A voice. An image. A face. A song from long ago. There is no telling what will turn a distant recollection into a torrent of memories. For me it was a smell. Rather, the smell – of New York City’s Greenwich Village in the Spring of 1968.
What turned the Mind Spigot on was – soap. Recently I’ve been trying various hand-made natural soaps from soap maker, Emily Seaver. It was one of these soaps, Dragon’s Blood, with its incense scent, that sent me back decades into a world that fascinated, but would only be observed.
New York was just a bit over an hour away by train, but what had started out as a shopping trip became the catalyst for a life-long love of folk music and an admiration for one of the eras most honest artists and voices.
Walking along Bleeker, Thompson and MacDougal Streets and through Washington Square Park ones senses were constantly bombarded with the sounds of bongos, saxophones, guitars, flutes and voices both sweet and ferocious singing of protest or love. The smell of subway steam rising through street vents mingled with the scents of every food imaginable. The sweet, earthy smell of roasting coffee permeated the street in front of Porto Rico Coffee and from the countless coffee cafes that lined the streets of The Village. And, through it all rose the stench of unwashed bodies, garbage and omnipresent drugs. New York in the 60’s. Nothing quite like it and never to be forgotten.
Venturing into a small, colorful shop along Thompson Street I soon realized that I had entered another world altogether. What would later be learned was a Head Shop, this little store was jam-packed with pipes, bongs, clips, etc., etc. Not only were these things of no interest, I really had no idea what they were for. Such an innocent! But, what did interest me was the dizzying (truly) display of incense. Now, this was something I was familiar with. Incense sticks and cubes of various fruits and scents filled shelves from top to bottom. What really caught my eye were small bags of loose incense – including jasmine, patchouli and every Catholic schoolboy’s favorite, frankincense. A whiff of that and for sure you would feel on your way to heaven! After buying a small packet, it was time to further explore the neighborhood.
Cafe Wha?, The Bitter End, Bottom Line, Cafe Au Go Go, The Gaslight Cafe, The Village Vanguard. Handbills plastered on the sides of buildings and construction fencing advertised both coming and just past appearances of The Stone Poneys, Ritchie Havens, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell -live nyc Little Green, Jimi Hendrix, Odetta, Peter, Paul and Mary, Tom Paxton, Judy Collins (click on hyperlinks) and – Joan Baez. What were these places and who were these people? Coming from a very parochial background (in every sense of the word) I was not in my element. But, the Genie of Curiosity was out of the bottle and while, somewhat sadly, I never got to go to any of the above music venues I did embark on a journey to discover who those musicians were and what they were saying. One in particular has kept my admiration all these years – Joan Baez.
I admit it. I am not a good blogger. Good bloggers write or post consistently or at least regularly, maintaining a relationship with their readers. I do not. Maybe it’s more accurate to say, I cannot.
My wife says that I often go off into my own world of thoughts. She calls it, Billyland. Whatever it is, it’s how I come to grips with or resolve within myself issues big and small. I become so immersed in the issue lots of other things take a back seat for a while. Sometimes, it’s how to fix something around the house or, lately, where to plant some trees and bushes around our property or rearranging my work room. These things I have thought through and acted on more or less. But, this is not the reason I have not written or posted here lately.
If you and I have anything at all in common then perhaps you, too, have this sense that so much of what you took for granted or thought to be true has been overturned, cast aside or just…erased. I mean really, did you ever think that the day would come when you’d need to get permission to go to church or be required, when going into a bank, to put on a mask? When did needing a law defining what a boy or girl is become necessary? Seriously, did you ever imagine days such as these? In less than one lifetime we’ve gone from the moon to the sewer, from asking what we can do for our Country to demanding what it must do for us. We’ve gone from worrying about nuclear fallout to greenhouse gases to now…cow farts. Can it get any crazier? Apparently, yes. Our Commander-in-Chief promises us that in June he’ll release information letting us know that UFO’s are for real and…get this, some creatures from outer space may have been visiting us from time to time. Oh, really? Have you taken a close look lately at Congress or your Cabinet, Mr. President? But, I digress.
