Crime in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s and even into the beginning of the new millennium was not significantly different from it is now. There were burglars, bank-robbers, rapists, drug-dealers, serial killers, hookers, child-abusers, assassins, petty-thieves, juvenile-delinquents, scam-artists, stalkers, and vandals. The way police dealt with the criminals was not significantly different, either. Cops spotted up on them, chased them on foot, chased them in cars, hand-cuffed them, fought them, gave them tickets, arrested them, pulled them out of cars, called their parents to come pick them up, put them in jail and yes, sometimes even shot them. Officers have always had to deal with criminals and make hundreds of judgement calls in fractions of a second during every single shift.
What IS different now is how people behave when they perceive that the cops made a bad decision. In the 80’s, if the media or public perceived an officer had crossed the line, a story would appear on the local 10 o’clock news and the morning paper. People in the community would be aware of what happened and those who knew me were eager to ask me about it the next day at work. They’d want to know all the details. Occasionally, they might even make one or two rude comments about police, but usually they just kept their opinions to themselves (or expressed them in the confines of their own homes, I suppose.) After a few days, a new story was the headline and we all moved on. No one protested; no campaigns were launched; there were no riots.
Today is different. People get stopped for a traffic violation and immediately begin filming with their cell phone. Bystanders are video-taping police interactions endlessly. The media reports the story on the 4 o’clock, 5 o’clock, 6 o’clock, 9 o’clock and 10 o’clock news. The story is running across the bottom of the television screen during prime-time programming. Online media is blasting the “breaking news” to the world. People are tweeting and re-tweeting, sharing and re-sharing and you won’t have to scroll down far in your news feed to find the story AND the accompanying video which clearly shows the police officer behaving incorrigibly. The public is quick to sense injustice and even quicker to adopt the mob mentality. Everyone feels the need to comment on the story. The “online disinhibition effect” takes over. People will say things when hidden behind the computer which they would most likely never say to your face. It’s the cyber version of “liquid courage.” It’s invasive and pervasive. One vile comment leads to another and another and another. The comments seem so personal and full of hate when we read them. And they are specifically targeted at people we love.
So what should we do when we read these stories and comments? Get your fingers on that keyboard and fire off a comment of your own. Defend the integrity of your LEO. Tell everyone on Facebook, Twitter, et al. what YOU think. Keep checking back and see if they’ve posted any new comments. Reply again.
Or, you could just simply quit reading the stories. Never read the comments. And never, ever, ever, EVER reply. Take the high road…there’s less traffic there.
*Read more about the “Online Disinhibition Effect” at: http://truecenterpublishing.com/psycyber/disinhibit.html#Interaction