Berkeley’s Very Thin Blue Line

When I walk around Berkeley and the surrounding areas, I do something that hasn’t been done for 50 years. It’s when I see police officers.

I make a beeline over to them and say something like this, “Excuse me for interrupting. But I would like to thank you for your service to our community. I really appreciate it. You are that thin blue line that keeps our society from going into total chaos. And I want to thank you very much.”

At this point they just stare at me, having no idea what to make of me or my speech. Am I joking? Being sarcastic? Am I catching them off guard so that I can soon launch into a hostile diatribe?

At this point, I usually add something or two so that they know that I’m serious. After scrutinizing my appearance and finding me friendly, if not a bit unique, one of the officers will smile and say thank you. Maybe even add, “We really appreciate that.”

Now if you live in a sane area of the country, making pleasantries with a police officer isn’t unusual. You may know several of them by name and chit-chat with them outside of a grocery store or a park. But as you can imagine, the police are not exactly viewed favorably out here.

Many of the populace never let go of that 60s animosity towards all authority, particularly the police. And, unfortunately, they taught that same hostility to their offsprings. The last time I saw someone making “small talk” with an officer, the young woman was screaming at him for being an “oppressor” (which bemused the brown skinned officer).

But, really, does that enmity really make sense? I mean, really? Don’t the police put their lives every day on the line for us? They see horrible things that none of us would like to behold, such as bloody crime scenes, dying victims, the sexually assaulted.

Night and day, they go into dangerous areas; they run after robbers, many of whom are pointing guns at them. Would you or anyone you know want to deal with a murder at 2 am in a dicey area of town? And they do all this for less money than your average, 24-year-old programmer makes at Yahoo.

And, yet, so many people in this country hate the police. They shoot at them. They curse them out. In Oakland, a few years ago, two officers made a routine traffic stop; both were shot dead by the driver; the officers left widows and children without fathers.

None of this disrespect, if not outright violence, towards the police would have happened prior to the 60s. Back then, there was respect for authority: police, military, teachers, parents. More importantly, there was a healthy respect for and fear of God. No one in their right mind would lung at a police officer or shout expletives at him. Society back then, of all races, creeds, and colors, knew that for their community and for their country to survive, we needed strong people in charge.

The 60s changed all of this with its Question Authority bumper stickers and attitudes, and its targeting anyone who dares to set limits and say no. Tragically, this adolescent view of the world has persisted in many places around the country, particularly around here. And yet those same folks who despise the police will complain bitterly if an officer didn’t respond quickly when their house was burglarized or their car stolen.

Sadly, the police can’t respond as quickly as they used to in the past. They’re too busy dealing with the Occupiers, the Critical Mass bicycle zealots who hold up traffic for hours; and the protestors gone wild. In high-crime areas such as Oakland, the police force has been decimated, with about 1/3 of them dismissed for lack of funding. Even when then-Mayor Ron Dellums, an African American Democrat, pleaded with the White House for financial help to retain the police, the feds turned their backs on the city.

I suppose this is because many people in the current Administration hold the same views: that the police are the bad guys, and therefore hiring the fewest of them the better. That thinking defies all logic (although easy to hold, I suppose, when followed by bodyguards and the Secret Service). With a drastically reduced police force, crimes of all kind have surged across Oakland, a city, by the way, with a large population of blacks and Latinos. And — hello — aren’t people who loot and rob and mug little old ladies the bad guys, rather than the police? Not for those people living in a time warp.

So for all of these reasons and more, I take a moment and thank an officer when I see one. I let him or her know that someone appreciates him. I don’t know if it makes a difference to the officer. But it sure does for me.

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