Friday, November 14, 2014

I hope TV has it all wrong

We hear constantly of the more than 300 firefighters who were killed when the World Trade Center buildings collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, and well we should.

However …

We seem to have forgotten that there were cops in the building that collapsed, too, a couple dozen, and they weren't there to direct traffic or find a bakery or arrest the airplane hijackers. They were there to save lives, to direct civilians to safety and away from the firefighters.

We have forgotten about them because there is a down side to being a policeman: Few people think of cops as heroes, and that's a damn shame. The man who was the greatest influence on my life, the only man I ever knew to whom I could ascribe the classic attributes of hero; a man I loved uniquely and unconditionally, and whom I miss every day, was a cop. In fact, he remains my idea of what a police officer should be. And I know that, by his own high standards, he judged most men and women in blue to be deserving of his respect, and that is high praise, indeed.

So we’re straight on that, right? Cop admirer, right here.

But …

I was watching one of my favorite police procedurals on TV the other night and it just smacked me in the face that the grizzled desk sergeant, as she passed out the black bands to cover badges in memory of a fellow officer recently murdered in the line of duty, said she’d prefer the shooter didn't live to face trial. Even more jarring, the rest of the characters seemed to share that sentiment.

I don’t know if real cops feel that way, but it would be really depressing to find out they do. In movies and on TV, “cop killers” are worse than child molesters and baby murderers. The cops in the movies always talk about the killing of “one of our own,” as if that’s a special class of crime which deserves a special kind of death and a special place in Hell.

I understand that but I can’t abide it. As a journalist, I am personally aggrieved by the death of any journalist while on the job. Ironically, those who kill journalists are usually the ones for whom the reporters have the greatest sympathy. So I absolutely understand the stunning grief and rage when a friend and colleague is murdered. I've felt it. But the death of a reporter in a war zone is no worse than the death of a child or an old man or any other non-combatant.

Don’t get me wrong; So I know that when an officer is killed in the line of duty, his or her fellows should be given all of the benefit of empathy and sympathy that anyone would. But cops aren’t special, and their deaths in the line of duty are, in fact, occupational hazards. Their killers should be hunted, captured, and prosecuted exactly the same way the killer of a child, or a teacher, or a doctor, or an accountant would be.

I think the sentiment expressed on the TV show hit me particularly hard because of the attention that’s being focused on police brutality recently. I won’t say it isn’t warranted, but I can’t imagine how painful it is to every good man and woman on the job. Sadly, it only takes a handful of bad actors to sully the reputations of everyone wearing a badge. It makes it look like cops, just like the rest of us, can’t control their tempers in high-stress situations. It erodes public trust in all police officers and denies them the human empathy they should have from the rest of us when they do get hurt or killed protecting the rest of us.

I’ll be the first to admit that police work doesn't lend itself to good PR. The very nature of police work makes it abhorrent to most people. A cop can change your life with the stroke of his pen, or end it with the twitch of her finger. Even when heroic firefighters investigate arson – the only crime firemen concern themselves with – they don’t arrest the suspect, they call on cops to do that.

Police officers are accusers; they take away our liberty because it’s their job to do that to some of us. When a policeman pulls you over to warn you of a broken headlight, he is depriving you of the freedom to drive down the street in ignorant darkness. When a policeman comes to your door to ask you questions about the strange car parked down the block, your eyes are drawn irresistibly to the gun belt, to the weapon that can kill and the handcuffs that can imprison.

But to give voice to wishes that a murderer – any murderer – should be denied due process of law, to say that any suspect’s or defendant’s civil rights should be abridged, isn’t just morally wrong, it’s downright un-American. Police officers are sworn to uphold, not just the statutes that forbid murder and theft and rape, but the whole U.S. Constitution. That means protecting the civil rights of all citizens, regardless of personal feelings or the emotions of the moment.

I hope most real police officers think of that when they're on the job. I hope they truly believe that they go to work each day to serve and to protect. And I sure hope those TV shows are wrong about the cops they portray.

Friday, October 24, 2014

‘Men’s rights’ is a false cause

An article in an online magazine recently referenced a fellow named Paul Elam and the misogynistic web site he maintains. It’s devoted to the utterly fabricated cause of “men’s rights,” and it pretends that men – primarily white men – are besieged by evil feminist forces who want to oppress men. Primarily white men.

