EricPetersAutos.com | I’m going to say something that will undoubtedly cause me to lose some police officer friends. But I feel it needs to be said anyway. I’m willing to take the heat for it.
Keep in mind, I became a police officer because I wanted to be a good guy. Even though we’ve all seen reports of police brutality and corruption, I still believe we cops are the good guys. I’ve seen cops perform brave, selfless acts for strangers on countless occasions. Even the worst cops I’ve ever known would risk their lives to defend the innocent. But I have to say this anyway. Before you start throwing shoes, hear me out. I have a good reason for saying it.
If you think our police are no threat to your freedom, you’re living in a fantasy world.
Now I’ll explain what I mean. I worked for the United Nations Police Mission in Kosovo for eighteen months. I wasn’t there as a soldier. I was a civilian cop, living in town, basically a Kosovo PD officer. For part of my tour I worked patrol with a group of international officers and local police. We had officers from America, the UK, Germany and Greece, plus local Kosovar Albanians. The Americans were regular street cops from police departments all over the United States.
One of the American officers in my station came from a very wealthy suburban police department. My cop stories were about murders, fights and chases; his were about citizens having garage sales without permits. For some reason, citizens selling things without permits aggravated him to no end.
In postwar Kosovo, many tens of thousands of war refugees lived in the capital. Not enough jobs existed to support them all. Many of them became vendors in a sprawling, dirty bazaar. They supported their families by selling cheap Turkish and Pakistani housewares and trinkets. Under old Yugoslav law, which was still the legal standard, those vendors had to have permits. Few bothered to stand in line at a dilapidated government building to pay for a permit.
This officer – I’ll call him Joe – became infuriated every time he patrolled the bazaar. He’d find vendors without permits, then ticket and berate them. He’d make note of other illegal vendors so he could ticket them later. He’d even drive through the bazaar off-duty to spot illegal vendors for future targeting. He’d vent his anger about illegal vendors at us, which always made me laugh. I didn’t care the least bit about vendors without permits, and thought Joe would eventually get over it. I was wrong.
Joe got so mad at illegal vendors that he researched Yugoslav law. We had been advised not to do anything that violated the Bill of Rights, but officially Yugoslav law was still in effect. And Joe discovered he could use Yugoslav law to do something about those damn illegal vendors.
Joe put a plan together. Officers from a couple of stations, along with some NATO troops, would go through the bazaar, identify which vendors had no permits, and confiscate all their merchandise. Local Albanian Kosovo Police Service (KPS) officers would assist. A large NATO truck would follow the officers so they could load all the confiscated items. All the seized property would immediately be donated to charity organizations.
When I heard the plan, I was amazed. Then I got angry. Why would anyone, in a country which had suffered through a horrible war less than two years earlier, think vendors without permits were such a big deal? We didn’t have a crime problem in the bazaar, the only reason we were going in there was because Officer Joe had a personal issue with the vendors. And wouldn’t an operation like that violate people’s rights?
I argued against the operation, and was overruled. Since Yugoslav law allowed it, we were doing it. I was ordered to take my team of KPS officers and participate.
The day of the operation, I forced myself to show up for work. My KPS officers were angry, frustrated and hesitant. They didn’t want to do to their people what we were about to make them do. But their jobs and livelihood, like mine, depended on following those orders. So we walked out of the station toward the bazaar.
An officer from a European country met me outside the bazaar, held out a stack of papers and sternly ordered, “Take these. You’ll need them to document what you confiscate.”
I kept my hands down. “I’m not taking them. I think this is wrong. We can’t just take people’s property.”
The officer held the papers out further. “It doesn’t matter. They’ve been warned. Take the forms.”
I didn’t move, or respond. The officer maintained his stern demeanor for a few seconds. Then, seeing that I wasn’t going along with it, he backed down.
“Okay, fine. Just take some forms, in case you change your mind.”
I took a few forms and stuck them in my pocket. The next time they came out, later that afternoon, I dumped them in the trash.
The operation began. Dozens of officers entered the bazaar, followed by NATO soldiers and their cargo truck. The vendors initially didn’t know what was happening. Then cops walked up to stalls and asked for permits. Nobody had them. The cops grabbed everything they had and threw it into the back of the truck.
Hundreds of vendors picked up their wares and ran. The slow ones were accosted and stripped of their possessions. KPS officers swarmed me, saying, “We can’t do this! This is what the Serbs used to do!” I stood back, watching the chaos in angry silence, and said something in Albanian. It was a phrase I never in my life expected to say.
“Ne jeme komunista sot.” We are communists today.
Our KPS officers were ordered, forced, to join in. They grudgingly helped take the property, although a few from another station were enthusiastic about it. Customers in the bazaar stood close by and yelled insults at the KPS officers, or screamed things like “Why are you doing this?” One KPS officer almost got into a fight he didn’t want to be in, over something he didn’t want to do, with one of the customers. Guilt was obvious on the KPS officer’s face. That was hard to watch.
I stayed back. Officer Joe, the illegal vendor hater, picked out an old man selling bananas. The old man, who looked about eighty but was probably younger, struggled to pick up boxes of bananas before the truck arrived. Officer Joe reached the old man’s stall, tore a box from the old man’s hands and threw it in the truck. The old man grabbed the next box. Joe fought it away.
I remember standing there in impotent frustration, thinking, So now we’re literally wrestling food away from old men. This is disgusting.
I finally managed to grab a handful of KPS officers and leave. I stayed at the station until the operation ended, angry at what we had done and at myself for being part of it. I had stood by and done nothing as a fellow cop turned us into petty tyrants. That still bothers me.
Joe beamed with pride when he came back to the station. As he promised, all the confiscated property was donated that day. No vendors had been ticketed. None received receipts for their property. None had recourse to recover what had been taken. If police did that here, they would be charged with a crime.
Later that day I argued my way up the chain of command that the operation had been wrong, we shouldn’t have done it and should never do it again. An Irish officer agreed with me. But a senior American officer listened to me with a disinterested expression and said, “Look man, it’s legal here. So I don’t have a problem with it.”
I learned a lot from that operation. Prior to it, I had been something of an idealist about cops. I thought American cops would go by what’s right and wrong instead of looking for what they can legally get away with. I know now that cops like Joe have no problem violating people’s rights, as long as they have some “official” way to do it.
Maybe you’re thinking, “But this was in another country, so it’s okay.” I don’t think so. I took an oath to defend the Constitution, not to enforce any law no matter what it is. If I go to Afghanistan as a cop, I’m not going to beat women for walking the street without a male relative, even if it’s legal there.
So why do I tell this story now? This might seem like an abrupt topic change, but it isn’t. It’s directly related. – Read Entire Article
By Chris Hernandez