Penciling in Life -- Monthly Column by Donald Dean Mace: America Burning: A Peace Officer's Perspective

America Burning: A Peace Officer’s Perspective

In 38 years of law enforcement and more than a few years in contract security, I have had people pull guns on me, had people try to stab me, been in riots, bar fights, car chases, you name it--all the stuff you see on TV and in movies (all over-rated by the way, not as much fun as you might think); never once have I had to pull my gun on anyone let alone shoot them (lucky? maybe). And never once have I had to choke anyone out. There are ways to subdue someone with minimal potential for injury and not all of them are physical.  Verbal persuasion works wonders.  Generally, once the police are involved in a situation, the fear-factor skyrockets and the fight or flight mode kicks in.  The situation can quickly become a powder keg, and the police officer usually holds the match.  The best thing for a police officer to do is to de-escalate the situation as soon as possible, and to remember that it’s really important to treat everyone with respect and dignity. Studies in psychology have shown that people tend to act the way you expect them to, and that’s the result of how you treat them.  I have repeatedly told those I've trained, led, or worked with: Be the cop you'd want to meet when you're having the worst day of your life. It makes a big difference. There are times when violence is unavoidable--and you have to handle it--but more often than not, there is plenty of room to deal with a situation peacefully.

Currently dominating the news is the story of a man (George Floyd) who had been arrested for a non-violent charge (forgery) by Minneapolis police.  One police officer, (Derek Chauvin), can be seen in a video pinning Floyd to the ground with a knee on his neck for eight minutes, while other police officers stand around doing nothing; this, after Floyd had been subdued and handcuffed.  As a result of this completely unwarranted tactic, Floyd died.  Unfortunately, this incident is not an isolated occurrence.  There have been far too many preceding it, and a great many of the victims have been black.  It’s no wonder that people are leaning towards racism as a motivation.  It does look that way.  It isn’t entirely racism, or always, but at times it most certainly is.  And there aren’t just white racists out there, I’ve known black racists too, and Asian, you name it—Racists come in all colors.  More often than not, it’s just plain bad cops, cowards with a badge; people who never should have been hired in the first place, but were, and are now firmly entrenched in the system (there are police unions, and like any other unions, they protect even the bad cops).  And it’s no secret that police officers, like soldiers, have a code:  Brothers and Sisters in Arms, Brothers and Sisters in Blue--watch each other’s backs, cover for each other.  This is a tricky line to walk, this code of brothers and sisters in blue.  And it takes courage to speak up and stop someone from going too far, abusing their authority, abusing their power, especially if it’s a friend or a partner.  It’s difficult to check fellow officers and then to report them to superiors, who are also strapped by unions, and also have a stake in this code.  Of course, it’s cowardice not to do so.  Still, it’s the right thing to do. 

I would say that most police officers are good people.  People who joined the police department to support their community, be heroes, be peacekeepers and not villains, not be agitators, not be menaces.  But I also guarantee that there is at least one bad cop in every department—and everyone in the department knows who it is, and many people in the community know who it is--and there are several in the bigger departments.  Bad actors, classism, corruption is rampant in America today, as is racism, greed, meanness, cruelty—it’s a sad, bitter pill to swallow, but look around you, look at politics for instance, it’s all too apparent in politics, bad actors, corruption; case in point, lobbyists do nothing more than offer bribes to politicians, that’s their job, and it’s sanctified, it’s institutionalized—police departments, which should be employing the best of the best, like the military, or any other faction of society, are a cross-section of what society has to offer, and sometimes it’s pretty poor pickings.  The problem goes deeper than just police departments, it’s societal.  It’s a people problem.  A problem with the entire system.  A discourse into the problems inherent in America—and the world—would take far more space than I have here to discuss.  Suffice it to say that we, as a species, have a lot of issues to work through.  We need to evolve.

A police officer day to day has to deal with the worst of society, the real scum; and they usually get involved with people--normal, everyday nice people--when these people are decidedly not at their best.  It’s easy to get jaded.  Police officers are often the object of scorn, disdain, fear, hatred, avoided at all costs; in less of course, things go terribly south, and then they are expected to charge in boldly and take care of a situation, even if it means risking their lives.  This comes with the territory, it’s the job.  Most police officers do it without thinking, because it’s who they are, fellow citizens who want to bring order out of chaos, be peacekeepers, be heroes.  But then, there are those bad cops, those cowards with badges.  They are a stain on any department, an ugly blemish on the institution as a whole, an utter disgrace.    

I'm saddened to see the Minneapolis police headquarters burning and people rioting in the street, but not surprised.  I am saddened to see demonstrations across the country, court houses on fire, looting, revolts, extreme civil unrest.  I am sickened to see National Guard units activated, U.S. military units ready to deploy under the Insurrection Act of 1807, police officers tasked in their communities with quelling violent uprisings in riot gear, but I’m not surprised.  I hate to see America on fire, sweltering with rage, angry.  America’s been a powder keg for some time, and in this instance, a bad cop held the match and ignited the fuse.  To Mr. Chauvin, who belongs behind bars, and to any other police officer, I would say this: This is the end result of not being a peace officer.  This is the end result of being a coward.

Donald Dean Mace

Donald Dean Mace is an artist, poet, guitarist and freelance writer living and working quietly in Yuma, Arizona.  He has travelled the world extensively (Europe, Africa and Asia) and in the 1980’s and 1990’s lived and worked in Germany for a total of 10 years.  He has retired twice, once from the US Army and once from US federal service, both careers were in law enforcement.  He is currently working on a novel.  He has been published by Ariel Chart, the Yuma Daily Sun, the Arizona Western College Literary Magazine, his poetry was featured in a public service broadcast, he is Pushcart nominee for poetry, and he was recently a guest on Mark Antony Rossi’s podcast, Strength to be Human.


  1. I really wish he heard from more peace officers who also have a say in shaping the terrible events into constructive lessons for a more promising tomorrow.

  2. If we had more sensible viewpoints these issues can be avoided. Keep up the clear-eyed work.

  3. The answers are there, the question is, are we brave enough to embrace them? Your article is a fair starting point. Appreciate you stepping up.

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