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The Good Old Days


I really do hate “the good old days” gambit. I hate the “wisdom of the ancients” crap. I cannot abide the “we knew better back then” bull.

We know more today about almost everything than ever before. The social and natural sciences, medicine and, yes, philosophy and have given us, here in the early decades of this strained century, a better understanding of reality than we ever possessed before. The harkening back to some illusory golden era that keeps leaking out of the mouths of frightened Fox News commentators is little more than a pathetic bleat that has fear of the new tattooed on it. Nobody back then knew anything close to what the average anybody today understands. Examples: the big bang, antibiotics, vaccines, DNA, continental drift, organic foods, solar panels, iPhones, the Internet ….

But I have to admit that there’s one element of the past that I do miss and long for and wonder how we lost it: our relationship with the police.

I’m looking at 75 in a couple of months so I’ve been around for a while and seen a few things. I grew up, first in North Philly, in a working-class neighborhood, and then later in a suburb of Philadelphia that embodied the classic middle-classness we look to as embodying the American Dream.

After Ferguson, Brooklyn and Staten Island and Phoenix and a dozen, score, hundred, thousand other “incidents” with videos and eyewitness reports showing white cops kill, beat, harass, sodomize and intimidate black men and boys I cannot help but reflect on the good old days.

In my North Philly of the 1940s and ’50s, 17th Street and Godfrey Ave, at the wide intersection (I suspect it is actually not as wide as my memory of it), we played “wall ball” with a pinkie and “stick ball” with a half-cut one always offered underhand to a broomstick-wielding batter. We had ice-cream floats and cherry-cokes at Stein’s soda fountain and pitched pennies and baseball cards against the wall outside.

And we had cops. But they were not the looming, malevolent presence they’ve become. They were our friends. They sat at Julie Stein’s counter with us. Shlurped sodas with us. They made fun of us (appropriately, I now see) and told jokes and warned us about life out there … to the east, in another neighborhood (appropriately, I now understand).

They walked the beat. They didn’t cruise by, malevolently, in armored cars. They knew our names. We knew theirs. They made us feel safe. They were ours.

We were white. Oddly, we didn’t know it. They were white. I suspect they knew it. I never remember feeling fear, if anything I felt like we all were part of something larger, a community perhaps.

Today, things are such that even old white guys aren’t comfortable around cops. It’s weird but when I pass a police car these days I do not see my “friend” or a protector of the peace. I see something that I actually fear. Luckily, as an old white dude, I’m not expecting to get pulled over or roughed up but the main emotion I feel is an uneasy wariness.

These old days were better — and I’m not sure how this shift happened.


Reader Comments (1)

i cannot speak for any other person, but the shift you described began for me during the democratic national convention in chicago in august 1968, when one of my fraternity brothers had his head split open by cops. mayor daley's thugs, wearing police uniforms, helmets, gas masks, and shields, engaged in a "police riot" that was seen live on national television as the crowd chanted "the whole world is watching!"

December 9, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteralan tiger

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