So, I went to check out Paul Elam’s web site. I didn't know whether to laugh at the absurdity of its content or cry because this bozo pretends to represent “men.” The web site is a monument to misogyny. As nearly as I can tell, according to Elam, womankind is out to oppress and dominate mankind. Woman, Elam would have us believe, wants to take her babies away from the man who so generously gifted his sperm to her just because he's an insufferable asshole. Elam admits that he was frightened out of his career as an addiction counselor by a woman who wanted to, as he puts it, "shove (the male clients') macho bullshit down their throats."

What he completely missed -- and this actually makes him pretty much unsuited for that line of work, so it's good that he ran away from it like a scared boy -- is the fact that macho bullshit is the crux of almost all male addicts' problems. Elam's too dumb to know that his colleague didn't want to take men's balls away, she just wanted them to stop thinking with them.

I don’t suppose anyone will ever be able to explain it to him, but Elam’s world view can never result in constructive thought or dialog because it is shot through with what I call “little boy syndrome.” This is the tendency of men to classify all strife as an us-vs-them struggle. As I scrolled through, I found horror story after horror story about men who allegedly suffered at the hands of crazy-bitch girlfriends and wives.

What I did not find was the inclusiveness that women’s rights movements invariably have. Websites urging people to join the effort to eliminate misogyny, which is not confined to violence but is a cultural failure to value female humans equally with males, almost always include acknowledgement that women are not alone in suffering oppression from dominating males in our society. And they always seek to enlist the help of men – indeed, some even make it primarily the responsibility of men – to change the societal rules that devalue the lives and minds of women.

Aside from the dubious credibility of the anecdotal horror stories that are the staple of Elam’s website, the overall tone is a loud “thunk!” I was raised to believe that “fair” doesn't always mean “equal,” and equality isn't always fair. Fair, I was taught, is better. While it is absolutely fair to pay two people with the same qualifications the same wage to do the same job (equality being the only fair thing in this case) it is ridiculously unfair to equate rape of men with rape of women as a problem in our society; the numbers simply don’t bear out the equivalency.

And in some things the physiological differences between men and women have to be considered to even approach equality. When was the last time you went to a major sporting event and saw equal-length lines in front of the restrooms? Major venue designers have finally figured out that, because of the design of their bodies, women need a lot more restroom space than men. It isn't funny, it isn't degrading, it isn't overly empowering, and it isn't a weakness. It is the reality of our physical beings and we need to recognize it and move on.

I’ll admit that women can be abusive and downright hostile to men, but I gotta’ tell ya’, that hostility is usually the result of abuse at the hands of … that’s right, men. Aileen Wuornos killed six men in cold blood, falsely accusing all of them of trying to rape her. That’s one angry woman. Of course, being raped as a child can make a girl pretty damn angry – or a poet laureate.

But these are extreme and rare anecdotes that Elam's website uses. While a handful of men suffer injury and even death at the hands of women they know and love -- Phil Hartman's murder by his wife in 1998 is an example -- these cases are so rare that they make big news. Besides, Brynn Omdahl didn't kill Hartman because she was a woman, she killed him because she was a deranged drug addict. Elam may want to delve into the history of what made her so. No one else has deigned to do so,  G'head, search the Internet until your brain turns to mush -- you'll find no account, credible or otherwise, of Omdahl's early life. One can only speculate about how such a gifted woman came by that lethal monkey on her back.

Elam’s website meticulously chronicles how every defense of women's dignity is an assault on men's rights. Some examples:

  • Domestic violence issues are twisted by women's advocates to be primarily a problem of man-on-woman violence.
  • Women banding together to claim basic human rights constitutes a conspiracy to deprive men of their civil rights.
  • Civil rights for women is really all about women being more comfortable as lesbians, especially after they've been bred and had all the children they want to have.
  • Women standing up to men in public media are actually ball-busting bitches who want to muzzle men so they can carry out their emasculating-lesbian-child-stealing agenda.

Elam's whole philosophy reminds me of the pathetic mewling of white supremacists who bemoan the passing of the old order because they no longer have an iron grip on power by virtue of their “race.” The privileged – the white male Protestant Christians of America – claim to feel threatened, pretend to be in “danger” of minority status because the people they have so long oppressed are learning where to find the levers of power.

As a man I’m here to tell you, we men are doing just fine, thank you very much. We've learned to think with that organ that is designed for thinking, and let our balls dangle stupidly from our bellies, performing the one thing they were designed for -- to distinguish us  from women. And I sure as hell don’t need Paul Elam or anyone else to fight for my masculine rights.