From the real world looking in

It often seems to me I am the antithesis of the normal PSU student. In fact, from what I read in the Vanguard and hear in lecture halls, many students would consider me evil incarnate.

I am a middle age, conservative, white male police officer. I find the discussions on politics and legal issues in the paper amusing and sometimes frustrating. I think energetic activism common to the university is often manipulated by individuals with less-than-honest motives using vague or outright false information.

I am often confused by the statistics I hear because they don’t match with my experience. When I read about legalizing marijuana I wonder who the proponents know. Maybe many marijuana users experience purely positive effects from the drug.

However, I can show you many, in person, who have lost ambition, squandered talents and destroyed relationships just because of marijuana.

If we make laws to protect those too weak to protect themselves, should we protect those too weak to make safe substance-abuse choices? That brings up alcohol. I freely admit I don’t know the pleasures of alcohol, having never tasted the stuff. I have pulled young bodies out of cars and houses from alcohol use being excessive. Lying on my back in glass and blood while trying to save the life of a trapped drunk in an overturned car is not high on my list of fun things to do. So I support the age limit for alcohol usage.

When I hear about a woman’s right to choose, I think about a baby I picked up off a kitchen floor. She was less than two weeks old and died from an accident. I wonder, if I can hurt this bad from someone I didn’t even meet till they died, how valuable are all those who never take a breath? Wouldn’t I love them, too? It may not be my nine months to carry or years to raise, but oh, how I wish I could switch that unwanted pregnancy to me somehow.

When I hear complaints about third-world working conditions, I remember teaching English as a second language for years in Juarez, Mexico. They wanted the English to find a better life by getting a better job in maquiladoras run by foreign countries. Yes, it is much worse than any job in the United States, but it is better by far than what they had.

On some issues, I’m sure we’d agree. I have played with Iraqi children while working as a soldier in a refugee camp after the Gulf War. I’ve had a mother demand I heal her 3-year-old daughter because it was a leftover cluster bomblet that blew her body in two. It looked like a toy to her. I’ve been challenged by a 10 year old about why I didn’t save his family when they rebelled like President Bush senior asked them to.

We stood by, only a couple hours drive away, while Iraqi forces killed his father and brother, raped his sisters and mother, and a soldier put a bayonet through his left eye as a goodbye present. I don’t understand why an Iraqi child is less valuable than an American one.

When I read of work to help women, I remember spending two and a half hours explaining to a wife and mother that she was a human being, not property. She really, honestly thought she was at the same level as the family dog. I stopped her husband from killing her, and he tried to kill me when I did. This was in the United States.

I guess my whole issue is with the rationale behind much of what I hear and read here on campus. I am glad it is an activist school. Like Martin Luther King taught, activism is needed to create the tension that illuminates injustice. But often what I see and hear is so out of whack with what is true that it loses value. Merely oft-repeated arguments shared and honed among those who have no real experience and merely stand outside and watch.

If you think the police are horrible, ride along with them and find out what their world is like. Sure it needs fixing, but you can’t fix what you don’t understand. Let somebody stick a knife in your face when you try to help his mother and see how pacifist you are. Or pull over a car for a minor infraction and find the driver has a loaded .45 pistol in the glove box he used a day before to shoot a cop. Then see how you handle your next traffic stop. Almost every police department has a ride-along policy – try it.

I take riders often. Sometimes it is boring and sometimes exciting, but you will see a different side of life. I hate bad cops more than you. It’s my badge that is tarnished, my reputation with the community that is damaged. It’s sad to stop some African-American male for a minor traffic infraction and have him act super careful because he’s afraid I’ll trump up charges or beat him.

Real problems exist. Real solutions are needed.

But I submit that solutions obtained in the Smith Memorial Student Union lounge after hearing another anti-establishment lecture will fail, in part because the problem is understood from only one side.

The same applies to every issue. Spouting statistics gathered by opponents doesn’t show understanding. The reason behind every issue is not a white male conspiracy to maintain power. That’s a huge copout. Maybe it is the reason, but you can’t prove it sipping lattes in the park and guessing about intentions. And your solutions won’t be relevant until you gain credibility among those needed to support the change. Credibility comes from understanding all sides.

Convincing other liberal, inexperienced students and academic theorists is not the same as convincing an “everything is beautiful” suburbanite like me. I’m proud to be at PSU. At the rate I’m going, I’ll still be here when your kids arrive, but that is okay. I’m moving forward. For now, I’ve got homework to do. Maybe I’ll see you on a traffic stop someday. Better wear that seatbelt.

David Cowsert is a junior studying community development.