Real or Imagined

Fear is an interesting, yet often devastating emotion. It can both incapacitate and thrill. The physical and psychological reaction to fear has been studied at almost every level by the psychiatric and medical community, yet it remains somewhat mysterious. It is an emotion that we as a group often run from, but it is individual. Some are transfixed by fear, some are more fearful than others, while some relish it and often seek it out.

I have believed for quite some time now, that police officers, especially those heavily seasoned with a few years and have a hardened crust, are a different combination of DNA, either by original design or having been molded by cultural and social circumstances. Their uniqueness has often been colourfully defined as the “thin blue line” and all those other rather overdone generalizations.

The general public has pre-loaded images of male and female officers, often a cross between a Norman Rockwell print and some variation of a super hero. There is no end to the books and films that try and capture this mystique.

Fear and how police officers face that fear is fundamental to understanding the differences.

There are other characteristics of course which seem more prominent in the policing world.

There is clearly a call to the power dynamic. It is an occupation that makes the person feel powerful, and that pleasure can be received from the ability to control others, whether we will make that admission or not.

We also seem to have a greater share of the “Type A’s” –often defined as outgoing, ambitious, rigidly organized, impatient, anxious, pro-active, and concerned with time management. I will personally, but reluctantly, admit to several of these “qualities”.

Police officers will also develop an addiction to adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, the physical reaction produced by the adrenal glands, which increases the blood flow to the heart and to the muscles, causes the pupils to dilate, and it is fundamental to the “fight or flight response”. Every police officer who has toggled the lights and siren has felt that rush. This “drug” needs to be acknowledged in greater depth– as it is also where many officers trip over the line and get in trouble.

However, I believe that the fear emotion as it relates to police officers is one of the under reported side effects. How police officers over time seemingly become numb to fear –and it’s two relatable cousins–anxiety and stress. It’s not that the fear doesn’t exist, but it becomes dulled and is usually accompanied by a general loss of sensitivity. Like the adrenaline shove, facing it becomes part of the officers routine.

During the last year or two, I have found myself inexplicably angry at the news in general. And when talking and sharing information with other cops, it seems to be a common theme. Not because the news has shown us a lack of journalistic ethics and a dwindling relevance to actual news; because that is both depressing and real. My complaint and the complaint of others is the abject marketing of fear– a clear purposeful manipulation of the senses aimed at the general public.

Of course, Covid and its implications have become the single biggest instrument which governments and the 5th Estate are now hammering at the citizens of this country. The fear of death and destruction is clearly being marketed.

This is not a conspiracy. It has not been conjured up in an effort for power, but instead because it is the nature of our current democracy. The media is trying to survive, to fit in to the ever rising tide of alternative voices, to be once again relevant, and they are willing to suborn the ethics of journalism in order to be preserved in some format.

The Paul Revere’s of the the Covid news, the Federal government spin doctors, the Provincial and City mouth pieces are constantly spewing forth headlines and video grabs filled with the constant over-simplification of science and the needless demonization of those that dare to question.

The photos of individuals on life-support, the constant testaments by those that did not get vaccinated and now are on deaths door. All are being generated, not to convey news, but to reach into the usually un-touched territory of fear and reaction. The fact that it is polarizing the country, creating good and evil camps, is a secondary result of little concern to the perpetrators.

Police officers on the other hand spend their lifetimes suppressing fear, downplaying dangerous and futile circumstances, denying and skirting the edges of death. They try to calm, not engender fear, on a continuous and ongoing basis, it is part of their daily lives. They are forever trying to diffuse, not light the situational detonating cord.

In a routine shift one could approach the door of a house in answer to a reported domestic; a man can be heard yelling, a woman crying, a child incoherently screaming. You knock on the door and it is eventually opened by the distraught male, the dishevelled female, or the dirty child. The fear you’re feeling is of the unknown, the unpredictable, the over-reaction of any of the parties, the possibility of serious danger, to one or the other. It subsides after an arrest, a long conversation, an assessment of all that went on. You return to your car either with an individual in tow, or a bunch of paper work trying to justify why no one went to jail. But the fear gradually ebbs, washed down with the remnants of a now cold coffee.

