Gerald (Jerry) Zezas

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Respect or Fear?

I saw one more in a long line of videos of a cop screaming at a kid in a car for filming him as the cop pulled the kid over. One curious thing that this particular cop mentioned or demanded was that the kid “respect my authority and stop filming”. This made me start thinking about things like respect, where it comes from, and who is entitled to it.

I’m not going to go into platitudes like “respect has to be earned” and all that banal garbage, but I am going to comment on those kinds of concepts.

It seems that, when I was growing up, cops were local guys, men (mostly) from the neighborhood. No different than the mailman or the guy who worked in a grocery store. He was a guy with a family who needed a job to support them. The job he had chosen was that of a cop. When he wasn’t working, we’d see him around the neighborhood in his street clothes and treat him like anyone else in the neighborhood. If we liked him, we were nice to him. If we didn’t, we avoided him. Just like everyone else.

His uniform, like the uniform of the local garbage man, was not something that demanded respect. They were simply his work clothes. When we saw him in his uniform, we didn’t respect him any more than before. We just knew that he was on his way to work. If we respected him, it was he, not his uniform, that garnered that respect.

What seems to have changed is that now cops seem to be anonymous control machines. who claim some entitlement to respect. And many members of the public appear to have consented to this entitlement. After 9/11, particularly, “first responders” were held in disproportionately high esteem due to the sacrifices made by those who were climbing up while others were climbing down. This is not hard to justify, as there was apparently a great deal of bravery displayed on that day, and the credit should be given when it is due.

The difference, however, between those cops and every other cop in the world is that they demonstrated their entitlement to respect through their bravery. Most would agree that demonstrations of extreme bravery entitle the demonstrator to a higher level of respect than others of his ilk. And so it is.

The fact that other cops may identify and feel some comradeship with those who climbed the World Trade Center that day does not mean that the rest of the public feels the same way. Nor should the average cop on the street feel any entitlement to any degree of respect for that reason alone.

What many of the public refer to as respect when being confronted by a cop is actually fear. We all know that cops have an enormous amount of power over us. Between their weaponry, their training, the fact that they can fabricate violations and likely have their brethren back them up, the fact that they can find out where we live, what we may have done wrong in the past, who our friends are, who we called on our mobile phones, in addition to, potentially, where we will be sleeping that night, is something that makes most people, justifiably, nervous. They display deference to cops for the simple reason that they know that if they don’t, they could end up in an uncomfortable predicament through no fault of their own. That’s not respect-it’s self-preservation.

So, to those cops who believe that they are entitled to respect simply because they wear a uniform and a badge, I will say, no. I am perfectly willing to respect what people do, assuming that those actions are worthy of respect. I refuse to respect them because of what they wear or based on any misplaced assumptions of un-demonstrated bravery or ostensible authority.

Sorry, not gonna do it.


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