Kinda Blue

Have gun, will unravel: My life as a fake cop

I'm walking through a military installation with a Glock the size of a horse's penis in my right hand. To my left, I hear a man yelling hysterically and pounding on a pane of aluminum siding. I'm in a parking lot. There's a patch of ice on the ground. I'm sliding my feet, basketball defense-style, trying to see what's going on. A white wall or water heater screens my view. I plant my feet and raise my gun, and clasp both hands around it, just like I've been trained to do.

I put my finger on the trigger. I creep past the wall and see a man with his back to me. For the life of me, I can't tell you what he's wearing. He's pummeling a hangar door with his fists. He's yelling at someone or something on the other side of the door. Metallica could be playing a private concert next to him and he wouldn't hear it.

"Minneapolis police!" I yell. "Put your hands in the air and move away from the wall." Adrenaline, fear, thrill of the hunt. He's not listening. I yell the same thing, louder. Three more times I yell. Six, maybe. The guy finally turns around. He's got a semi-automatic rifle slung over his right shoulder.

"Whoa," says the guy, a burly white male in his mid-30s.

"Put the weapon down in front of you," I yell, vaguely amazed at how easily the language of the police state spills out of me, a guy who's never held a real gun before in his life.

"Okay, okay," he says. I'm pointing the gun at his head. He does what I say. He shows me his hands, and puts the rifle down in front of him. I relax. He must be a security guard. That explains it. We'll talk about this. I breathe easier. I start. To slowly. Contemplate my. Next move. I. Should. Put him. In handcuffs?

The back of my brain screams, Tell him to get his ass down on the ground, but before the message can reach the front of my brain, he turns his back to me, puts his hands up against the wall, and spreads his legs. Ready for my strip-search, officer.

Heavy sigh. I don't have to shoot him. He's obviously been arrested before. He knows the drill, doesn't want any trouble. I start to holster the Glock-cock. He turns toward me slowly. He's reaching for something in his jacket pocket. I see something shiny in his hand. A badge. An ID. A cell phone. A gun. It's a gun. He's got a gun. I raise my gun. I still don't want to shoot him. I shoot at his legs. He shoots me three or four times and I am dead. Tell my family I love them. Game over.

None of that actually happened, of course. The shooter scenario was projected on a wall in a training room at the Minneapolis Fourth Precinct on Plymouth Avenue, in the heart of north Minneapolis, where cops and citizens are forever at odds. It was part of "Media Academy: Shoot (Don't Shoot)," the cop shop's first-ever presentation to the press, held as a way to explain how and why they do what they do. Twenty or so reporters, editors, and photographers answered the invite to confront the interactive, life-sized films. And each media jackal who picked up the (laser) gun ran through a gamut of situations—a domestic, a suburban standoff, a drunk driver, and my rifleman. Through the magic of computers, these scenes changed, depending on each fake cop's reactions.

The theme of the show was "excessive force," which I went into with some skepticism, what with the echo of songs like Bruce Springsteen's "41 Shots," Boogie Down Productions' "Sound of Da Police," and KRS-One's "Black Cop" ringing in my head. Like many citizens without a criminal record, I've had a love-hate relationship with cops since I was a teenager. Now I wave to them in my neighborhood when I'm walking with my kids, avoid them when I'm driving home from the bar, read about their brutality in the newspaper, and curse them when I see them pulling over minority drivers.

As a result, for most of the first two hours, I listened cynically while Range Master Sergeant Mike Sullivan talked about how difficult the job is and what the cops are up against. "That's how fast things happen," he said about various docile-turned-dangerous situations, a refrain that had me wondering if he would soon break out a violin and play a cops-as-victims lamentation.

That was before I watched a petite journalist named Annie fire seven rounds into a guy at a DUI stop because the guy wouldn't stop coming toward her—with a knife, as it turned out. The scene was cast in broad daylight—unlike the moment when Sullivan held up a toy gun and said, "This is the situation you usually find yourself in," shut out the lights, and waved the dull rubber silhouette in the air. At which point my legs pushed me up out of my chair, and I involuntarily backed up against the wall.

That was before a television reporter named Lisa walked into the kitchen of a suburban rambler and got gunned down by a man holding a crying baby. Sullivan knowingly smirked at the notion of shooting a gun out of someone's hand and said, "When these guys get shot in movies and they die right away...that never, ever happens [in the real world]." Then he told the story about how one Minneapolis officer was killed from 50 yards away: "The guy was lying down. He sat up, took one shot, the bullet entered the officer's chin, went straight to the back of his spinal cord, and he died on the spot. Bad guys are lucky that way. Cops think about that all the time."

That was before my brain locked up in that parking lot and my arm fell to my side and I started thinking about what I was going to have for dinner and my olfactory glands and memory buds kicked in and I could almost smell the home fires, and then the gun swung toward me and all I could see was the rage on the guy's face. That was before another reporter, a professional observer of the human condition who presumably gets paid to notice big and small details, said of the semi-automatic rifle on the guy's shoulder, "I thought it was an umbrella."

Jim Walsh can be reached at 612.372.3775 or jwalsh@citypages.com

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