Do We Have A Good Relationship With The Police?

TJ Hooker says “yes.”
TJ Hooker says “yes.”

Don’t freak out at the airport or you might die. Consider the recent incident at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in which Carol Ann Gotbaum was found dead in her jail cell after being arrested while having an emotional meltdown. The cops say it looks like the 45-year old mother of three accidentally strangled herself while attempting to maneuver while shackled. The fact that Gotbaum was the daughter-in-law of long time New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum means that this case is getting the kind of attention reserved for the rich, the famous, and the powerful.

Whatever the particulars of the Gotbaum incident turn out to be and whether or not the police are determined to have been overzealous and/or negligent in their handling of the incident, public scrutiny invites an assessment of what increasingly appears to be a violently adversarial relationship between the police and civilians. Taserings, SWAT teams and their increased militarization of local police departments, not to mention the increasingly broad exceptions to personal civil liberties law enforcement is now allowed to take, seem to be widening the gulf between police officers and the citizens they’ve sworn to protect and serve.

“Get along…nothing to see here” has been replaced with “What the fuck you looking at?” Cops are increasingly outfitted with an array of communications equipment and weapons, computer uplinks and real-time surveillance video, tasers and pepper sprays and kubatons and guns in all flavors; with all of it hanging from black tactical vests. And they wear those sunglasses. Dressed up like soldiers, they seem to be acting more and more like soldiers. Zap her, spray him, beat them up, lock them up, and let God sort ‘em out.

The cops say Gotbaum was acting all crazy, shouting things like “I’m a bad mom” and “I need help” while running in an agitated manner up and down the airport concourse. That earned her a tackle, a dose of pepper spray in the face, and a trip to the pokey. That is, apparently, the only way the officers could think of to handle a distraught middle-aged woman. At airport jail, police say, Gotbaum continued to be unruly and required shackling, arms cuffed behind her back and attached to the bench upon which she sat. It was there, after all that yelling and kicking and screaming, where the agitated, irrational, downright loony Gotbaum was left entirely alone to become fatally entangled in her cuffs while 9 officers worked in the next room. Police say.

So, maybe we’ll see some celebrity justice and some yahoo cops will get exonerated or chastised, a victim either get dragged through the mud or exalted to sainthood. But maybe we should all be looking at our own police officers and our relationships with them, whether we dread an ordinary encounter with a police officer or if we feel we have nothing to worry about in their hands and under their authority. Is that relationship what it should be, could be, ought to be? Or has it become something else, something more ominous?

That’s all I’m saying.