What is the Meaning of This?

Broward County deputies outside Marjory Stoneman High School

The fact that several Broward County, Florida, sheriff’s deputies remained outside and sheltered during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (including one deputy assigned specifically to that school as a “resource” officer) has caused a great deal of discussion and debate, and rightly so. There are arguments that the deputies “froze,” that they acted in a cowardly manner, that they might have been able to save some, if not all, the victims had they chosen to go into the school. Some argue they were wise not to, as they were outgunned by the shooter, who used a legally acquired AR15 assault weapon while the deputies “only” had Glock handguns. It has been argued, also, that even one of the deputies so armed could have made a difference had he been inside instead of hiding outside while murder and mayhem was going on inside.

There has been unsolicited testimony from military veterans to the effect that, given the shock and disorientation of actual combat situations, even a highly trained soldier often may freeze when fired upon. This is understandable, since chaos causes disorientation, especially in a war zone. Of course comparing a military operation to a domestic police “protect and defend” operation seems at least a somewhat false equivalency. Police in the country, hailed as “heroes” frequently, even when they blatantly murder a black man while being videoed doing it, and usually allowed to return to their jobs, hardly, then, qualify, in those instances, as “heroic.” By the same token, even if it is determined to be right or acceptable or within normal limits to stand outside while children are being murdered by an unpaid, unprofessional and untrained, self-appointed assassin, this is not a “heroic” act. Just showing up at the scene does nothing to warrant the “hero” garland, any more than does the soldier who goes blank when fired upon and even perhaps runs for cover rather than returning fire when unable to see from where it is coming. Brave to be there (in a war zone), maybe, but not heroic unless something actually heroic is done, which means putting one’s self willingly and knowingly in harm’s way to protect or save a brother (or sister) soldier.

The same applies to police. Directing traffic, stopping traffic law violators, showing up to take a report after an accident or an armed robbery is not heroic. It’s not even particularly challenging. They are on the clock. If the clock runs out on one shift, another cop gets to do the routine stuff.

Yeah, yeah, I know, there’s always some bastard out there looking to shoot a cop. Happens every day. Except it doesn’t. In fact, as of 2015, the most recent data I could find, it has never been safer to be a cop.

In fact it is safer (overall) to be a cop than it is to live in Baltimore. Sorry, Baltimore peeps. It’s just a statistic.

Occasionally, though, an officer does show up while something is in progress, and usually he (or she) will take appropriate action, because, well, there it is, right in one’s face. It rarely even pays to try and run for cover, though police cruisers often are a handy shield if the officer hasn’t already gone beyond it when the shooting starts.

So we know they actually can take on a “bad guy” and can actually use their sidearms (or sometimes rifles or shotguns) to protect themselves (and even the occasional ordinary citizen they are sworn to protect). They actually can do what they are paid to sometimes do. We also know they can do it to an unarmed, innocent, helpless and all too often black person who winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Heroes. Just ask them.

Our military troops cannot clock out at the end of a shift. Sometimes not even at the end of a tour of duty, making comparisons even more of a false equivalency. I appreciate the stories shared by veterans of unutterable horrors of war, but even though many of our police get to dress up like combat troops they are NOT combat troops. They are peace officers sworn to protect and defend you. And me. And especially, it seems, each other.

So was Scot Peterson (and eventually two other of his fellow deputies) made a scapegoat? Did he fail to perform his sworn duty? Had he bragged to others, in the past, about an incident in which he chased down and captured an armed assailant inside a school (said assailant being armed, as it turned out, with a paintball gun)? Yes.

We won’t even go into the question of what our erstwhile alleged president would have done, but he claims he would have charged in unarmed and somehow stopped the shooter.

Police officers may sometimes be ambiguous in their status as protectors, but they aren’t generally idiots of the same magnitude as our alleged president, who isn’t armed, isn’t trained, isn’t fit and wasn’t there. (I should insert that I have said, as a father and human, I would probably have attempted to do something, even though most law enforcement agencies discourage us from even intervening in a domestic scuffle or a child being beaten, because one might wind up getting hurt or killed, so leave it to the professionals to handle, and just back off and dial 9–1–1.

Not necessarily, for me. Admittedly I’m no Donald Trump (thank you, Jesus) but I won’t automatically just duck out and wait for the boys in blue to show up. It’s not always practical or necessary. Then again, I do have some training.

“Let the professionals handle it”? As they did while 17 high school kids were murdered (and mutilated) by a deranged, MAGA hat-wearing lunatic?

This means at least two things, then: One, Scot Peterson and his fellow deputies did not act as the professionals we are constantly warned to defer to because they know how to deal with these things (and we, of course, don’t, at least a lot of us, which is why God made cops). This is, of course, only my personal, if reasoned, opinion.

The other thing this means is: Does having “good guys with guns” at schools help prevent mass shootings in those schools? The answer, at least in this case, is clearly No. Should there be anyway? As it stands now, with military-grade assault weapons available to most anyone in most states and social workers and even the FBI prone to drop the ball when advised of a clear and present danger, may as well. Of course if the “resource” officer at a given school is as reticent as Deputy Peterson, he may be one of the first to be shot, quite possibly with his own gun. Still, it’s better than nothing and a Hell of a lot better than leaving him on the street while arming teachers and janitors.

Cautionary tale: In the city where I live, just outside Washington, DC, we have our own municipal police force. About one year ago, during an investigation of a possible break in of an ethnic food store in progress, an officer let himself in the back loading entrance (at night) while carrying a handgun in his right hand and a flashlight in his left. As he entered the building he made the famous and often fatal mistake of switching flashlight and gun (try to imagine having two objects, one in each hand, and swapping each from one hand to the other in one motion). In doing so his handgun accidentally discharged, the bullet striking the malefactor (unarmed) who had gained entry into the building (to steal ethnic food) and when the police arrived outside, concealed himself in a space in the floor, just inside the door. The officer, without realizing it, had exposed (by causing the interloper to cry out in pain), the offender. He also had shot someone by accident while doing one of the stupidest things a police officer can do — exchanging his gun and flashlight while entering a dark building.

The point, if there is one, is that the officer who accidentally shot the unarmed B&E artist, was not only the leader of the department’s SWAT team, but the department’s primary firearms trainer.

Hero or idiot?

At least he went in.

So, for the record, at the Parkland massacre, did a number of Coral Springs police officers who arrived after the deputies, who directed the police officers into the building, even though, by that time, the shooter had slipped out and escaped.

This means, then, among other things, that the Coral Springs police officers acted like the heroes they are paid and sworn to be. At least somebody did.

Writer, activist, novelist, sixth generation DC, local historian-storyteller, and 1:1 patient care technician five days a week.