A Policeman’s Lot (reprinted with no permission whatsoever)

June 15, 2013

Policemans LotThe wonderful thing about coming home when “home” is Mississippi is that, whatever else goes on, good stories will be told.  Years ago I learned of the following piece printed in Playboy magazine some time in the 1970s, but never managed to lay my hands on a copy to read for myself until today.  The witty and erudite judge quoted here is my late uncle.

Below is the Playboy write up in its entirety, which I modified only by splitting paragraphs for easier reading in my blog format:

Eloquent legal decisions rarely come out of municipal courts, but an interesting exception occurred in Jackson, Mississippi last year in the case of a night-club patron charged with failure to obey a police officer and resisting arrest, among other things.  It seems the patron first endeared himself to the arriving officers by loudly proclaiming, “Here comes the fucking police!”  They ordered him to leave the premises and later arrested him when he did not comply.  In court, the issues became those of lawful arrest and of whether or not his language amounted to “fighting words” that under state law would constitute a criminal act.  Judge Howard C. Ross, Jr., held (in part) as follows:

In some instances, it could be a matter of speculation or inference by the court as to whether the language attributed to the defendant is such that a disturbance of the public peace would occur.  In the case at bar, no difficulty is experienced, since nothing happened.

The statement was made, apparent due note taken thereof by all the people in the night club and nothing approaching a civil commotion or disturbance of the peace transpired.  The only portion of the remark, being the adjective (which the court believes to be a participle) describing the police, which was offensive lacks a good bit of being a “fighting word.”  It undoubtedly was received by its auditors as an appropriate, although this court believes an inaccurate, description of a member of the Jackson Police Department.

Assuming the defendant uttered the remark, its net effect was to advise all within hearing distance that the defendant had reached that state of maturity at which he can publicize his unmitigated and unredeemed ignorance and repudiation of our mother tongue.  If the defendant’s ability to express disrespect, scorn, ridicule or the like toward law enforcement finds its quintessence in the quoted remark, his educational progress must be somewhat akin to the dog scavenging its daily carrion from the city garbage dump, who, when approached by one of his fellow mongrels, growls but does not speak, for he cannot.  Woe to that generation who masticates its own bile and vomits such filth as the epitome of its thought processes.  If it is unthinkable that the defendant’s imagination could conjure up such a thought, that he gave voice to such a declarative English sentence is unbelievable.  Whether the defendant is guilty of using profanity in public is not before the court, nor is his obvious lack of breeding, intelligence and vocabulary.

It is said patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.  To this may be added the last refuge of unregenerate man must surely be the retreat into the abyss of obscenity…Public utterances such as the one here under consideration are proof enough the evolution of man is not complete; for God help us all if it is.  But the law gives man the right to search for truth and light and immortality on the one hand and the right to debase his very soul on the other; and these with equal zeal…The Constitution, as politics, makes strange bedfellows.  One day the lady who has worn the blindfold for so long, to satisfy her curiosity is going to remove it and be horrified with the contents of her scales…What is before the court is whether the language of the statement constitutes “fighting words.”  As a matter of law, they do not.

In discharging the defendant, Judge Ross also delivered himself of some kind and equally poetic words for the police:

Despite effluvium from the mouths of degenerates and malevolent future draft choices of the far reaches of hell itself, the badge of the cop on the beat is a shield of honor, integrity, honesty and courage.  To those who say he’s not much, society responds, he’s all we have.  Discredit him and you deny yourself protection from the criminal.  Deny him and you deny your form of government.  Defrock him and you have anarchy.  To those who call him “pig,” he asks, how many murderers have you apprehended, how many rapists; how many vacant buildings have you entered at two o’clock in the morning, searching for a burglar; how many drunk drivers have you chased at 100 miles per hour?

Why an otherwise reasonably decent segment of our citizenry seems to see red when a policeman appears is an anomaly of our times.  But the policeman, as the child, must only speak when spoken to, come when he is called, perform when his master raps the lectern with his baton, remaining at all other times, like Jim Crow, at the back of the bus.  What is bad about police?  Their most grievous sin appears, to this court, at least, to be that they protect our lives and property; they catch crooks; they keep rowdies under control; they patrol our streets, and this at hours and in weather conditions that keep the rest of us indoors; and all of this at a pay scale that makes one speculate why there are any honest cops left.  Yet they are scorned, abused, ridiculed and denigrated to a degree that should be reserved for the criminal element.

This is truly one of the wonders of the modern world.  Their job, dangerous as it is, must be accomplished in somewhat the contradictory manner of brandishing a Smith & Wesson in one hand, an olive branch in the other, one eye on the miscreant and the other on the Constitution.  No easy task, methinks.

Gilbert and Sullivan perhaps said it best in The Pirates of Penzance:

Our feelings we with

difficulty smother

When constabulary duty’s

to be done-

Ah, take one consideration

with another.

A policeman’s lot is not

a happy one.

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