The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

They’ll never miss it

There’s been a bit of discussion lately about a lost respect for police. In furtherance of that discussion, consider Exhibit A.

It’s Christmas. You need a Christmas tree, but every tree retailer in the county is sold out.

On the other hand, there are some really nice specimens growing in the national park. Sure, there are laws against cutting trees in the park forest, but you tell yourself it’s really a victimless crime. You take the tree home, decorate it, and gather friends and family to celebrate the festive day.

Christmas Eve, the doorbell rings and you answer. It’s a Township police officer with a citation accusing you of stealing a tree from the national park. The fine is $1,200 and he’s there to confiscate the tree.

You remind him it’s the day before Christmas …

Now imagine you’re Commander Steve McGarrett, head of the Hawaiian governor’s crime task force, on the CBS hit series “Hawaii Five-0.”

In the show, Cmdr. McGarrett is a former Navy Seal, son of the suit-and-tie Steve “Book him, Danno” McGarrett, of the 1970s “Hawaii 5-0”series. Even in combat gear, the new McGarrett is often shirtless, the better to show off his muscles and tats, and tramples nearly everyone’s civil rights in “the ends justifies the means” law enforcement.

Last week he was in need of a Christmas tree.

“They have thousands of them,” McGarrett said as he prepared to chainsaw one from the state preserve. “They’ll never miss it.”

And at the end of the show, when a municipal officer shows up with the citation, prepared to confiscate the stolen tree, he is invited in to join the party.

My dad was a New York cop. When I left home headed for Navy boot camp, one of the pieces of advice Dad laid on me was: Don’t ever argue with the guy with a gun and a badge. That’s what courts are for.

Some bad guys have a difficult time with that idea. One of them shot and killed a wildlife officer a couple years ago in Adams County, only a few miles from where I live. Until the fatal shots, the killer would likely have been charged only with poaching deer and possession of a firearm after being previously convicted of a felony.

Instead of spending, maybe, a couple years in jail, the killer will spend the rest of his life hidden from sunshine.

And police have one more reason to be on edge when they attempt to stop other violators.

I was living in the Golden State when the California Highway Patrol began placing two officers in their cars at night, after a few solo officers were killed during what had begun as routine traffic stops. Imagine working a cash register at Walmart, being nice to the customers, all the time knowing the next one might point a gun at you and pull the trigger.

I don’t know why an officer in Ferguson, Mo., thought he had to kill that unarmed black teenager, or police officers in New York City had to kill an unarmed black man selling cigarettes, or an officer in Cleveland had to kill a 12-year-old carrying a toy gun. The list goes on, and I can neither convict nor excuse the officers in any of the multitude of such cases. I wasn’t there.

We civilians have a responsibility to respect those – from local police to our nation’s military and intelligence agencies – in whose hands we place our safety, even while we, rightfully, observe and sometimes question their actions.

Unfortunately, too many popular cop shows depict them as unworthy of respect – a disservice, I submit, to the majority of officers who are not Cmdr. Steve McGarrett.

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