Guest columnist Michael Pill: ‘Keeping the streets safe for all us liberals’

  • Northampton Police Department FILE PHOTO

Published: 12/28/2018 8:27:22 AM

This column is prompted by the brouhaha over the proposed (but now withdrawn) offer by Walmart to provide thousands of dollars worth of ammunition to the Northampton Police Department and Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper’s expression of concern about “anti-police rhetoric.” 

I am a confirmed leftist, a staunch anti-capitalist with a Ph.D. in Marxian Economic Theory, a supporter of gun control and a Jew who believes that every human being is charged with the social mission of repairing the world in which we live. The struggle to eliminate all forms of prejudice that divide us is both an individual and collective responsibility.

I have learned from experience that those of us who live and/or work in Northampton depend our lives (literally) upon the Northampton Police Department. Sadly, too many of my fellow leftists do not appreciate the facts that police officers receive not much pay and get little or no respect, yet put their lives on the line with every traffic stop or domestic disturbance, wearing vests that are not really bulletproof and carrying sidearms that are no match for many illegal weapons. 

I have known family members of police officers who say a prayer whenever their loved one leaves home for a shift, hoping he or she will come home safely. In these times, they never know when, instead of their loved one, they may find the police chief at their door, telling them how another officer has fallen in the line of duty. 

Despite dangers on the job, and the risk of having to make a split-second life or death decision that may be second-guessed at leisure by lawyers, pundits and politicians, police officers report for duty every day so we can walk down the streets of Northampton safely and sleep securely in our beds at night. We can do that because regardless of the weather or time of day or night, they are out there in police cruisers, waiting for our 911 call. 

My years of doing criminal defense legal representation taught me firsthand that there really is only that thin blue line between us and those who would not think twice about robbing, raping or inflicting physical violence upon other human beings. The reason too many of us middle-class citizens have no inkling of what is out there is because the police do their job of protecting us. 

My immigrant grandfather used to say, “There are really three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the right side.” Many of the criticisms leveled at police departments around the country are well-founded and must be addressed. Problems like racial profiling, lack of adequate training, and police officers losing their tempers are real problems. One way to minimize unjustified police shootings is more and better training, for which the Walmart ammunition donation could have been used.

We must be especially careful about generalizing and simply assuming that because some police departments have serious problems, the same is true of the Northampton Police Department. That is no different from assuming I must be a crooked lawyer because a dishonest attorney once cheated you or someone you know or that I am a “smart Jew lawyer” because I happen to be both Jewish and a lawyer. 

In my book, passing judgment on people because they are police officers is no different than judging people by race, religion, gender, sexual preference or some other category. Paraphrasing the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 civil rights March on Washington, we must learn to judge police departments and police officers individually, not by the uniform and badge they wear, “but by the content of their character.”  

We also must realize that, like all of us, police officers are human beings and therefore less than perfect. There is good and bad in all of us. Our task, as the fabric of our society unravels, is to strive to work together to bring out that good, both in ourselves and in our fellow human beings.

In that spirit, in this winter solstice holiday season, I want to express my most heartfelt thanks to Chief Kasper and to all of the people at the Northampton Police Department. 

Michael Pill is a partner in the Northampton law firm of Green Miles Lipton, LLP. In addition to being a practicing attorney, he holds an M.A. in Urban & Regional Planning and a Ph.D. in Economics. He has lived in the Pioneer Valley since 1975. “Keeping the streets safe for all us liberals” is a reference to a favorite saying of former assistant D.A. Joe Quinlan.

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