Saturday, August 14, 2010

American Cowardice 1

Driving home tonight I witnessed two police cruisers pulling over a man in a sedan. They shined their spotlights on him, and approached from both sides. I drove past without seeing what happened next, but I imagined the following unrealistic conversation.

Drunk Guy: Man those lights are bright could you turn them down.

Officer: It's normal procedure. For our protection. So we can see what you're doing.

Drunk Guy: For your protection? What do you need protecting from?

Officer: Well you see, we don't know if you are some PCP-head or gang-banger and might go crazy on us. You could be anyone. We can't be too careful.

Drunk Guy: But you're wearing body armor and have a gun, and 3 other guys with body armor and guns, and a radio to call for help to get a bunch more guys with body armor and guns. Plus you've been trained in hand-to-hand combat and all that stuff...

Officer: Well yes, but you could be a really belligerent alcoholic...

Drunk Guy: But you have pepper spray and a taser and handcuffs, and there is a shotgun in your car. And even if I drive away you have much faster cars with bullet proof glass, and that radio again with which to call helicopters and tire spikes and, paramedics if one of you gets hurt...

Officer: Of course, but we can't be too careful...

The point of my rambling imagination is not that cops don't face real dangers, but that perhaps we've gotten our ideas of danger out of perspective. When I get pulled over for a speeding ticket I sweat. Why? Because a guy (or girl) with a gun is about to give me a lecture. Police officers certainly do get injured and die in the line of duty, but far more criminals and bystanders are shot by cops than the other way around. This is because the cops are better armed, better trained, better prepared, and usually outnumber their opponents. In other words, however dangerous it may be to be a cop, it is more dangerous for everyone else.

This is not an anti law-enforcement post. This is just what got my mind started down this train of thought. My broader point is this:

We have become a society of cowards. We have institutionalized cowardice.

Look at that chart to the right. We spend as much money on our military as the almost the entire rest of the world. Our military is the best equipped, best trained, most advanced everything. In the past century we have inflicted millions of casualties on the rest of the world while we have suffered less than 1% of the deaths we have caused.

Yet, despite our utter dominance, we live in fear.

After those police officers have got the talkative drunk guy out of his car he decides he does feel slightly belligerent. He cracks some jokes at the cops and doesn't exactly follow instructions. They push him up against the car and try to cuff him. He gets defensive.

Drunk Guy: Hey why are you pushing me!

He shoves back. The police both grab him and force him face first to the ground. He squirms, while one officer gets out his cuffs and the other pulls his taser out.

Officer: Hold still or I will taze you.

He doesn't hold still. The cop cuffing him, being bigger, stronger, in better shape, trained for this sort of thing and sober is, at most, in danger of inhaling some intense halitosis. The drunk guy keeps squirming. They taze him. Twice. For their own safety. Everyone agrees this is perfectly reasonable.

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