If Trust in Police is Lost, You Can’t Preach it Back

Not showing much trust in police, group forms human shield between them and their target.

Police Tickt

Douglas Lyons has written an editorial for the Sun-Sentinel: “Delray Beach’s ‘human shield’ incident hurts legitimate cause.”

Memo to the residents in that Delray Beach neighborhood where a group of people formed a human shield to keep police officers from a man they wanted to detain: Are you kidding me?

Last Saturday night, police saw a man walking down the road and smoking. The cops said they smelled marijuana and stopped the car. The man ran, eventually entering a house near Southwest Eighth Avenue and Third Court. When the officers tried to talk to the man, out came about 20 people who produced a standoff by forming a human shield.

Words were exchanged, backup was called, the crowd grew, a bottle was thrown, a squad car was damaged — simply put, the incident turned toward ugly, needlessly. Four people were detained and face charges from assaulting a police officer to obstruction of justice.

Let’s not get this twisted. What began as routine police stop shouldn’t have ended in a 50-plus person melee. This was no Eric-Garner-excessive-force protest. Judging by the police reports, this appears to be a riled-up crowd obstructing the police.

Inappropriate, provocative and downright dangerous are the only words that come to mind.

The writer may be right. Maybe. But how is he so confident? If I was driving in a car in a deserted road at night (or perhaps even in the day) and flashing lights came up behind me, I would want to continue to a lighted place with people, before I pulled over. People pretend to be cops. And cops sometimes do bad things that might become somewhat less likely if there are witnesses present. You never know.

So if this man wanted to flee to a crowded house of his friends, there are reasons he might have done so without necessarily trying to get away with a crime.

I notice that there is nothing mentioned about multiple cops having to subdue anyone to make arrests. While someone threw that bottle, which was inexcusable, no one seems to have intended a battle with police. It also shows the police behaved professionally.

But if a group of people had put themselves between Eric Garner and the police, he might still be alive today. That remains true no matter who you think is ultimately responsible for his death. To claim that these people were obviously and completely unjustified ignores the issue while pretending to affirm it: no one knows when or if they are going to be beaten or killed.

Here are the two fundamental facts:

  1. People don’t trust the police for reasons that seem quite legitimate to them.
  2. Real wrongdoers will exploit the distrust to their advantage (like the lies that were told about gunning down Michael Brown).

I don’t know how we are going to solve those two problems, but preaching at people because they don’t trust the police is not going to bring back that trust.