Friday, July 31, 2009 | Did anyone else notice the similarities between the current flap involving the Cambridge police and a “distinguished Harvard professor” and the incident a few weeks ago involving a local political fund raiser? Both resulted in allegations of police overreaction and poor judgment in handling seemingly innocent situations, but let’s back off and look at the two incidents.

Both started with trouble calls to the police by neighbors. In each case, the responding officer was met with indignation by the person contacted, and rapidly escalated into charges, in one case, of “racial profiling” and in the other, of “right-wing politics”. The motives of the responding officer were impugned before the facts were clear. We even had the President, to his discredit, weigh in on the latest case.

There’s a simpler, less sinister, explanation. One of the first things a police officer is taught is to take charge of a situation, and to require compliance with his or her instructions in order determine just what’s going on. When the officer, knowing nothing of what to expect save for a brief summary from the dispatcher, encounters a “big shot”, rattling on about his or her civil rights, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the officer asserts authority, and if an audience is present, bad things can happen.

Let’s give the cops a break. Police officers aren’t college professors or wealthy political activists, they’re public servants trying to do a tough job, who deal daily with the worst of society. Next time you encounter a cop, how about a friendly greeting and cooperation, instead of a recitation of rights?

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