When I was young, I had deep reverence for the police. They were noble and courageous men and women in their crisp blue uniforms and shiny badges, those brave souls who protected us from danger, pursued the bad guys, rescued lost children, helped old ladies to cross the street. I remember “Officer Friendly” visiting the DARE program at my elementary school, and I remember trusting him. He shared some street safety tips and gave us his phone number to contact him if we ever felt unsafe. My teacher beamed as the officer shook everyone’s hand with a warm smile.
As a teenager and young adult, I began to grow wary of the cops. Watching documentary footage of anti-war protests and college campus strikes, I was stunned to see police raging against the crowd, thrashing their batons onto people who wanted our nation to give peace a chance. It struck me as a terrible hypocrisy that peaceful citizens could be physically assaulted by cops as a form of “crowd control.” That is not very friendly, Officer. At this age I also began experimenting with such subversive activities as driving aimlessly with friends and smoking pot in the Denny’s parking lot before stuffing ourselves full of pancakes and omelets. Obviously we kept a sharp lookout for the po-po, which was the only threat to our good times once we had escaped our parents. I became more aware of suburban police hiding on side streets to catch speedy drivers, and I listened to my parents complain about “those damn sneaky cops.” I still respected the police but mostly I tried to avoid them at all costs.
I moved to Oakland in late 2011 and was inspired by the Occupy movement. While spending time at the camp, I was cheered by the diversity of voices, talents and trades that people shared with each other, in pursuit of our common goal of economic justice. I marched with other protesters in downtown Oakland, pleased that the police were honoring our message. They had cleared the streets for our peaceful demonstration. No one was standing in our way! Until, of course, a few days later, when hundreds of riot cops raided and obliterated the encampment using violent force. I was shocked at the actions and the aftermath. Tents and other property ripped to shreds. My friends were tear-gassed. My co-workers were afraid to leave our downtown office. My roommate was hit several times with a baton and came home with an enormous bruise on her chest. Because that is exactly how you protect citizens and keep the peace, right?
I am flabbergasted by these obscene measures of police brutality against nonviolent demonstrators. We are in a war zone, defending ourselves against the same people who are supposed to have public safety as their top priority. There is no justification for this. No reason and no excuses. And now, there is no going back. No more Officer Friendly. No more childhood innocence.