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WHAT WOULD ANDY DO?

Mack White
10/29/03
Original Link: WWW.MACKWHITE.COM

This is the question today's cops should be asking themselves.

Case in point: Would Andy Taylor, Sheriff of Mayberry, do as the cop in this story did?

Would Andy point a real gun at the head of a 9-year-old boy playing with a toy gun?

Would Andy, after determining the boy's gun was only a toy, order the boy to the ground, handcuff him, and arrest him?

And would Andy, when the boy's mother politely asked if the boy could be let off with a warning, snatch her by the arm, handcuff her, and charge her with resisting arrest?

No, Andy would not.  Barney might, but not Andy.  Even if the boy had been in possession of a real gun, Andy would have handled the situation quite differently.

This is not an isolated incident.  Stories of bully cops are all too common these days.

Consider this story which describes a woman and her husband who have filed a federal lawsuit accusing an Austin cop of assaulting them after they called the cops about a mentally ill man who came to their door.

The couple alleges that, when the cop arrived, the mentally ill man was sitting quietly, not bothering anyone.  But the cop, Charles Rohre, began yelling at the man.  Then he threw the man to the ground and handcuffed him.

The couple further alleges that, when the woman asked Rohre why he was acting that way, he ordered her into her house, and, when she did not move fast enough, threw her to the ground, bruising her severely and injuring her back, and handcuffed her. Then, when her husband complained about this brutality, he too was thrown to the ground--with such violence it shattered his glasses—and handcuffed.

They sure don't make cops like they used to.

I remember, 20 years ago, watching a cop gently talk an agitated, mentally ill woman into going to the hospital peacefully.  She kept shaking her head, refusing to go, but he persisted until finally he talked her--charmed her--into compliance.  She is lucky it happened 20 years ago. Were it to happen today, she would be thrown to the ground, her teeth kicked in, handcuffed, and taken to jail.

I remember, too, when I was a boy, playing with some other boys in a construction site. All of us were armed and dangerous—armed with cap guns, that is. Mine was a Roy Rogers Special. Dangerous weapon.

A cop showed up--an Andy cop.  He did not yell at us; he was not even stern.  He smiled and calmly told us we might get hurt playing there. Then, firmly, he told us to go somewhere else.  He took no notice of our cap guns.

Had it happened today, a SWAT team would have shown up—an entire regiment of Barney Fifes, eager for any excuse to strut around in their riot gear and gas or club someone.

There have always been Barney Fifes--cops on power trips, cops whose rigid, zero-tolerance, everybody-is-guilty, us-against-them, paranoid, fascist attitude blinds them to common sense and humanity.  But, at least, in years past, they were kept in check by a cop culture that was more compatible with a free society--a cop culture that recognized it is they who work for us, not the other way around--a cop culture that does not demand more and more and more power because their job is "difficult," but rather, recognizes that in a free society a cop's job is supposed to be difficult.

Today's militarized cop culture, however, encourages abuse of power.  Thus, the average cop today is Deputy Barney Fife--only he's not funny and there's no Sheriff Andy Taylor to keep him in check.

I suppose that is a good definition of a police state:  Barney without Andy to keep him in check.

I recall an episode of the Andy Griffith Show in which Andy went out of town for the day and left Barney in charge.  When Andy came back, Barney had locked up half the population of Mayberry on one minor offense or another.  Even Aunt Bee was behind bars.

That is what is happening to us.  The government is criminalizing more and more things, and hiring more and more Barney Fifes to arrest more and more people and send them into the highly profitable prison slave labor system .  At the rate we're going, this nation will be like Mayberry on the day Andy went out of town:  Half of us will be behind bars.

Let us hope, then, that Andy comes back.  We need more Andys on the police force to keep the Barneys in check, and to change cop culture so that nine-year-old boys are no longer brutalized for playing with toy guns. We need a cop culture in this country that compels every cop to ask the question, "What would Andy do?"

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