood so I could be close to home. It also around this same time that I started getting help for PTSD thanks to encouragement from then-Vice Chief of Staff of the Army General Peter Chiarelli. I came to Ft. Hood for a fresh start and to get my head cleared away from all the drama in Alabama in 2009.

In 2013, my faith in law enforcement was finally shattered. In March of that year, the arrest heard round the world happened when I was charged for refusing to be illegally disarmed. Because I still had a lot of respect for law enforcement, the initial encounter was friendly. I answered his questions and didn’t even get upset when the officer grabbed my rifle to look at it. Even when he tried to disarm me, I tried to calmly and cordially encourage him not to illegally disarm me, but the moment I put my hands on my property to retain possession, the cop pulled his gun to my head, slammed his boot on my foot, and slammed me onto the hood of his patrol car for no reason. As in Alabama, I had done nothing wrong, but found myself being assaulted by a thug with a badge. But, that wasn’t the worst of it.

When his supervisor arrived, he lied to his supervisor. He lied on his police report. The department continually lied to the media. They forced my son to answer questions without an attorney or parent present in spite of him invoking his rights not to answer questions. They lied on the witness stand. They tried to get my son to testify that I was a horrible father or that I WANTED to cause trouble – neither of which he did.

Then, in November of that same year, a bunch of fellow veterans and I went to the capitol in Austin on Veterans Day to protest violations of the rights we had fought to protect as Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. There was another Veterans Day event on the south side of the grounds, so we went to the north side so as no to interfere with the other event. Just as we got started, some DPS troopers – about a dozen of them – arrived and began trying to force us to leave. Because we were breaking no laws and had a right to be there, we refused. Several troopers made a b-line right to me and told me to leave. When I asked what authority they had to tell me to leave, I was arrested for “criminal trespassing.” Their ostensible reasoning was because we were armed, but I made clear to them I was carrying a holstered toy gun. Instead of doing the right thing, they arrested me anyway and added the charge of “resisting arrest.”

So, between my arrest in March 2013 and November 2013, there were 23 other “arrests” for lawful carry of a firearm. I saw firsthand what happens when you try to stand up for your rights. I lost a lot of friends – or people I thought were friends – during this ordeal. Much of it was because of my behavior that was due to my decent into a deep depression. I began pushing people away that were close to me. I almost destroyed my marriage. I was hitting rock bottom. I wanted to die. And I tried to.

The events of 2013 opened my eyes. After I was convicted of “interference” – an offense I wasn’t even arrested on – and saw how the criminal “justice” system worked and how far cops will go to cover their own asses instead of doing the right thing, I could no longer believe what I believed for so long. I could no longer see the cops as the “good guys” any longer. I saw them as a threat to my liberty, my safety, and my very life. I realized that they are only “good” as long as it serves them to be so. When it comes down to them or you, they’ll choose them. Now, I’m painting with a broad brush and I know there are some good cops out there (I know a few who are no doubt reading this and they know that I know who they are). But, I have personally witnessed enough bad cops that I can no longer blindly cheer lead for the profession.

This doesn’t mean that I’m a cop hater by any means. I don’t support attacks on law enforcement that aren’t in self defense. I don’t celebrate when cops are killed. I’m not a “cop blocker” of any sort. There is a need for cops in society and I don’t doubt that even though I’m sure some of my friends disagree with me. I will always treat everyone with the same respect they give to me, but whenever a cop approaches me I can’t help but feel like they are looking for a reason to assert their authority over me, teach me a lesson, or throw me in jail for the hell of it.

So, what we have here is a vicious cycle that we need to stop. There is a lot of tension between many in society and the law enforcement community. People complain about groups like Cop Block, Cop Watch, or PINAC, but they never take a moment to wonder why groups like that have even come to exist. We can kind of trace their origin back to the Rodney King beating. Thanks to a “cop watcher” who was filming the beating of Mr. King, police brutality made its way into the public spotlight. People complain that all these other people are putting up videos of bad cop interactions, but they refuse to analyze why those video exist in the first place. The more people film, the more cops get pissed that they’re being filmed and act against it – which causes more reasons to film! If cops always did the right thing, there would be no reason to film them, would there?

I learned firsthand the value of filming every encounter with law enforcement in 2013. I wish I had a video camera with me in 2009 in that school hallway. I now film EVERY encounter I have with a government official, no matter how trivial the matter may be. When I had an issue with the superintendent recently and the cops were called because I refused to return my EMPTY holster to my car during a volleyball game, the superintendent asked to meet with me. However, he wouldn’t let me record the meeting so I refused to meet with him. The only government officials that have a reason to fear being recorded are government officials who have something to hide.

I don’t like that I feel unsafe if I don’t record. I don’t like worse that I feel like I have to film in a way that the video is automatically uploaded somewhere it can’t be deleted because I don’t trust them not to try to erase my footage. I wish I didn’t have to feel that unsafe around cops that I need such protection. It used to be that I could feel safe as long as I was armed, but now I have to have a camera too and that should be unsettling to every freedom-loving human being.

Unfortunately, this is not going to change anytime soon. The law enforcement community largely refuses to look inward for the causes of the growing rift between the servants and the served. They always want to blame someone else for anything bad that happens. They protect each other instead of the people. As they do so, the people get more and more fed up. This causes tension, which causes cops to get more aggressive, which causes more people to get fed up. The escalation continues and we get to a point where cops are being MURDERED at an alarming rate! What is even more disturbing is that there is a growing number of people in society who truly aren’t moved by this. These murders of law enforcement should be unanimously condemned, but more and more people are seeing these events as an effect. They don’t see the cause as just criminal thugs that hate cops, but that cops are bringing this upon themselves.

That is a dangerous line of thought that should really send off warning sirens throughout the law enforcement community. Why are more and more Americans becoming ambivalent towards these targeting of cops? We’re no longer talking about extremists or anarchists here; we’re talking about average people who aren’t as upset as they should be about cops getting shot. In his 5th principle of police work, Sir Robert Peel said that, “To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life” is what all cops should strive to be and do.

Until there is a fundamental attitude shift in the “thin blue line” mindset from “protect our own” to “do what’s right, even to our own detriment” we will continue to see this growing rift. The onus on breaking the cycle is on the law enforcement community. Until the “good cops” start acting like the brave warriors society thinks they are by refusing to back up the “bad apples”, they will continue to all be spoiled in the bunch. There is a fear of doing the right thing and stopping injustice when they see it happening because they don’t want to undermine their fellow officers. What they fail to realize is that if they actually did that, it would do more to gain the trust and confidence of the public than any other single action. Until good cops stop standing idly by and allowing bad cops to harass, assault, arrest or otherwise “teach us a lesson”, the public opinion that Peel was talking about will get worse and worse. They must heed Peel’s charge to “maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

It’s almost 0300, so if something doesn’t seem right above, let me know in the comments and I’ll explain further or make appropriate edits.

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