Off to the next call, a report of someone acting strangely in an alley or in a residential neighbourhood. You drive up to someone matching the description, the person starts yelling with no apparent purpose, hands in their ill-fitting sweatshirt, face blurred by a hoodie. It’s cold and wet, the person may be just in a miserable situation, maybe under some serious mental pressures known only to them– or just out for a walk. You feel that creeping fear as you approach and stand in their way, all to ask a few questions. It could go either way.

You book in a prisoner, Hep A, Hep B, and Hep C abound. The guard or attendant disinfects the counter in a practised way. You pull needles from the belongings. The prisoner coughs up phlegm, turning his head away only partially while begging for a cigarette before he goes into his or her new six by eight home. These “clients” reek of the streets, the Macdonalds cheese burger having been the only meal about twelve hours ago; constant diarrhea, constant aches and open sores. You handle them with cheap plastic gloves, sometimes having to bodily carry them, sometimes having to wrestle them, sometimes wearing a mask but not always. Dispatch is calling, asking you to quickly clear and move on to the next. No time to monitor or complain of stress.

This goes on call after call, dispatch ticket after dispatch ticket– twelve calls a day, four days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. The element of fear becomes part of your being. Quelling the over reaction given any set of sometimes bizarre circumstances is what makes you reliable, able to handle the situation, to calm the fears of others, to subsume your own fears. You learn that fear doesn’t shut you down it makes you wake up.

Some officers grow to love this life, this way of living, so different from those sitting in their homes watching the latest covid statistics with apprehension, wondering if they should go or be allowed to go to the company party or take that southern vacation. The inability to get to that spin class seems stressful and depressing, like the stock prices of Peloton, the affluents answer to work outs at home.

The world is now enveloped with a fear of Covid. It is a real fear. It is a fear greater than one would assume should have come from a flu virus. The general public are unaccustomed to constant fear, so the amplification of it and studying it has become all consuming; often causing people to react unreasonably and uncontrollably. The hoarding of toilet paper, the washing of groceries, the closing of the borders and forcing out those that dare to try and enter into your personal bubble sphere of safety.

The often disappointing attitude of Canadians to the mantra of “I’m ok to hell with the rest of you” is based on fear. It is not just on a personal level, it is on the Federal, Provincial and municipal government level. While we the developed countries were hoarding our vaccines, the Omnicron variant comes out of a continent which has only been able to inoculate 7% of its population. Our selfishness, dictated by this fear has now backfired.

As that famous old Jedi master Yoda said : “Fear is the path to the Dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering”.

Government’s fear of being politically exposed leads them to overreact, quick and un-thought out policy decisions are the obvious result. Optics is their only guiding principle. Our inability to plan for future disasters is being buried under a constant message of standing with you at the barricades, to save us from ourselves.

The war headlines of yesteryears have always been the biggest headlines in both font and attention. If there is no physical war, the war on Covid takes its place nicely. The governments play to the theme. They bring in the Armed Forces, declare Emergency Acts, and spend monies greater than that spent during World War II. Daily briefings attempt to mold Churchills out of Trudeaus. Fourth and fifth “waves” conjure up images of the beaches of Normandy and Dieppe. Over extended Emergency wards are being described akin to battlefield triage, one disaster leading to another comparable disaster.

There is a great deal being written now on whether our democracy can survive in these times of polarized fear. China and Russia, undoubtedly believe that North American culture is in a downward spiral fed by a society of pampered, over fed, and egocentric lifestyles. Our schools and our children’s education is in disarray, our hospitals and health care systems are displaying their inadequacies for all to see, our economies are fully reliant on others outside our control, and our infrastructure is in need of long term economic and social planning.

This is just to say that climate change and diversity may not in fact be our biggest future problems.

We need our next leaders to come from a group less fearful. Less inclined to over react. And we need the leadership of this country to run towards the fire, not away from it. Lead us to the battle, not to an encircling of the wagons where we crouch in fear, smugly safe in our homes and not letting anyone in. Our democracy and its fundamental principles may be at stake.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Commons — some Rights Reserved.

Fires burning…

One wondered what would break the journalistic overkill on the Covid virus story. What could possibly interfere with that  endless diatribe of  stories?  The litany of accounts, after a few months were admittedly beginning to weaken slightly, as the practitioners of journalism began to pen items on how to wear a mask, the lack of yeast in the grocery stores, or the various coping skills of young and old when constrained in your individual hovels. The illogical and outright stupid began to blend with fragments of intelligent commentary but in the end it all became a stew of righteous and contradictory dialogues. The science on the virus was not clear then and it is not clear now. 

