Bernard “Barney” P. Milton Oliver Fife was a character on The Andy Griffith Show. Barney was played to absolute hilarity by Don Knotts.
If you don’t remember the show, Barney was deputy sheriff in a town where absolutely nothing ever happened, but Barney was always at Defcon One. It was his constant over reaction to every situation that provided much of the hilarity in the show. Sheriff Taylor was routinely tasked with having to minimize the damage that Barney wrecked upon the citizenry.
To prevent fatal damage, Sheriff Taylor authorized Barney to have one bullet, and that was to be kept safely in Barney’s shirt pocket. Sheriff Taylor felt that by the time that Barney unbuttoned his shirt pocket, fumbled out the bullet and got it loaded in his gun, that whatever “imminent danger” Barney perceived would have passed. Hundreds of fictional lives were saved over the years by this policy.
I bring up this humorous fiction to talk about the vast disparity between the police reaction in Uvalde and the nationwide day to day interaction of police with the public. Newsweek has provided a list of 229 black people killed by the police since George Floyd’s murder. Obviously keeping the bullets separate from the gun is not a real-world solution to the problem that plagues us now, but some sort of “time out” needs to be implemented.
To visually display what I see is a huge disconnect in policing I posted this meme, where I hoped to point out humorously that the police were less concerned with the lives at stake than the police’s break time.
The meme gathered what I would call a minimal of responses. I deduced from the lack of response to the meme that either the joke was “too soon” or that the readers accepted that the police could be standing in the hallway of the elementary school in Uvalde, up armored to the gills, listening to the screams of children and be more concerned with their own comfort than trying to end the crisis.
What I find most disturbing about the situation, other than the paralysis by the police, is the litany of excuses offered by the police afterwards for their inactivity. We are accustomed to the various police excuses for shooting an unarmed man walking away with his hands held above his head, not the “we didn’t have enough guns or the right kind of guns” to stop the pedicide taking place twenty feet away. I ask myself the question, “What was different in their training, or their psychological makeup?”
From this bodycam footage you can see that there are more officers arriving and the officers clearly have a numbers advantage. They even have a helicopter overhead. There are enough armored vehicles surrounding the school to attack Normandy again. The “perp” wasn’t going anywhere. What was missing from the equation was the courage of a Barney Fife to run into danger to “serve and protect”.
It’s hard to imagine anything breaking down as badly as it did in Uvalde. I’m sure that the writers of The Andy Griffith Show would have rejected the story idea just because of the cravenness displayed by the officers. Not even Barney Fife was that incompetent or scared of the public he was supposed to be protecting.
Which brings us to the call to defund the police. Clearly buying the latest most expensive military grade weapons isn’t protecting the public from those who would do us harm. Certainly, funding for the police could be better spent on training and the employee selection process. A very stringent fitness standard should be instituted for officers in the field. Every threat from a person in better condition than the officer should not be resolved by the gun.
There should be psychologists on staff to teach officers how to deal with the mentally ill. Methods for confronting people having a mental crisis should be rehearsed as often as “active shooter” drills. You can get a lot of psychology training for the cost of one SWAT truck. Maybe we don’t defund the police but defund the armaments manufacturers.