When writing anything critical of a police officer, we newsmen are
trained from our cub reporter days to always lead with the caveat: "The
vast majority of police officers are fine, dedicated public servants, of
course, who bravely put their lives on the line each day..."
Unfortunately, based on the hard evidence of 118 e-mail responses I've
received from our Boys in Blue or Beige to my May 16 column on Las Vegas
Metro Officer Bruce Gentner, who emptied a 14-round magazine into an
unarmed suspect but whose actions were found "justifiable" (as usual) by a
Las Vegas coroner's jury (after the officer explained the suspect refused
to raise his hands quickly enough and made a supposed "furtive movement
towards his waistband,") it appears that traditional, rhetorical ratio may
now have to be reversed.
I did, thank heavens, receive a few civil and thoughtful replies from
some of our armed centurions, acknowledging every shooting is different,
that a few may be wrongful, and sensibly asking further details on the
death of 32-year-old Las Vegan John Perrin, who was armed only with a
More typical however, were comments like:
"You are a piece of trash and if there is any justice then you will
someday be placed under a magnifying glass and fried like the roach you
are." (Officer R.D.)
"Wear my shoes one damn day, you piece of sh-t ..." wrote Officer T.M.,
delicately removing his own offending vowel. "Try a 40 cal. S&W behind your
"Just wanted to let you know that you are a no good, second guessing
coward who hides behind subjective reporting." (Officer J.W.)
"I hope soon you will be ... the victim of a mugging or some other form
of violent attack. (No signature.)
"I find the press mostly reprehensible. ... in the past the press served
a purpose--now they just serve themselves." (Officer D.P.)
"I wouldn't WASTE a bullet on your sorry butt. Someone like you with
one-sided opinions should not be authoring columns for the largest paper in
Las Vegas. I'm sure that Soon you will get yours, probably from some crazed
person with a gun, like the ones that Police Officers are right now
protecting you from with their lives." (also unsigned.)
The train of invective went on, growing in volume as reports of my
criticism spread to police Internet discussion lists. In the end, 67
percent of the respondents -- 80 out of 118 officers -- appeared to be
doing their best to convince me that the armed "public servants" now
charged with our safety resemble nothing so much as a troop of
quasi-literate, homicidal trolls.
(So anxious were some of the officers to hurl the worst insults in their
limited lexicon that some even branded me a "liberal" -- an odd label for a
writer who favors universal machinegun ownership and abolition of the IRS,
with no "replacement tax" whatsoever.)
The most chilling, though, was probably the lengthy reply of T.B., an
officer with the Cleveland, Ohio police department (who, to his credit, and
unlike many of the critics above, did supply his full name -- I withhold it
here because I have no way to positively confirm his identity.) T.B. firmly
asserts police have every right to shoot unarmed suspects "100 times, if
necessary," and continues:
"Here's a word of advice: if you're going to be a know-it-all,
cop-hating, rhetoric-spewing moron please at least strive to be original.
First of all the officer never chooses the time and place. The suspect
alone makes that choice. Know why? Because police officers are bound by law
to act on any suspicious or criminal activity they observe. That means that
if you get stopped by a police officer you f--ing cooperate. End of story.
Sorry to disappoint you but we're not the 'Klan in blue' or the Gestapo or
Government storm troopers. But an individual's right to behave like an
asshole in public ends when it draws my attention."
I fear it may be significant that the most hostile invective appeared to
come from younger "street" officers. The more sober analyses, perhaps
predictably but also sadly, came mostly from officers who have already hung
up their shields.
Robert Flesh, for instance, a former detective sergeant with the West
Palm Beach Police Department, wrote:
"The Gentner/Vegas shooting of an unarmed American citizen (not a
'suspect,' since the victim had not committed any crime, nor was there any
'reasonable' suspicion that he had) is totally indefensible on any grounds.
And this is true regardless of whether one chooses to believe the alleged
'tightening of the arm muscles' and/or 'hand in the waistband' BS or not.
This was simply a bad shooting. So bad, in fact, that I can't believe any
HONEST cop, or prosecutor, or grand jury would condone it.
"Let's face it, who wants this guy (or any cop like him) drawing down on
them the next time they are partying in Vegas and not in the mood to be put
face down on the pavement when they haven't done anything wrong? And what
Chief in his right mind would allow a loose cannon like Gentner to work the
streets when his MO is to empty his pistol into the backs of citizens who
(perhaps rightfully) tell him to F--k off when he wants to shake them down
for no legitimate reason whatsoever?
"Beyond this one case, what I see is a generalized 'siege', or 'police
state' mentality at work today in American law enforcement. Many police
officers are so caught up in fighting criminals that they forget that the
vast majority of American citizens are honest and law-abiding and have
certain 'RIGHTS' that are not to be violated by the police. Consequently,
many cops have started imagining they are in a war zone where search and
destroy ops are legal. In short, they only see two kinds of people: cops
and criminals ('us vs. the enemy'). ...
"What kind of bleeding-heart-liberal would say this kind of thing about
'modern' law enforcement?" Det. Sgt. Flesh continues. "A whoring reporter?
A lying defense lawyer? A corrupt politician looking for votes? Maybe they
all would. But I happen to be a former patrolman and detective sergeant
from a high crime south Florida city, have earned over 50 police
commendations, made 400 to 500 felony arrests, have three
police-officer-of-the-year awards, was involved in several on-duty
shootings and was often accused of being 'overzealous,' myself.
"So haven't things gone just a wee bit too far when even veteran street
cops like myself start saying that many of today's officers are ignoring
the constitutional rights of honest citizens? And if police officers in
general really have adopted a dangerous and abusive 'police state' or
'siege' mindset, isn't it time for American law enforcement to step back
from the firing line long enough to honestly evaluate itself, and hopefully
chart a new and more constitutional course, before it's too damn late?"
Det. Sgt. Flesh added a personal note: "Vin, sorry to hear of the
Hang in there. You are right, and anyone with a lick of sense knows it."