The Myth of Hands Up/Don’t Shoot

March 6, 2015

For the last two months immediately after the pledge of allegiance we have been showing a video at our Street Survival Seminars. The video is of a “protest” in San Francisco. Rest assured, it’s brutal.

Over the five minute piece you see and hear absolute abuse being shouted at police officers. They are called “slaves,” “pigs,” “motherfuckers,” “a shame on the community.” Chants of “sell-out cops” can be heard as they are harassed, given the finger and provoked both physically and verbally. Bottles and barricades are thrown. Windows are broken. Crowds hold signs that advocate the killing of police officers.

They are angry because an “unarmed teenager” named Michael Brown in a small town named Ferguson, Mo., was murdered by an out–of-control racist cop while Brown’s hands were in the air, saying, “Don’t shoot.”

Problem is, the entire narrative by the protesters in every demonstration in every part of the country was constructed around a falsehood—some might say, a lie.

The Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, conceded to that fact yesterday.

So now what?

In my 30-plus year career in law enforcement I’ve never seen the relationship between police and the community they serve and protect so damn toxic. Never in my entire lifetime.

The divide is as cavernous as it is disheartening. Calibre Press just published a survey where more than 80% of the responding officers said they would not recommend law enforcement to a family member. It echoes what I’ve heard out of countless police officers’ mouths all over the country in the last six months.

The number one reason they wouldn’t recommend it? Media and public attitude towards the police.

It seems as everyone, including yours truly, is voicing an opinion on this sad state of affairs, but few are asking the important and primary question: Why?

Importance of Trust
One word: TRUST.

Trust is the backbone of any relationship. Whether it be a marriage, friendship, or business venture, if there’s a lack of trust the association is doomed.

And we have none between the police and the citizenry. Right? Actually, no.

Most, and in fact the great majority, of police departments are rated high in surveys when it comes to respect by the people they actually serve. Even in New York, the people who lived where the police were doing the constantly maligned practice of “Stop and Frisk” approved of the practice by 68%.

Communities, for the most part, trust their own cops. Everyone from Gallup to individual city polls bear out this truth over the last several decades.

So what is the true problem?

Four things, in my humble opinion.

  1. Media bias;
  2. Activists with an agenda;
  3. Cultural problems in some police agencies; and
  4. Leadership.

Let’s examine.

Media bias: Does anyone think the truth matters to many in the media anymore? Their sole goal, it seems, is to beat the other countless media outlets to a breaking story. Don’t vet the witnesses; ignore their motives; run with innuendo and rumors; avoid inconvenient facts, especially if you’ve already supported a narrative that those facts will destroy. And as soon as one “news organization” features the false information—it becomes truth to those who view it.

There are good journalists—hard-working, honest people who put all they’ve got into getting the story right. But the business of media as a model—the national media in particular—is to get eyeballs first and get the truth … if convenient. And in this case, people died. Because of a cynical lie.

Activists with an agenda: Don’t get me wrong. Some demonstrators are the salt of the earth, and we are obliged to protect them in their right to peaceably assemble and engage in free speech. But those screaming the loudest for truth, ethics and justice—those demanding the limelight shine on their ego alone—are some of the biggest charlatans and hucksters in the country.

Cultural problems in some police agencies: The DOJ report about the police practices in Ferguson is disturbing. I read much of it and while I don’t assign evil intent to the conclusions therein, negative culture and corrupt practices can easily take hold in a police agency. This is undeniable and it’s incredibly tough to change. Changing a culture takes determination, courage, honest assessment and something that I believe is sorely lacking in this country at every level: leadership.

Leadership: It takes guts to lead with integrity. Government is not set up for creative, innovative, “think outside the box” and “rock the boat” leaders. Change is too often a dirty word. Groupthink is too often widespread. In any sort of big organization it’s almost impossible to lose your job if you just go along and get along and do the bare minimum. A years-long process of lousy work won’t get you fired, but a single event will get you fired. Especially an event with national media attention (see above). What’s worse: Too often those poor workers get promoted. And the last thing a government supervisor wants to do is lose his/her job. So, just go along, avoid problems, ride out the career, pick up a nice pension on a supervisor’s salary.

In sum, the media should be ashamed of itself for pushing a false narrative. Not only was “Hands up/Don’t shoot” untrue, the media is now using this trope to highlight and encapsulate every case they can find of police using force. They push and push and push singular innocuous events and present them as epidemic examples of police abuse even when the officers do nothing wrong (see “LAPD shoots homeless man” story).

Because of the bias and unsubstantiated reporting people were injured and died. Many lost their businesses. Cops and their families were harassed and their personal information was hacked. Communities have been damaged seemingly beyond repair.

This is a problem on many fronts. We as police officers, leaders, and agencies cannot play the victim. We need to reach out. We need to assess, listen and think outside the box. We need to furthermore get back to our basics: why we do this. What is your mission? How do you do it better?

We need to take this opportunity and fix this thing.


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