I’m going to say the word: “Policeman.” What image first pops into your mind? Officer Brown helping little Susie find her way home? Sgt. Friday solving yet another case on Dragnet?
Or do you think of two Detroit cops using a heavy flashlight to beat a poor crackhead to death on a November night?
How you honestly answer that question says a lot about your childhood socio-economic status. For much of our history, how we felt about cops has had a lot to do with race and class. One of the most popular Depression-era ballads was A Hobo’s Lullaby, sung by Woody Guthrie. The best-known verse goes like this:
I know the police cause you trouble
They cause trouble everywhere
But when you die and go to Heaven
You'll find no policemen there
Joan Baez later sang that to middle-class college students, to thunderous applause. They grew up with Officer Brown, but had their perceptions jarred at protests and by the officers who objected to their smoking marijuana on the Diag.
They, however, were the first to indignantly scream for the cops if they saw someone stealing the stero out of their sports car.
Today, we have a lot of successful hypocrites who put policeman down. What they must know, at some level, is that their way of life wouldn’t last a week without the cops protecting it.
We expect our police to save our lives and property, at the risk of their own. We depend on them to know when to shoot someone.
But we give these awesome responsibilities to men and women who sometimes barely made it through high school. And we pay them terrible salaries. A new policeman in Detroit makes $30,258 a year. Some hairdressers make more.
We’ve got screwed-up priorities in this country. I think we usually get better police than we deserve. They are laying cops off in Detroit these days. But I suppose if you get in trouble, you can always call a politician instead.