Standing in line at the grocery store, bored with the long wait, I caught myself scanning tabloids for the latest on Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. The mother of a little boy in front of me was frantically replacing packages of candy that her little boy was just as diligently taking off the display rack and dropping into the cart.
Suddenly, she nodded toward a uniformed deputy standing at the entrance and whispered, "You see that man with the badge? If you don't behave I'm going to have him arrest you and take you to jail!" The kid's eyes grew big, his lower lip trembled, and when the deputy smiled at him he burst into tears. It was not a pretty sight and it struck me, upon reflection, with as much horror as the tales of looting, shooting and brutality that came out of New Orleans during Katrina.
A culture has emerged in America that glorifies gangster and criminal life while it undermines respect for law enforcement and other officials. It is necessary that policemen, like all public servants, have the integrity of their work scrutinized. Nevertheless, that scrutiny does not need to come from "gangsta rap" stars, television scripts and talk show hosts with a hidden agenda. Police officers are portrayed all too often in these medias as corrupt, dishonest, and power-drunk. Moreover, this portrayal is validated for children when we use the badge to discipline them instead of using our authority as parents.
If that mother at the grocery store had only considered the consequence of her action, she probably would have stopped herself. She has helped to reinforce the entertainment media's belief that people wearing badges are to be feared, not trusted. Once a child has this belief ingrained in the mind, he will discount tales of police officers' courage, sacrifice and public service that he might encounter. Recently, a police officer in Charleston, S.C., told me when he goes into schools to teach children about their responsibilities as citizens the kids often have no idea how to report a crime. This is a scary thought; our children either do not know who to report crime to, or do not trust the person wearing a badge enough to report it.
With the increased incidents of kidnapping, sexual exploitation and killing of children making the news recently, correction of this attitude is not only desirable - it is imperative. If kids need help, and they fear or do not trust the badge, to whom are they supposed to turn? Police officers constantly try to combat this fear with programs like Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.), Columbia County Sheriffs Office Explorer Post 63 and ID-A-Child. These programs attempt to create trust and confidence in law enforcement, not fear and doubt aimed toward those honorably wearing the badge.
However, law enforcement cannot do it alone. The public must become involved in educating their children to the true nature of law enforcement: that these men and women "serve and protect," not harass and hurt.
For the sake of civilization and the safety of our children, we do not need to teach our offspring to fear and distrust law officers. We need to discount the media portrayals of corrupt and dishonest police officers by demonstrating that we, as parents, respect and admire these dedicated servants of the public. We need to demonstrate for our children that we realize the boundless duty, sacrifices and honor of our law enforcement officers.
It is vital that we honor the past Columbia County officers who have died in the line of duty. Your best opportunity to demonstrate for your children the trust and respect held for those who wear the badge is by participation in the upcoming Day of Remembrance ceremony at the Columbia County Justice Center flagpole. I suggest you attend if possible, take photographs, and spend the evening sharing with your family your respect for the hundreds of police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians who perished on Sept. 11, 2001. Those heroes showed the world their infinite dedication and gallant sacrifice; let us show the world, through our offspring, that we will never forget.
We need to share with our children the attitude of one New Orleans police officer interviewed on television. He said that his wife asked him "Why do you keep doing this?" His answer, which goes to the center of this subject, was "Because every day I get up and go to work with heroes."
(Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident and a member of Columbia County's Community Emergency Response Team. Columbia County's Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony will be held at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 11 at the Justice Center flagpole, in Evans.)
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