A friend and fellow high school alum, Jacqueline Russell-Wegner, sent me this essay. I think it speaks for itself and should generate some good discussion.

Like other Americans, I was riveted watching the manhunt live. I listened to every word reporters offered. I was fascinated that a major U.S city was literally shut down and there were a reported 8,000 police officers searching for one – just one — suspect. Friday evening was a rollercoaster, as the curfew was lifted and 45 minutes later, 19 year old, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was spotted hiding inside a boat that was stored in the driveway of a home, two blocks from where the police had been conducting their search.

Now, every news team and cop involved in the hunt were attempting to get as close as they were allowed. Police cars and buses that said “Boston Police Department” passed the news cameras, the sounds of helicopters hummed in the skies overhead, and I waited to see what would happen next. The television news people ceaselessly pushed the boundaries in an attempt to get any drop of information that had not already been shared with the public.

The sun had just set, and we at home were told that there were sounds of gunfire. The suspect was apprehended and we all took a deep sigh of relief.

There is elation in the streets of Boston. Ecstatic sighs of relief and jubilation emanate from citizens, journalists, and law enforcement. The police leave the scene. The news cameras are rolling live feed for us at home to share the moment. The men in uniform, brave and cool under fire now are also cheering.

And then one image struck me. A policemen, with a megaphone in hand, was cheering..”Go Boston Police!” and “Boston PD!” again and again. Suddenly, all these questions popped into my mind.

I knew that this brave member of law enforcement was cheering for the successful completion of their mission – to apprehend a specific person. And while the evidence at the time was (and remains) compelling, I felt that many people has prejudiced themselves that this specific person was the bomber.

I know there are legal issues regarding the treatment of terrorists to sort out, but my immediate thought was this: will an alleged criminal be allowed a fair trial as promised by his Constitutional Rights? Can he be presumed “innocent until proven guilty,” as also promised by our sacred founding document, when the men in uniform are cheering with elation, with what I felt was prejudice regarding the suspect’s guilt? A few Libertarians I know are livid with the media and the general public for passing judgment on the suspect before he’s had a trial. Yes, the evidence appears strong. However, at a time when many criticize Barack Obama for trampling the Constitution, these same people cannot equally disregard due process because of a terrorist incident. It’s not a popular position to take, but it’s an intellectually and morally honest one.

But I’ll leave that specific issue for others to discuss. What I really began thinking about was the Uniform of Authority.

What does the uniform represent? Should we expect a different set of standards when a person is in uniform? There is a double standard of sorts. Citizens are to respect and obey a person in uniform – specifically, a law enforcement officer, regardless of agency. Yet the uniformed individual has many responsibilities to the citizen. One of these is that they represent an entire agency when they wear the uniform. When emotions run high, such as after this arrest, uniformed individuals who openly display their feelings to the public undermines what they represent – objective enforcers of the law, period. It damages their credibility, our faith in their objectivity, and possibly even the underlying prosecution.

Are emotional displays, especially those transmitted to the jury pool, in any way professional? Does it affect a suspect’s rights to a fair and unprejudiced trial? While I completely understand and empathize with this specific policeman’s emotional state, especially given the circumstances, I feel it may undermine the suspect’s Constitutional rights. That the uniform itself represents a broad segment of law enforcement, does it prejudice the jury pool by inferring that this policeman represents the whole?

A U.S service member (Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy), while in uniform, is expected to behave a certain way. The uniform connects them to each member who also wears that uniform. The uniform represents something larger than the individual while they are wearing it. I believe this standard needs to be reinforced for members of our nation’s civilian law enforcement agencies.

Although this may be an unpopular position, I believe this individual policeman should be reprimanded, not commended or celebrated. After he removes the uniform, he can do whatever he pleases. However, while in the public eye, our brave men and women in uniform must stay strong, silent, and neutral. If they want respect, they need to command respect. They must lead by example.

This is a pivotal time to reflect for all Americans. I am not in any way suggesting there is a rush to judgment here. However, we have seen such rushes to judgment before. We don’t need law enforcement or the media sullying the right to a fair trial. We may have made up our own minds in a given case, but only be holding steadfast to our founding principles can we remain the greatest nation on Earth.

Be Sociable, Share!