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VOL 3. NO. 39 Monday, November 19 - Sunday, December 3, 2001
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Men in Gray
Cutting as close to the author's home as the neighborhood supermarket, four of Prince George's County's finest pumped several semi-automatic rounds into a knife-wielding man, otherwise unidentified, because he was "acting erratically" while crossing busy Route 301. Bowie, Maryland, the model four-star-hotel suburb it blazes to be, is now wrought with hometown happenings fitting of a Stephen King novel: small plane and mouth-opening car crashes; shootings and manhunts; a church burning; hate crimes; one woman alleges a public face punch from an NBA player; Civil War era relic talks of secession; and terrorists search of air training and Cesna rentals at our beloved Bowie airport.

So what, others in beleaguered acres elsewhere about P.G. might say, if tragedy hits Bowie. The tension between bastion, elite White-majority suburban town and its famous Black county ensues. Bowie is then perceived, by some, as one of a few heavily police protected pockets of Picketfenceville dug outs in Prince George's.

We've had this conversation about the notorious county police before. We know about those paramilitary guys in gray currently under federal police probe and increasing civilian scrutiny. Strung across the philosophical bag piping about Bowie proper is the obvious question in the aftermath of this most recent shooting: why? County police chief John Farrell attempted a public relations preemptive strike: " ... if someone is armed with a knife, why shoot?"

Presumptions of police misconduct in the county are thick in the air, especially if the target is Black. In this instance, the author has no information concerning the dead suspect's "race." What he can offer is a peek into dominant Black county and D.C.-area attitudes holding that P.G. County police are terribly trigger-happy. Such discussions are extremely valid when based on common knowledge of the county's law enforcement reputation. From forced confessions to unjustified, profile shootings and backroom beatings, P.G. reminds one of Philadelphia during Frank Rizzo's infamous keeping-the-streets-safe reign. The fact that the assailant on Route 301 was reported to have threatened not only the lives of officers, but also innocent civilians within stabbing distance rarely enters the minds of those holding grudges against county police. When numerous attempts to subdue were met with continued resistance and hostility, the judgement to then shoot seemed necessary.

However, neither author nor reader was there to tell exactly what happened. We presume gun kills knife like ... scissors cut paper. These days, many - if not most - assume guilt on the part of those uniformed. Where we have captured public tapings or allegations of police brutality stands our stalwart defiance to look for reasons beyond the thin blue wall of modestly paid, gun-toting professionals retained "to serve and to protect." Not that our disdain for "bad," "misguided," or "racist cops" is not justified. But, after each beating and in the wake of every public outcry, we choose to discuss the discretion of the officers whom we allege and deem are completely responsible: "The Man" posing in "red-neck" predilections. But, we rarely mention or question the awesome displacement of democratic principle and the marginality of citizens' rights as dictated by larger authorities - Police Chiefs, Mayors, County Executives, State Legislators, Attorneys General and Governors. In the case of Maryland, police officers are shielded by a "Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights" (Maryland State Code, Article 27, Section 727) limiting outside scrutiny from affected citizens. When County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) recently proposed an expansive plan for citizen review, investigation and discipline of county police, state house politicians under the watchful eye and influence of Maryland police unions wouldn't dare commit to vast changes or amendments to existing law. Such considerations slowly disintegrate during fretful colloquia engaging why the White man cracked the Black man's head.

Is it the color of the uniform or the officer's skin that forces him/her to use ill-bred discretion? Or, why not the institution the officer works for? In the nearly countless conversations I've watched, heard and participated in, few strongly contemplate the role of legislators and lobbyists. Most conversations simply chastise the individuals seen committing the wrong, rather than ask who or what encouraged them to do it in the first place. As it relates to Maryland, the larger political institution upon which state police authorities reside is absolved of any "crime," and we continue to entertain and believe in the immediate accusation ascertaining White guilt.

Hence, the presumption of White skin or racism is less difficult than presuming the guilt of the institution. The classic face of a police officer perpetrating the crime is always a "white male" - the victim always "black" - thus, we begin to see how one dimensional the thought can sometimes be. Sometimes - many times out of ten the thought can also be true. Yet, regardless of the institution the officer works for, he/she is still a human being like the rest of us. What we end up finding is the institution as driving, motivating or acknowledging force in many situations.

In figurative candor and near conclusion, salty crackers aren't simply made: they are manufactured and wrapped. What comes before and creates the cracker, we shall find, is what drives its salty taste, you see. And fudge cookies with cream on the inside are hardly an exception to any rule. They can be rolled and wrapped up, too.

C.D. Ellison is a contributing writer to Metro Connection. He can be reached at againstthegrain@metroconnection.info.

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