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Covering up bad behavior puts us all at risk

Can we all agree that as humans we are not perfect, make mistakes, and that our imperfections are randomly spread across the human race, regardless of race or religion, and regardless of job or profession?

As a college professor, I can testify that not all college professors are good teachers who never make mistakes. In fact, I've seen some really bad actors in my 30-year career in higher education. Fortunately, most college professors are not only wonderful people, but great teachers who care deeply about their students. As in any profession, however, there are exceptions to that rule, and those exceptions are hurtful to the rest of us in higher education.

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So let's talk about the police. Several members of my family have been or are members of police departments in their home towns. To the best of my knowledge, they are exceptional public servants who serve their communities well. However, like college professors, not all members of the police community behave professionally at all times. As recent evidence has demonstrated, there are bad actors in some police departments that put the majority of good cops in a bad light. Adding insult to injury, there are people who defend all police, all the time, regardless of an individual police officer's behavior. These defenders do the police community no favors.

It is important that we weed out bad players in all of our professions whether we are talking about college professors, doctors, teachers, pastors, military personnel, fire fighters or the police. In doing so, we help make each of our professions stronger and more respected by the communities we serve. Defending the indefensible just because someone, for example, is a fellow college professor or a fellow member of the police community, does a disservice to the profession in question.

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What I've observed on the internet, in the news, and around the community, is people defending police actions that are clearly indefensible. A good example is the recent case of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke who shot Laquan McDonald, a 17-year old, 16 times on November 4, 2014. According to the autopsy report, 14 of the 16 bullets entered McDonald's body after he was on the ground dying from a shot in the back and leg.

Van Dyke was charged with murder shortly before a video of his actions was released to the public last week. While McDonald was carrying a knife, the police video clearly shows him walking away from the police and was about 15 feet away from them when he was shot.

For a full year after the shooting of McDonald, witnesses stated that he was shot by Van Dyke without cause. The police union, paid to defend the indefensible in this case, fought the release of the video and we now understand why. And, by the way, Van Dyke had been investigated 18 times following previous complaints about his behavior on duty.

Most police officers are good men and women who provide a great service to their communities. But police unions, police departments and other police supporters do not help their case when they circle the wagons and cover up the actions of their bad apples. Sticking together for the sake of sticking together is not helpful in any organization. Indeed, it is harmful to the profession, and puts all of us at risk — especially when the bad apple has a gun.

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Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. E-mail him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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