Turnabout and Fair Play

Several months ago I posted a series of essays that poked fun at some missteps taken by a few members of law enforcement. In case you missed it, the series highlighted situations involving drug enforcement officers mistaking okra bushes for pot plants; the failure of police in Alaska to locate and notify the correct parents of the death of their son; and the inability of the police in another state to know the difference between a red car and a tan one.

Although it was mostly well received, that series cost me a few readers and at least one friend.  Apparently some people don’t believe you can both SUPPORT the police and still expect them to know the difference between pot and okra.

That point of view would make a lot of relationships tricky, if you ask me. Imagine a world where you could EITHER ask your daughter to put her dirty dishes in the dishwasher instead of leaving them in the sink OR love her and let her continue to live with you, but not BOTH. Or picture a marriage wherein you could EITHER tell your spouse you’d like him to watch less television OR stay married but, again, not BOTH.

If you’re not married or don’t have children, then envision a workplace where your boss could EITHER provide you constructive criticism after you’ve made mistakes OR let you keep your job, but not both. Or imagine an arrangement where you can EITHER tell your landlord that the faucet leaks OR continue living in your apartment, but—again—not BOTH.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but imagine a world where you could EITHER disagree with an opinion expressed by your friend of twenty years OR continue to be their part of her life, but NOT both. Wow.

Perhaps I’m looking at it all wrong. Maybe instead of being unreasonable absolutists, these folks were just surprised to learn that police officers are human beings who make mistakes and, accordingly, did not appreciate having that fact pointed out to them. Or maybe they simply have low expectations for America’s public servants and prefer to have their mistakes ignored, overlooked, or swept under the rug rather than discussed openly and used to educate or entertain.

Imagine what the world would be like if we applied THAT sort of logic to all professions. Imagine, for example if we decided that doctors, judges, and principals are above reproach and then shielded them from the legal and social consequences of their actions. Same goes for professional athletes, actors, and other celebrities. And what about political and religious leaders?

I know. Now I’m just being ridiculous. Because you can’t equate athletes and entertainers to members of law enforcement. For one thing athletes and celebrities, by and large, have not been tasked with protecting the members of their communities from other members of their communities. Nor do the families of religious and political figures, with some notable exceptions (MLK, JFK, Gabrielle Giffords) normally have to worry that their loved ones will be killed or injured in the line of duty.

Then again, with some exceptions, religious and political leaders don’t have the power to detain and arrest you—or someone who looks like you or drives the same car you do. Nor do doctors, judges, principals and the like—again, with some exceptions—routinely strap on potentially deadly weapons before heading off to their place of employment each day.

While I respect and support the police (as stated repeatedly throughout the series) I don’t think it’s wise to give anyone carte blanche or zero oversight—especially anyone who carries a gun. We supervise and monitor the people who teach and care for our children, after all. And have standards and requirements for people who install plumbing, build bridges, and manage air traffic. So why shouldn’t the people who carry guns and have the authority to use physical force against us also be held to a certain standard?

Besides, I happen to think that members of law enforcement are—or at least SHOULD be—secure enough in themselves to acknowledge when one of their own makes a mistake, and to laugh and point fingers at the bad apples when the situation so warrants. And just as anyone who works for a living prefers coworkers who know their stuff and can be counted on to do their job over those who don’t or can’t, I’m pretty sure that the majority of cops would prefer to work with others who know what they’re doing and can be trusted not to get them in trouble or get them killed.

So if the police themselves have high expectations for their fellow officers, I don’t understand why it’s wrong for anyone else to do so—or to say so. If you count cops among your family and friends, I would think you would want the people they work with to be among the most skilled, trustworthy, and responsible individuals on earth. Moreover, I would expect you to be more offended by the fact that corrupt and incompetent people are allowed to wear a badge and carry a gun than you are at me for reporting it.

Maybe I’m just more forgiving than most people, but I wouldn’t eject someone from my life for writing something critical of members of a given field even if I happen to love or admire someone who happens to work in that field. For example, despite being married to a Marine and having two brothers, a father, and a father-in-law who are all veterans of the armed forces, I have never dumped anyone for being critical of the military or because of their views on war. Nor would I take it personally if someone wrote volumes questioning the skills and abilities of real estate agents even though my son happens to be a realtor.

Maybe I’m also thicker skinned than most people, but I wouldn’t even be annoyed at someone for criticizing or making fun of writers. Truth be told, you could write a scathing article about my very own writing and I wouldn’t object—and not just because I’m so needy and self-centered that I’m grateful for even the smallest scrap of attention or publicity.

In fact, to show how okay I am with the idea of making fun of writers, I’ll go one step further and offer up some examples of embarrassing errors committed by my fellow writers just to get the ball rolling.

Let’s start with the folks who work for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, a staffer from which opened an article last year with the following sentence:

“A dog on Wauwatosa’s west side has been killed by a coyote for the second time in three days.”

Yes. You read that correctly. According to WRITER Dan Daykin, one dog has been killed twice.

No wonder it’s being reported in the newspaper, you might be thinking. After all, the first ever recorded example of canine reincarnation is pretty big news. Forget that he was killed—twice—by a coyote on Wauwatosa’s west side. The real story is that he came back to life at some point before dying again two days later.

Of course, having read the headline above the story (“Second dog killed by coyote on Wauwatosa’s west side”) I was already aware of what had really happened, so my confusion is not real. I’m just pretending to be confused for comedic effect. Go ahead and laugh. I’m sure Mr. Daykin can take it.

Same goes for the author of this line from an article about Ed Gein that appeared in the Oshkosh Northwestern in January: “Gein, another of the countries most well-known murderers, was arrested for murder when the headless body of a hardware store owner was found hanging at his rural Plainfield home in 1957.”

I laughed because Ed Gein was not one of several COUNTRIES. In fact, Gein wasn’t a COUNTRY at all. He was, of course, one of the COUNTRY’S most well-known murderers who was, in fact, arrested for murder.

Now, stylistically, I would have said EITHER “well-known murderers” OR “arrested for murder” but not both. But the real issue here is whether the writer should have known the difference between a plural noun (countries) and a possessive one (country’s). I would say yes, but that does not mean that the writer of the article is an irredeemable idiot. And even if he or she is not as skilled at grammar as he or she should be, it doesn’t mean I have to cancel my subscription. Because I can both support my local paper AND hope it improves. Just as you can love your spouse or child AND still encourage them to adopt better habits.

And the same goes for readers of this column. You can both FOLLOW this column (and like, comment and share, if you so desire) and STILL disagree with me and make fun of my typos. In fact, I would consider it a FAVOR if you would drop me a note when I use MORNING instead of MOURNING as I did once last year—so I can go back and FIX the problem, and make this column BETTER.

But, if you’re not up to that, it’s cool. It’s not your job, after all, to make this space more informative or entertaining. So if you’re annoyed or offended by something I’ve posted here, say something if you like. Or keep it to yourself if you prefer. Just don’t think you have to leave.


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