Yesterday, as I strolled down my neighborhood’s main street, I noticed two rather portly New York City police checking parked cars for traffic violations. I deliberately use the word “portly” to describe their appearance because I never cease to be amazed by how patently unfit for their duties our local guardians of law and order appear to be. (This unfitness, given the unceasing litany of corruption scandals associated with New York’s ‘Finest,’ clearly extends to more dimensions than just the physical.)
But of more immediate interest to me was what lay just ahead: the ubiquitous traffic police three-wheeled automobile in blue and white, marked with NYPD regalia, parked on the street, waiting to transport its riders to the next scene of parking misdemeanor. On its back it proudly and aggressively sported the title “Interceptor.”
“Interceptors” in military parlance can be used to refer to any vehicle that is used to, well, intercept, disrupt, and destroy enemy vehicles and forces making attacks on defended territory. It is most commonly used in military aviation to designate aircraft that attack other aircraft carrying out offensive bombing or raids on high-value targets. Those Spitfires shooting down German bombers during the Battle of Britain? They were interceptors. Aerial encounters in the old days took place between interceptors and aircraft designated to defend the bombers; that is why Spitfires and Me-109s tangled in the skies above England during that same battle. Interceptors versus Escorts, you see.
So, of course, it would make perfect sense to designate a traffic police automobile an “interceptor.” Because, in keeping with the constant militarization of everything associated with policing, we should think of the brave police as defending us against hostiles armed to the teeth, coming to hurt us. The police are operating in hostile territory, in an area where the slightest wrong move could cost them their lives. It’s kill or be killed in a war zone and an aggressive posture needs to be adopted, right down to the nomenclature associated with the vehicles they use.
Calling police vehicles “interceptors” would be amusingly juvenile and self-indulgent of the schoolboy fantasies that clearly still seem to animate the police, were it not for the fact that this sort of militarized language puts the police in precisely the wrong frame of mind, one that has cost the lives of many innocents over the years (especially in this great city of ours). The police are supposed to be policing “communities,” not war zones; the people they police are supposed to be their fellow community members, not armed hostiles.