There has been one particular issue that has really wormed its way into my thoughts almost non-stop: The Cops.
Nearly everyone has an opinion of cops. Some people say they love them and maybe they do – until they are getting pulled over for some traffic violation or they are putting handcuffs on them for beating their wife. How quickly love then fades. Once, as a rookie officer doing traffic duty for the first time, I managed to screw up pretty badly the flow of cars. What looked to be a simple task proved not to be quite so easy. I knew drivers were getting impatient, but I was determined to do the best I could in moving rush hour traffic through a busy downtown. I took the horn blowing in stride but wasn’t at all prepared for what happened so unexpectedly that it left me stunned. A rather fancy car pulled up along side me and the driver rolled down the passenger side window. Thinking he needed something, I bent down so that I could hear him. The driver leaned over and said, “Why don’t you go have a doughnut and leave people alone”. He then spit on my brand new uniform and sped off.
I was so stunned that all I could do was stand there in the middle of traffic looking as dumb as I felt. A senior officer noticing me standing there came over and asked what was the matter. I told him what happened and admitted , when he asked, that, no, I did not get the marker number of the car. He then told me to take a break to collect my wits. I asked him why, why would someone do something like that? His answer stays with me still: “Look, kid, if you wanted to be loved you shoulda’ been a fireman”. The doughnut comment still makes me laugh, but the spitting… Oh, well.
Most people don’t know a lot of cops. As a result, most people don’t have a real sense of who cops are or what they are like – as if there was a one-size-fits-all cop mold. Recently, I read an article on a religious web site I frequent where the author was giving his best effort to defend cops in general from the current bashing they are currently subject to. In a backhanded attempt to compliment them and explain the physicality of the job he stated, “It should be expected that because of the type of people attracted to police work that most of them would like to fight”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most cops hate to fight and will avoid doing so whenever possible. They also know that if a physical confrontation – a fight – is unavoidable, they cannot come out of it second best. It is also a myth that most cops go around shooting people. The overwhelmingly vast majority of cops never discharge their weapons, except on the practice range, during the entire course of their careers.
So, who are the cops? They are us. They are usually, as should be, from within our communities (an exception may be where, in many affluent communities, cops, firemen and teachers cannot afford to live in the areas they serve). Cops shop, worship, socialize, live and raise families right along side the people they protect. This commonality is crucial to both the cops and the community – both rely on the other.
In looking at the current situation of the anti-police attitude, if not movement, several questions must be asked and answered.
Are there problems with policing in the United States? Truthfully, yes. But, the problems are multi-faceted.
One is the increasing militarism of the police. Most apparent is the uniform. Look at many police departments today and you will see their officers dressed in military-style garb. Also, many departments have been granted or gifted military surplus equipment: armored vehicles, robots, drones and heavy weapons and this equipment is seemingly used or deployed whenever possible. This trend has been increasing over the past 30 years or so.
Secondly is training. There are two main approaches to Police Training: Warrior or Guardian. The first style emphasizes being ready at all times to be attacked while performing their jobs, thus being hyper-vigilant. The second style of training emphasizes approaching the public more as a Guardian: Always alert to safety but also actively engaging in non-enforcement contacts with the public. This is a simplified version, of course, of these styles of training but it illustrates, I think, the need for a change in style and perhaps a return to the old style of community policing.
Thirdly is Management. This past year showed us a parade of politically motivated police chiefs willing to sacrifice their communities, departments and their officers in an effort to save themselves from public criticism or political pressure. In nearly every case it had the opposite affect, cities burned, communities became more disenfranchised and officers became disheartened, jaded or worse.
Is all this upheaval coincidental or inevitable? I don’t believe so.
There have been more and more frequent calls from within certain sectors of government and private organizations for such things as “social workers” replacing or accompanying police in the performance of their duties. Also, there has been a renewed effort to adopt a National Federal Standard for police. If communities and police truly wish to have a fair and compassionate police department it must remain locally staffed, trained and controlled. And we must be vigilant in preventing any politician or group from seizing control of our communities, police or rights. History is replete with examples of this, few as eerily similar than that of 1930’s Germany.
For further information on this topic ideas please read: