There have been a number of articles, photographs and remembrances posted lately that commemorate the anniversary of the Missouri State Pentitentiary riot in 1954. The Missouri State Highway Patrol acquitted itself splendidly in their immediate response to this exercise in stupidity by the inmates who failed to correctly estimate the swift and sure response to their day in this sun. The Patrol, led by legendary supervisors and commanders, was in no mood to prolong the activities of the inmates. They shut this riot down, relying on courage, mental and physical stamina, and the absolute support of the people of the State of Missouri. Times have changed…….the strength of the Patrol, in particular, and our nation’s police has not.
It is said that inside politics and the making of sausage is not for the squeamish. While there are other occupations and professions that do not make for prime time television, policing is making it’s debut in that medium. The photograph of the young officer, spittle running down his face shield and a tear on his cheek, is hard to look at and reconcile for a retired old officer, who lived in a different time. We did not contend with cameras on our uniform shirts, in our patrol cars, boats and in the hands of everyone around us. Spit in the face of an old trooper, say a Dick Knight, Tom Poindexter or Bill Barton and they would quickly mash your spitter……my generation was a transition generation, and we could see the end of the old world and the beginning of the new. Past generations would struggle mightily in today’s world, where we were quick to introduce dignity into an undignified situation, in terms that an anvil could understand. Today’s officer relies on a different skill set to accomplish their job, and I must concede, I envy their courage, guile and sophistication.
My hat is off to these young officers today. We must never question their commitment, intelligence, training and the most treasured of police attributes….courage. A tremendous factor in today’s environment is the perception of a lack of public trust in the art and science of policing. It is a perception, borne out of the media’s incessant appetite for the ugly side of managing crowds of seemingly insane folks intent on destroying something or somebody who is an authority figure. Very few citizens in 1954 missed their Sunday chicken dinner at grandmother’s house over an inmate or two being introduced to discipline at the hands of a trooper, Kansas City Police officer or St. Louis Police officer, all of which were present at the riot in Jefferson City, Missouri. The good citizens of yesteryear were concerned only with the excess of restraint exercised by our officers, certainly not calling for investigations into a situation in which the bad guy fares poorly. Folks that truly support the police function, and they are certainly in the majority, do not make for good television. Most importantly, though, they are there and our police officers have to know that.
Make no mistake, it takes unbelievable courage to stand pat while an idiot, empowered by numbers and not reason, spits in your face…knowing that you are required to control your emotions and remain stoic with a camera recording your every breath. It takes courage to suit up and hit the streets in an atmosphere where your neighborhood merit badge is earned when you kill an officer just because he is a member of the thin blue line. It takes courage to quietly control a confrontation that just a few short years ago would have ended with the bad guy reeling about, having been knocked out of his tennis shoes still neatly tied where he stood defying you.
Toughness is a relative concept…….