But fear sells and as such was the underlying theme running throughout the 24 hour news cycle—fear of dying— fear of others—fear of travel—fear of hugging—fear of having to wear masks which turned into fear of not wearing masks. 

The press finally tasting greater ratings after being in decline for the last number of years, fully gave over to the theory that the greater the pronouncement, the greater the fear generated, the more that people would be paying attention to those newscasts. They have always known that a multi-car crash always draws better than a two car fender bender, but this had the greatest potential—the ability to turn the daily infection numbers into a catastrophe of “never been seen before” dimensions.

Television news clearly told the banner producer on “Breaking news”, to just leave it running. Death was everywhere as if posing for the 5th Estate that pursued the glimmers of devestation .  The media became addicted. Pictures of bodies, pictures of people laying in the street, or pictures of gowned and masked fatigued hospital workers, sweat stains outlining their newly lined worried faces. 

In the early simpler days, the press always waited around for the picture or video of the body bagged victim, being rolled from the residence on a gurney. This virus was a new heaven to the throng of journalists who dutifully culled and edited videos from around the world, while sitting safely behind their laptops. Tents full of body bags or mass burial grounds were portrayed every night, over and over again, helping to keep the grim and ominous dark clouds hanging over the future. 

The media generated fear with single minded attention on a scale never seen before. The level of their deceit knew no bounds. Shallow unsubstantiated subjective reporting has now put the mainstream media in Canada in the category of grocery store tabloids. 

So as we entered the fourth month we braced for more covid stories while the death lottery numbers droned on. 

Then out of the blue, with head-snapping alacrity, that same intense media attention all swung south of the border. 

A new crisis was born and this new “crisis “contained all the elements of headline seeking editors and broadcasters; violence, crowds, tear gas, endless videos of police pushing the “innocent”, journalists being “targeted” with pepper bullets. A veritable smorgasbord of tweets, photos and videos were uploaded.  Unverified raw video, no background reporting, just a torrent of information from which to feed this new appetite for fear and consternation.  

Predictably, social media exploded, as did any pretence on the part of the Canadian media establishment of being “journalists”. Subjective, point of view, opinionated journalists have now replaced the old guard that had once prided themselves on being objective, who felt that they had a duty to report the news, not create the news. 

Damn the ethics and standards espoused for the last 100 years. Objective, fact checked and dual sourced reporting was now officially extinct. 

It has been replaced by the simple emphatic declaration stated and then presented as fact.  Black and white prognosis only, no longer room for the grey areas where most problems actually live. They have become accumulators of cellphone clips. Thirty seconds or stories of two hundred characters are now being encouraged, followed, repeated, and disseminated with alarming speed. The new short attention span generation, the selfie generation apparently needs to be satiated. 

Fear for your safety and those out of control police it has been decided now going to replace fear for your health. The death of a middle-aged black man has now been declared more dramatic than an eighty-four year old with “underlying” health’s issues. The fact that in Minneapolis that a man died at the hands of the police was the bonus, the fact that he was black was the ignitor to the combustible fuel of racism. The police were the obvious and easy targets.  

Thus, 21st century social outrage has once again been released. 

The Canadian media was not deterred in their presentations, even though it was hundreds of miles and a country away. They played the outrage at full volume and were then rewarded with Canadians now taking to the streets to protest racial inequality in the United States. Canada was pulled in by its proximity, and the internet pulled in the rest of the world. 

Videos began surfacing in Canada of various incidents throughout the country which the media now deemed as racist or intolerant. No details, no examination, just outright speculation and proclamations. 

The usual liberal fringe interest groups then began to emerge, excited by the prospect of a new fire to flame. The more vocal, outlandish, and hopefully photogenic, the more media attention they would receive. 

The Indigenous in Canada always willing to claim racism no matter the context, climb aboard the racist allegation train, a fresh spotlight pointed at them in which to air their complaints. There was no room or time for a counter narrative. Cameras immediately flashed to an Indigenous chief claiming assault at the hands of the police, which even in its subjective telling seemed dubious. A female is killed by police in Edmonston New Brunswick, which the media immediately imply is suspicious, hints of racism because she is “indigenous”.

Canadian media and much of the American media lives on the left of the political spectrum, so they spin victimization, and excoriate anyone with a counter view. They are thoroughly smitten by the  liberal democratic and “progressive” viewpoint. Everyone must comply with their viewpoint, to do otherwise is to pronounce you an “ist”…racist, chauvinist, misogynist— take your pick. 

