Is this how it starts?

A young woman leaves the Feast and starts walking to her car, which is parked several blocks away. She notices two men following her. She notices them because she is a smart, modern woman who has been taught to “be aware of her surroundings” at all times. It’s been beaten into her head since she started to venture away from home on her own.

She’s a smart, modern 20-something, but she’s not paranoid, and she doesn’t want to judge the two men simply by their looks. So she doubles back to make sure she is not imagining it. She even stops and talks to someone walking a dog. The men stop, too, hanging back about a block.

Then she crosses the street a couple of times, and the men do the same. She knows, now, that they are following her. She’s not sure what to do, makes sure they don’t get too close and she stays where there are people around. She’s smart enough to know she should not go to her car. There might not be any people there. At this point, she’s still pretty close to the Feast so there are lots of people walking around. She thinks maybe she should go back to the Feast and find someone she knows to walk her to her car. It might seem silly, though, but, she looks back, and the men are still there. She’s been taught to trust her instincts.

She spots four police officers, FOUR, on a corner, because, after all, it is near the Feast grounds. Feeling relieved, she approaches them and asks if one of them can walk her to her car because, and she points, two men are following her. Instead of offering to, at the very least, watch her as she goes to her car, they question HER. They ask her how she knows the men are following her. They even ask her why two men would be folllowing her. 

Excuse me? WHY? Really?

And then they tell her “no,” they will not walk her to her car. They will not even walk far enough to see that she gets to her car safely.

The young woman stands there incredulous. She was raised to believe that the police officer was her friend, that she should look for the uniform in a scary situation, that they are there to protect and serve.

I guess that doesn’t apply when they are getting detail pay at a feast.

What the hell were they doing there, I ask. Shame on you, whatever police department you belong to. The young woman was rather shaken and did not read the names on the badges or see which depatment these officers were part of. l guess that’s better, or I would be slamming a whole department here.

I thought you were supposed to be there for public safety. Obviously not for the safety of that particular member of the public. So, what was your job, exactly? What was the point? Were you supposed to be getting paid to stand there and bullshit with each other? How much was that detail costing for four of you NOT to help a young woman in need? As for HOW she knew they were following her? She knew because she did exactly as she was taught: she paid attention to her surroundings.

And so what if they were not following her? So what if she was wrong and they were just ambling around? What happened to being able to ask for some help just because you feel uncomfortable in your surroundings? When did it become necessary to prove an imminent threat to personal safety for a police officer to show the common courtesy and respect that any decent-thinking, random stranger would have shown?

When did Officer Friendly become Officer Asshole?

Is this how it starts, the deterioration of public trust in our safety officials?

Is it a big leap from this to Ferguson? Of course it is. Is it a ridiculous, impossible leap? Maybe, but not necessarily, because it has to start somewhere. We didn’t suddenly go from Andy Taylor to Ferguson in one fell swoop. We didn’t go from, “Do not fear, Officer Friendly is here,” to citizens being treated as enemy combatants all in one summer.

It happened bit by bit. It happened one incident like this at a time.

About 35 years ago, when I had just moved to Revere, one of my sisters drove out to see me in my new apartment. She got lost and called me from a pay phone. We didn’t have cell phones back then. She gave me a landmark to tell me where she was, but I didn’t know because I had just move there; two New Bedford bumpkins out of their ken. I was pretty sure she was in Chelsea somewhere, but I had no idea how to find her. Instead of driving around blindly while she waited in her car in a possibly bad neighborhood, I called the police. I don’t remember if I called Revere police or Chelsea police (I really should keep a journal). In any case, I gave them the same information she gave me, explained that I was new to the area and did not know how to find her. I was at least hoping they could direct me to her. They didn’t do that. They went to her. Yup. They sent a cruiser to where she was in a parking lot waiting by the phone for me to call. They directed her and even followed her to her first turn.

That was Chelsea, Mass., in the late 70s or early 80s. Those guys were busy, but they still had time to swing by a parking lot and give directions to a scared teenager.

The fact that I even called the police is probably surprising enough to some people. But I grew up on Adam 12, Andy Griffith and the righteousness of TV Westerns. All I know about integrity and honesty and doing what’s right I learned from Lucas McCain and Matt Dillon and the Cartwrights.

What happened America? In a re-run this week, Officer Reed admonished some old guy, saying that the way a person dresses or wears his hair is his own business. Geesh. Those days are gone, aren’t they? Dare I even mention skin color?

I have it on good authority and am happy, even proud to say that I know there were no Fairhaven police officers on details at the big Feast. I am happy to be able to say, “none of our guys did that.”

I know our guys are not all angels all the time, but I’d like to think that if one of my young cousins approached one of them and asked for an escort, that she, or he, would be greeted as a person in need and would be treated with respect and would be helped, not given the third degree.

Oh, the young woman at the Feast? The two men took off when they saw her talking to the police. Obviously, they weren’t close enough to hear the conversation. Let’s be grateful for that.




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