The last time I went to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in my electric wheelchair, I couldn’t find a place to sit so I was quietly wheeling along the parade route. A Syracuse cop challenged me. He ordered me to get behind the barricades, which stretched the length of the parade route. How was I supposed to do that? People were standing five to ten deep behind the barricades, even in the intersections. What was I supposed to do? Where was I supposed to go? The cop wasn’t about to be part of the solution, just part of the problem. He wouldn’t help me find a place, or open a path for me: he just kept berating me that I had to get off the parade route.
So this year I go to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in my electric wheelchair. I find a place backed up to the against the curb, surrounded by little kids, and I am happily sitting in the sunshine watching the parade. (Which, by the way, I’ve got a question. The parade starts with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division band, with which I’ve got no problem. Every parade needs a band to step it out right, and a military band will do that better than most high school bands, but after that we got lots of VFW and ex-military stuff. Why? In a Memorial or Veteran’s Day parade, sure, but today’s parade is about being Irish and Catholic, so why we are putting the military at the head of it? St. Patrick was two blocks back in the line of march. Could we please stop putting the military at the head of every parade? Could we lead the world with something other than reminders of our military might?) But I digress.
So I’m sitting there watching the parade—I love parades, especially small-town parades where the Cub Scout troop has one uniform and each boy is wearing one piece of it—when two big boys come and stand in front of me. They’re maybe twelve, thirteen years old and their heads are above mine. I can’t see the parade. I wait to see if they’ll move on. They don’t. It is apparent that they are not under any adult supervision. I ask them to move. They laugh at me. I ask them to step back to the curb or sit down, like the other kids. They jeer at me. I am looking up at unruly, unsupervised children who know they have the upper hand. It is often frightening to be in a wheelchair.
So I wheel across the street to the policeman on the corner in front of the Dunkin Donuts. I tell him the story and ask him to please move the boys. The cop mumbles, murmurs, shrugs and does nothing. This is where the failure to obey authority starts: when a cop won’t face down a couple of boys harassing a disabled person.
So I’d like to know what we have cops at parades for. If they’re not going to do anything to protect a person in a wheelchair, just fold their arms over their chests and watch the parade, then what’s the point?
Last year I was headed to a downtown festival when I came upon a car accident two blocks from the festival. I wheeled ahead, found three cops at the festival standing with their arms folded over their chests, talking in a group. I reported the accident. The cops told me to call it in and Dispatch would send somebody. ‘You’re somebody!’ I wanted to retort. ‘Get to work,’ but I didn’t say it.
I have seen so many cops (and, babe, you are cop, not a policeman, if you stand with your arms folded and don’t work) at outdoor public affairs, and they are watching the parade or talking to each other, not paying attention to the people. When the President is in the parade, the police do not face the parade route: they turn their backs and face the people in the crowd. The President is getting along just fine, thank you; it is the people who need your attention.
How about we try that, Chief Fowler? How about we stop paying cops to stand out in the sun and do nothing? How about they serve the people or we give them a day off without pay?
I spent six years living in the jurisdictions of East Syracuse, Dewitt and Fayetteville. In the towns and villages, the police attitude always was, “How may I help you, ma’am?” The Syracuse Police attitude is “Get outa my face, lady.” What would it take to change that attitude? And it is all about attitude. This isn’t about Dispatch not giving my call the priority that I think it should have. This is about cops with a bad attitude standing at parades and festivals and not working.
If the police want respect then they have to give it. I’ll start treating them with respect right after they start treating me with respect.