Columnist wonders: Why can't police apologize? Franzen December 17, 2000 Sunday Zoned Edition Copyright 2000 Journal Sentinel Inc. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel December 17, 2000 Sunday Zoned Edition
(MILWAUKEE, Wis.) -- Why is it authorities have such a tough time admitting they're wrong and apologizing for their mistakes? Why is denial always the first response, followed by the most grudging of admissions only when denial is no longer plausible? Are these basic rules of childhood automatically tossed out when one is given a title?
For example, you say? For example, the Waukesha police response to a Green Party demonstration across the street from an Al Gore rally on Oct. 30. Ralph Nader backers were conducting a peaceful rally on Kim Bair's front lawn when police shut them down, forcing the demonstrators into the backyard, tearing up their signs and issuing tickets.
Now, authorities are saying that the officers may have been mistaken. And here comes the spin. City Attorney Curt Meitz dismissed the citations, saying only that it was appropriate to do so. Police Chief Leslie Sharrock says there was a breakdown in communication and that officers thought Bair's property was in the Gore security zone.
Sharrock waxed even more eloquent. He said that after an internal review of the matter, "I'm convinced that no member of this department purposefully or with intent acted to deprive anyone of their right of freedom of speech or their right to peacefully demonstrate."
Of course they did. This wasn't an accident. It was a conscious act. Maybe officers thought they had good reasons for doing so, but the fact is they deliberately broke up the demonstration.
And the fact that the signs were torn up and that demonstrators believed they were bullied by police raises questions about the officers' motivation. In moving people out of a security zone, how necessary is it to tear up their property?
No one is questioning the dedication of these officers or the value of the work they do. Police have among the most dangerous and thankless jobs on the planet. People should thank them every day for taking it on.
But everyone -- even a police officer -- makes mistakes.
Bair believes that police still owe her an apology and that they owe the rest of Waukesha reassurance that such an incident won't happen again.