Bil Lepp: Perspectives skewed on police reform (Opinion)

Essential reporting in volatile times.

Not a Subscriber yet? Click here to take advantage of All access digital limited time offer $5.99 per month EZ Pay.

Interested in Donating? Click #ISupportLocal for more information on supporting local journalism.


Boss Hogg and Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane spring to mind when people like me, and those of a similar make and model, think of corrupt law enforcement.

Yes, Hogg and Roscoe were corrupt, but also so idiotic that their evil was benign. They were too stupid to outsmart those crafty, dynamite-on-arrows-shooting, backwoods geniuses, Bo and Luke Duke. Folks cheered for the Duke brothers, who, by the way, were acknowledged outlaws. “Been in trouble with the law since the day they was born.”

Imagine if Bo and Luke had been black guys. Would 1980s white America have embraced them?

If the Duke brothers were black, transported to 2020, drove a car with the Black Power fist on top and blew up police cars with dynamite-laden arrows to disrupt the efforts of a corrupt justice system, some would call them terrorists.

It’s not as funny now, is it?

Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane never knelt on white Luke Duke’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds until Luke was dead. White America would have immediately called for reform and/or criminal actions against Sheriff Coltrane and Boss Hogg.

Bo and Luke Duke got away with their antics because they were on a TV show. But we white people loved them because most everybody desires to fight the good fight and do a little Robin Hooding. But it is time we start admitting that, if the Dukes had been black, or brown, or Asian, or LGBTQ+, white folks might have felt differently about them.

Many of us live in a world where white Bo and Luke heroically take on a corrupt system and we laugh at and applaud their efforts, but black Bo and Luke Duke would be radicals and terrorists.

With any luck, Roscoe P. Coltrane is not your sheriff.

But Andy Taylor probably isn’t your sheriff, either. Bumbling Barney Fife isn’t your deputy and you don’t live in Mayberry.

Many Americans grew up with the entirely benevolent model of law enforcement in the form of Sheriff Andy Taylor from “The Andy Griffith Show.” When Deputy Barney started down some murky legal path, Sheriff Andy always set him straight.

When many folks hear “disband the police,” “defund the police” and “dismantle the police,” they think something like, “Why would you do that to Sheriff Andy Taylor?”

Our default is to imagine all law enforcement officials as Sheriff Andy Taylor and pretend nothing like Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane exists. However, the actions associated with the death of George Floyd prove there are some law enforcement officers far worse than Sheriff Coltrane.

Restructuring the way policing is done in America is obviously complex. Many people calling for the restructuring of law enforcement aren’t suggesting getting rid of all police. They don’t mean that Sheriff Andy Taylor should be fired and Mayberry should be declared open season for terrorists, rapists and Antifa.

Police end up being social workers, marriage counselors, mental health workers and child protective services because cities don’t spend enough money on those programs. Police are not inherently trained or prepared to be social workers. If some of the money that goes to the police was directed to on-call social workers or domestic-violence specialists, experts could be called in for those situations and the police could concentrate on catching rapists and terrorists.

The police could protect you better, if all they had to do was police work.

On the other hand, I get why some people have a knee-jerk reaction to terms such as “dismantle the police force.” I think the activists and mayors and legislatures working toward fixing a broken system ought to come up with a better term.

We can all agree that reform is necessary if a doctor wantonly gives patients lethal injections. We ask, “What do we need to reform to fix the flaw in the system that allowed this to happen?” We understand the word “reform.” Politicians talk about reform all the time. You can reform something without throwing it away.

Words are important. First impressions are important. If you hit someone who believes in the image of Sheriff Andy Taylor with the phrase “dismantle the police,” that person is going to immediately cringe and turn to the voices that are crying for law and order.

Our images of who the good guys are and who the bad guys are have been skewed by things we’ve experienced, and we have convinced ourselves that those notions are true because we’ve believed them for so long. But it is time to start rethinking. And it is time to work toward a country where somebody like Sheriff Andy Taylor is, in fact, running the department.

Of course, the trouble with that is there weren’t many black people in Mayberry or Hazzard County. The dismissal of the black American community is part of the problem in the shows I grew up on, and in the world we live in today.

Bil Lepp is a professional storyteller

and a Gazette-Mail contributing columnist.

Funerals for Sunday, July 5, 2020

Canterbury, Kimberly - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Green, Della - 2 p.m., Evans Funeral Home, Chapmanville.

Miller, Brinley - 2 p.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Rogers, Robert - 2 p.m., Wallace Funeral Home, Milton.

Starkey, Roger - 2 p.m., Clover Cemetery, Clover.