Cops: Protectors or Predators?

by Roy Morrison

The killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta in a Wendy’s parking lot by Officer Garrett Rolfe is a reflection not only of racism, but also the transformation of police from protector to predator, and the criminalization of social problems like DWI.

Officer Garrett Rolfe was a reputed “expert” in detecting drunk driving. “Failing” sobriety test automatically leads to arrest, slapping on cuffs, and, in this case, the shooting in the back of Rayshard Brooks.

Yes, drivers if drunk should have their keys taken away, their car towed if not parked, and given a summons to appear in court facing appropriate consequences like fines, loss of license, counseling, alcohol rehabilitation.

By combining criminalization of drunk driving, a social and addiction problem, with racism, you have tragedy. Faced with resistance from a Black man for an unnecessary DWI arrest, guns start blazing and a man is shot twice in the back.

My Dad was a Fed. I grew up in a law enforcement family. For more than 40 years my late father, Leo Morrison, worked for U.S. Customs in NY. His best friend was Lt. Dick Gallagher, Head of the Waterfront Squad NYPD, and then Midtown North Homicide.

It was a world of very tough guys with guns. And in four decades my dad used his gun only once, in a running gun battle on the waterfront with a professional armed robber he shot in the leg. That’s it. He fired his gun once in four decades spent dealing with heroin smugglers, gangsters, armed robbers, escaped prisoners, hijackers, rapists, drunken long longshoremen and seamen. He was, by the way, a top rated combat shooter.

In his world, he told me, “I only draw my gun if I intended to shoot and I would only shoot to kill.” That meant he disarmed people. He did not kill them. Instead he used come-along holds, twisting wrists and arms. At the most, in street fights on the waterfront with men wielding a knife or broken beer bottle, he’d use a club or a blackjack.

He was trying to enforce the law against real criminals, not looking for an excuse to arrest an ordinary citizen and destroy a family. If my father, or Dick Gallagher, shot every time he thought his life was in danger, each would have killed more people than Dirty Harry.

My father taught me about social justice. Once, on a bitter cold November day, driving by a woman selling hot dogs from a wagon, he said to me, “Imagine if your mother had to do that.”

My dad would have told Rayshard Brooks that his idea to park his car and walk home was a fine plan. There was more than enough serious crime to go around in NY.

Yes, racism is an endemic American problem, and police are typically too often the enforcers of business and racism as usual.

But the idea that cops can shoot or choke unarmed African American men and women for no reason or for any reason on the street or in their homes, with impunity and little or no consequences, is a particularly vile expression of institutionalized racism.

It’s long past the time for this to end and no longer be tolerated by a society embracing justice and fairness for all its members. The role of police should be transformed to be community participants dealing with serious criminals and violent crime, and not as agents of social discipline or dealing with society’s failures. For that, we need social workers, vocational counselors, community health workers, community organizers, and entrepreneurs.

It’s too easy to saddle the cops with responsibility for society’s failures. Cops are ordered to deal with homelessness, mental illness, alcoholism, spousal abuse, drug addiction, and a plethora of criminalized regulations that, combined with racism, leads to murder.

Eric Garner is killed for selling cigarettes on the street. George Floyd is killed for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill. Breonna Taylor is killed in her bathroom under a bogus, no knock drug warrant. Rasheed Brooks is killed for running away from a DWI arrest.

In the dystopian movie THX 1128, an entertainment channel features a robo cop beating a prisoner. Today, the murder of African Americans is captured on cell phones as we watch an all too real deadly harvest of a nearly bottomless brutality.

Enough is enough. It’s more than anyone with a heart and a soul can stand. Now we know. If collectively, we allow this to continue, this is who we have become. It’s not pretty.

That’s why an unprecedented number of people of all colors, persuasions, and ages have taken to the street in protest. There’s hope for a sane, just, and fair common future. Black Lives Matter. My life matters. All life matters.

Roy Morrison builds solar farms.

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