Powerful Words: A Confession

This is the first in a series of four posts.

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I was a cop once.

It was only once, and only for a few weeks. Nevertheless, I must confess that once I was a fully-fledged officer of the law—with a blue uniform, a black duck-billed hat, a shiny badge pinned on my chest, a walky-talky hung at my side (this was long before the rise to ubiquity of cell-phones), a bully-stick in a holder on a leather belt studded with bullets, and a holster with a loaded handgun in it. I even bought myself a pair of mirrored sunglasses to complete the outfit.

That was long ago, now—back in the summer of 1971.

The summer I was a cop was just three years after the 1968 assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and of Bobby Kennedy, as well as the riots those events triggered. That includes the officially labeled “police riot” in the streets of Chicago against the protesters who had assembled there outside that year’s Democratic National Convention, to exercise the freedom of speech supposedly guaranteed them by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Three years later, the summer of 1971 when I was a cop was still during the period of race riots across the country. In fact, one such race riot had taken place the just preceding summer of 1970 in the small town just north of the even smaller New Jersey Shore beach community my wife is from and where I was soon to be, briefly, a cop.

I walked a beat on the boardwalk on the Jersey Shore there. My beat-shift was from 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. the next morning. Given the era at issue, with all the racial and other public tensions that were everywhere so much still in play then (as they still are now, for that matter, however different the visible manifestations may be), it was not at all uncommon as I walked my beat—especially during the opening hours of my shift, when there was still a lot of pedestrian traffic up and down the boardwalk—for me to hear calls of “Oink! Oink!” or “Soo-ee!” or even “Off the pig!” wafted over the boardwalk by the summer breezes.

That never bothered me at all.  In fact, to all intents and purposes I shared the sentiments so expressed. Financial exigency may have forced me to wear a police outfit for a while myself, but I had no respect for “the police” as such.

So such expressions of popular opposition to police power did not offend me in the least. I knew that it had nothing to do with me personally, just with the police as an institution of “law enforcement.”

One time, however, I did take personal offense at something said in my presence as I walked along. One evening, I took sudden offense toward two fourteen year-old boys for what they were saying—or thought they were.

The two teenagers were really not doing anything wrong at all. They were just talking. It was just that what they were saying, or more precisely how they held themselves in saying it, somehow managed to get under my skin. It managed to offend me, all uniformed-up as I was.

That was not because the two boys swore at me. Indeed, they never even said anything at all to me. They were just messing around on the side of the boardwalk, inching themselves along step-by-step outside the metal pipe railing at its edge, and talking about me to one another. I don’t even remember anything they said, but somehow just the fact that they thought they were putting something over on me managed to bother me.

It pissed me off that they thought they could get away with daring to act smart around me, that’s all.

So I busted the little bastards—for going barefoot.

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To be continued.