Two Tempe police officers were asked last week to leave a Starbucks after a customer complained that they “did not feel safe” with law enforcement in the building.
Now cops can’t break from the beat for a decent cup of coffee without being hassled out of a caffe for “looking like cops.” Their presence has created a fear of violence, either as a reprisal or in the course of duty.
It’s a difficult time to be in law enforcement, no matter where you are or which agency you’re working for. The impact of social media and the constraints of limited government resources have fostered a growing disrespect for all forms of authority.
Police, deputies, troopers, agents, detectives and others wearing uniforms fear few things. They are called upon for their courage to enter when others flee, they provide help in the line of fire and they commit themselves to always serve the best interests of the community. The temperament of the community served in Tempe includes those who believe the police are responding with excessive violence to incidents involving black people and other minorities. No matter how small the constituency who hold this opinion, there is enough palpable fear of violence in Tempe that police officers are being asked to leave a Starbucks.
We all understand that disrespect for authority goes beyond the Tempe community.
There are other forms of “authority” that are encountering similar animosity from the public in Arizona, and throughout the nation. Schools have increased the public’s investment in security at the entrance to buildings. Numerous government offices require citizens to clear a scanner before they enter. An increasing number of businesses have embraced security systems that videotape customers and train employees in what to do if there is “an emergency of the human kind.”
In some ways, this is another form of “climate change.” Fear of violence has been part of our nation’s history since its inception 243 years ago and today’s public sentiment is within the range of what our past has taught us is “normal.”
Some don’t see it that way.
The current “public storm” in Phoenix is emblematic of a new “normal” that encourages violent behavior and challenges all forms of “authority.” Police, institutions and the “rule of law” are threatened by a growing chorus of angry people.
We prefer to think what’s happening in Tempe isn’t anything we haven’t seen before.
We worry that it’s not.