A.C. Snow

Police are guarding gates of our lives – Snow

Of all the worthwhile quotes by American humorist and philosopher Will Rogers, “I never met a man I didn’t like” is probably the most memorable.

And, I might add, the most unbelievable.

So I could declare, during the ongoing conversation on police performance and Dallas slayings, that I never met a cop I didn’t like.

I’ll settle by saying that I never met many police officers that I didn’t like. In my profession, I’ve met a heckuva lot of cops.

My first job after graduating from journalism school was covering the city beat in the warm and welcoming town of Burlington. Checking by the Police Department was a focal point of my daily round.

Mine was a walking beat, literally. After 30 months in the Air Force and four years in college, I had no wherewithal with which to purchase a car. But I had good comfortable shoes and the strong feet of youth.

I never had a weight problem. And I only dated girls with cars.

I worked hard at establishing a strong rapport and mutual respect with the people on my beat, especially with the guys in blue.

My good rapport paid off, to a point that probably could be questionable in today’s more stand-offish press-news source relationships.

For example, early on, without a car, I could seldom report “live from the scene.”

That handicap didn’t last. Ere long, I’d get calls at night from police headquarters notifying me that a squad car was on the way to pick me up in front of my boarding house to transport me to some scene of action.

When at midnight you’re the only newsman around while 50,000 gallons of molasses flows down the town’s second busiest street from a feed mill tank eruption, you can’t help inwardly gloating “How sweet it is”!

Neither my boss nor the police chief had any problem with this arrangement.

That is, not until it became apparent that there might be one.

In time, I detected a simmering revolution within the ranks of the officers against their chief.

Burlington and Alamance County were “dry.” A bottle of bourbon in someone’s car could get the driver in big trouble. Yet at the local Elks Lodge, the town’s elite could lift a glass without fear of reprisal. The police chief was a loyal Elk.

This bothered the boys in blue. I was called aside one morning and told that a raid on the Elks Club was imminent. I was sworn to secrecy.

Unbeknownst to me, my newspaper’s publisher also was an Elk.

The day after the raid and my Big Story, the publisher called me into his office.

“A.C.,” he said. “I’m getting word that you planned Monday night’s raid on the Elks Club.”

“Sir” I said. “That is a bald-faced lie. I’m a newspaper reporter, not a police officer.”

Shortly thereafter, the city manager, who also had been pre-briefed on the raid, fired the police chief. At the next city election, the ex-police chief was elected to the City Council and led the movement to fire the city manager.

During my coverage of police in Raleigh and Burlington, I never heard a whisper of police brutality. In general, police were highly respected.

During my coverage of police in Raleigh and Burlington, I never heard a whisper of police brutality. In general, police were highly respected.

But those were more docile times. That was before we became what is now referred to as a nation of angry people. We are a well-armed populace, quick tempered, explosive, with many seething with the feeling that “I’ve been misused, abused and ignored and I’m not going to take it any more.”

And, instead of trusting the ballot or the bureaucracy to effect change, they turn to the bullet and the bomb.

So more and more innocents die, including cops who lay their lives on the line to keep the peace that is becoming more precious, yet more elusive, with the dawn of every day.

I would not be naive enough to insinuate that every man or woman in uniform is above reproach. As in every profession, there are misfits.

In our violent culture, some citizens have cause to fear cops. In turn, every police officer has cause to fear some of us. That’s why most officers, when confronting a threatening scene, keep one hand within easy reach of their holster.

I learned early on that, generally, inside that police uniform is a warm, breathing human being who loves his or her family, friends and, foremost, loves life. They stand at the gates to our lives, ready to sacrifice their own lives for the rest of us if necessary.

Poet John Donne wrote, “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

The deaths of the five Dallas police officers, as well as those of all their comrades who have died on humanity’s behalf, certainly diminish each of us.

Snow: 919-836-5636; asnow@newsobserver.com