We’ve had quite the upheaval in Portland. Our police chief just got fired for a variety of alleged reasons. All I know is there have been some bad altercations between the police and citizens, and the citizens came out on the short end of the stick. 3 or 4 people have been killed over the past couple of years, and they generally turn out to be unarmed and/or mentally ill. One person had an X-acto knife. Oooo, dangerous! Whenever I read about these things, the first thing I wonder is why can’t the police just shoot them in the leg? That seems like enough to stop an unarmed person from doing too much damage. The second thing I think about is what the Italian police did to a guy in Rome.

My daughter and I were having breakfast at a sidewalk café across from a gigantic basilica (big church) that had a circular square in front of it (as opposed to a squarular circle). It was a warm, sunny Sunday morning and people were walking all around and going into the church. Marvelous people in flamboyant attire – one extraordinarily elderly woman was dressed very much like a bull fighter in red pants and jacket that had long slits at the ankles and cuffs with many layers of black lace sticking out. We watched an ancient priest in a white robe come slowly out of the church and start walking around the outside of the circle heading toward us. He moved at a steady pace but only covered a couple of feet a minute. It was like one of those Matrix movies where everything is moving at a fast pace except the person (or bullet) going in slow motion.

On the sidewalk about ten feet from us, a portly Italian man who was either schizophrenic or drunk started creating a ruckus. He was loud, ranting about something to himself. Almost immediately a little tiny car pulled up and four policemen got out. They surrounded the man, and I thought that my daughter and I had better run for cover before bullets started flying. But no one else was scrambling so we lingered at our table to see what was going to happen.

The police just stood there. A couple started putting on rubber gloves very slowly, and I thought they were going to throw him to the pavement and start hitting him and they wouldn’t want to hurt their hands. But they just stood there with the gloves on, forming this wide circle around the man. Passers by weren’t slowing down to gawk; in fact, no one was paying any attention.

The man started getting rowdy. He yelled Italian. The police just stood there, arms folded across their chests. He became more agitated and threw a set of keys onto the sidewalk with all his might. They bounced and skittered along. A rubber-gloved policeman bent over and picked them up and put them on the hood of the police car. The man gestured some more, gesturing with his arms to show his irritation like Italians do in movies, then he threw a bottle down that he had in his hand. It shattered. The two policemen with the rubber gloves bent down and picked up the glass.

I knew one of them was going to lose his temper any second and slam the guy up against the car and start frisking him. But it didn’t happen, even when his tirade grew more intense. Meantime the ancient priest had made it about halfway around the square.

This went on, literally, for at least twenty minutes. The police never tried to talk to the guy, never tried to calm him down or ask him to get in the car. They just formed this loose circle that grew as needed to accommodate the man’s flailing around and lunging. Finally, the little priest made it to where we were sitting. I expected him to go over and avail his services to help keep the peace, but he only watched the scene as he proceeded on.

I concluded that no one was paying any attention because people knew nothing was going to happen. The police were there in case the guy became hostile to others, but they obviously saw no reason to interfere with his ranting and raving. The guy finally started walking away, and one of them handed him the keys he’d thrown down. The four policemen watched him for a couple of minutes, then crammed themselves back into the tiny car and drove away. About that time the little priest rounded a corner and disappeared from view.

You know good and well what would have happened in America. The priest would have tried to save the man and gotten him worked up even more. The police, irritated that they’d been called away from Krispy Kreme, would have roared up in a big car with hemi, sirens blaring, and pushed the priest out of the way, grabbed the belligerent guy, thrown him to the pavement, kicked him a few times, tasered him, and then shot him a time or two just in case. There would be an investigation and the police would be exonerated because they had followed their training. I’d like to see that training manual and compare it to the one those Italian police must have been following. If I ever get drunk or go crazy, I hope I’m in Rome, where the police see their job as keeping the peace and not brandishing their piece.