Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Staunton Police and the Dead

The police in this town, for the most part, are brutish. I've never liked calling police officers pigs or saying nasty things about "the boys in blue," but in Staunton they are a problem. I haven't said much about them because Staunton is a pretty nice place to live, and I'd like more young people to live here. I don't think that young people would want to come here and work and start businesses and spend money if they knew how piggish our police force is. If Staunton can't have a good police force, it might not deserve to be much more than a retirement community. Some people might be happy with that outcome.

I've seen them push people, intimidate people, and otherwise behave unprofessionally. I've heard them say racist things and speak poorly of Jews. I've even had them leak information to politicians about me, which I think might be illegal. They've done other illegal things that have made the news. But I want to talk about the thing that happened recently in connection with the tragic unintentional suicide of a teenager.

A young man died. He was 14. He took pills on a camping trip and drowned on his vomit. He was a semi-regular customer at the Darjeeling Café. He seemed like a good kid.

His friends and a couple family members gathered at the park for a vigil. There were around 20 of them. They might have blocked some traffic. Someone saw a bunch of kids dressed in black and called the cops. The cops aggressively broke up the vigil. While in one of the police cruisers, the dead boy's brother kicked out its window.

The police are defending what happened, but they defend everything they do. They have proven in this town that they are not to be trusted or believed when it comes to these things. They've had to publicly apologize for lying about events. They're a disgrace.

McCloskey, the cartoonist at the Staunton News Leader, doesn't have a conscience. He drew the cartoon about the event above. I don't expect cartoonists to have tact or to think that anything is sacred or off-limits, but I expect them to have consciences.

The problem is that we have young people living in a town full of old people. The police have not been trained to deal with this. Are they to blame? Maybe a little for their duplicity, but they can't help that they are ill-equipped. They signed up to help people, but they're poorly managed and operate with impunity. They are by far the worst police that I have encountered in all of my travels – worse than Mexican police, worse than German police, and even worse than the Polish police. The worst. It seems a lot of people in this town want to talk about how this is the kids' fault for not conforming or being more compliant. They had a permit to gather at the park. No report of drug use that day at the park has come to light. The only thing everyone can agree on is that they blocked the road that circles the park. . . a road that shouldn't be there anyway (I hate that there's car traffic in our beautiful park). Arguments about how teenagers won't conform are old and too simple and stupid.

Tragedy is complicated and heavy. . . especially when you're young. I remember feeling so much when I was that age. I remember how important everything seemed. I remember how emotional it was when friends died while still teenagers. McCloskey and the Police obviously don't. And that's tragic, too.


by Aaron Barmer. said...

Hey, solid post about that poor kid. Jim McCloskey is a fuckless dumbwit, for sure. That cartoon is not the first time I've been ticked off at that guy and the News Leader editorial page; I remember a long while back they ran a cartoon about the Trolley, which seemed to me to put the drivers in a bad light, and I know I've never been anything but happy with them, especially Mr. Jones. They put up with a lot to give Staunton a functioning transit system, for townies and tourists alike, and McCloskey was there to ruin some paper with his half-assed Family Circus take on real political cartooning by the likes of Herblock and Luckovitch. I wouldn't ruin a bird's day by lining a cage with it.

Unknown said...

Thought you would appreciate this.

Tim said...

I was born in northeast Arkansas. Out there, they put goth-y kids who wear black on death row. (See the documentary PARADISE LOST if you doubt it.) Trust me, American police can get much, much worse than what you find in Staunton.

Sky Jack Morgan said...

I guess things could always be worse, but I also think Staunton deserves and has earned and paid for the right to a better police force. We also deserve a better paper, but one step at a time I suppose.