Equally disturbing is that the new age politicians aren’t very far behind the media and what is “trending”.  They now always follow the herd. Where and when social media declares a story or video snippet to be of grave significance and it enjoys any kind of momentum, that is where you will now find the politicians. Politicos must be seen as on the leading edge, at the forefront of what is all good and righteous. As the Facebook or Instagram twirl begins to spin out of control a politician can not countenance disagreeing with the mob. Lead the mob, don’t be left behind or you court political insignificance or ostracization. 

So fully armed with a 30 second video clip as full and damning evidence they mount their pulpits; our Prime Minister and Opposition Leaders in full throat bemoaning the new “crisis”.  There is no time for debate or opposition. Trudeau is “deeply alarmed” over the incident involving the Indigenous Chief; Bill Blair comes out form behind the coat tails of Trudeau to chime in that “people across the country deserve answers” (on Twitter of course). The Indigenous Service Minister Marc Miller, on seeing only the initial report, despite any evidence “strongly condemned recent acts of violence by police against Indigenous people.” “I’m pissed, I’m outraged” said this Minister of the Crown using clearly his best Parliamentary language and putting his ignorance on full display.  

Is there anything wrong with this new age of media? Is there anything wrong with this semi-spontaneous “outrage”? The President of the United States is a great player of this game. Is there anything wrong with him standing in front of the White house with his bible, posing for his alt-right followers? Of course. Is there anything wrong with our Prime Minister, on the other side of the political spectrum, dressed in his current costume of long hair and a mask, kneeling amongst those protesting police brutality and systemic racism? Of course. These two individuals are very similar in their hypocrisy and deceit,  just opposite ends of the political stick. 

 It is this disturbing dumbing down of the facts that is the most concerning.  It is sapping intelligence and the need to think. It is crowd think. It is follow the herd and it is also fleeting. The need to react and deal with an issue and explore possible options to resolution is lost as quickly as it developed. The herd always moves on. 

Social media is spontaneous and therefore often leaderless. Its only mantra is that “everyone’s voice matters”, no matter how misinformed or irresolute that voice may be. Slogans and jingos are passing as possible policy. Apparently they want the disassembling of the Minneapolis police department, they just don’t know why or how to do it.

Make no mistake about it there is racism in all parts of the world, including our world. There is no denying of that fact. There are also bad cops, sometimes really bad cops. Why? Because they are human beings. There should be no tolerance for those that breach, but there must be a fair and just investigation as well. Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on the neck of George Floyd will face a trial. The other three officers, standing idly by were also charged. All the evidence will surface at the trial. 

But, George Floyd as a symbol of systemic racism?  A former convict with several convictions; high on fentanyl, and methamphetamine, and found with a baggie of powder at the time of the arrest. His most serious conviction involved him and others doing a home invasion, where he put a gun to the belly of a pregnant woman to force compliance. Is this who should be held up as the next Reverend King? 

A black conservative commentator Candace Owens recently brought up some interesting statistics. A police officer has an 18 1/2 times more chance of being killed by a black man in the United States, than a black man has of being killed by the police. She calls these protests and the black lives matter movement as “smoke and mirrors” in that the statistics simply don’t back up claims of systemic racism by the police. You may not agree with her, but you at least need to be allowed to hear her. The burning books mentality once confined to the right are now coming from the left.

We are truly in very unsettled times. Not because of covid, or riots, but because of the perilous road chosen by the media of this country and the dissolution of debate and learned thought. The media are fomenting fear and dissent in pursuit of remaining part of a social media fabric that now rules this 21st century. The politicians now govern and are being placed in power by implementing the tools of that same social media trade. 

Trump and Trudeau despite their political differences are now holding hands as they skip down this road to that dark spot where image has replaced substance. What it looks like much more important than what it is. 

And if you happen to be a police officer in these times, do not hope for any support from these same politicians, or your superiors, who are now poised to jump on this media driven bandwagon if given any opportunity. Their continued political and managerial existence depends on burning you at the stake.

In the last 48 hours police officers are being charged with new found efficiency,  Chief Saunders, the first black Toronto PD Chief, is running for the exit, and the National Police Federation and RCMP Commissioner Ms Lucki are in hiding. 

You are now officially on your own.