Re: The Policeman Who Cussed at me for Crossing the Street

I got chewed out by a policeman directing traffic while I was coming home from SummerFest last night. He was at the corner making a generic "go ahead" motion. The cars weren't going, so we assumed that meant we should walk. When we started crossing, he dropped a sentence that I calculated at 50% profanity (depending on how you parse blasphemies against the name of God).

That really made me mad. Not because I don't respect authority (I'm a programmer so I believe that things in general go smoother if everyone respects and follows established protocol. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Internet Explorer). I was mad because I think proper authority has the responsibility to treat people as humans, not as subjects to be ruled over and abused. On the other hand, this guy was directing traffic at 12:30am, so maybe it's just a sign that he's not an individual whose tact and interpersonal skills are needed for defusing attempted suicides and hostage negotiations.

GK Chesterton, of course, explains my point even better than I could.

A certain magistrate told somebody whom he was examining in court that he or she "should always be polite to the police." I do not know whether the magistrate noticed the circumstance, but the word "polite" and the word "police" have the same origin and meaning. Politeness means the atmosphere and ritual of the city, the symbol of human civilisation. The policeman means the representative and guardian of the city, the symbol of human civilisation....

The idea of the sacred city is not only the link of them both, it is the only serious justification and the only serious corrective of them both. If politeness means too often a mere frippery, it is because it has not enough to do with serious patriotism and public dignity; if policemen are coarse or casual, it is because they are not sufficiently convinced that they are the servants of the beautiful city and the agents of sweetness and light...

Politeness is an armed guard, stern and splendid and vigilant, watching over all the ways of men; in other words, politeness is a policeman. A policeman is not merely a heavy man with a truncheon: a policeman is a machine for the smoothing and sweetening of the accidents of everyday existence. In other words, a policeman is politeness; a veiled image of politeness - sometimes impenetrably veiled. But my point is here that by losing the original idea of the city, which is the force and youth of both the words, both the things actually degenerate. Our politeness loses all manliness because we forget that politeness is only the Greek for patriotism. Our policemen lose all delicacy because we forget that a policeman is only the Greek for something civilised. A policeman should often have the functions of a knight-errant. A policeman should always have the elegance of a knight-errant.