Adam 12 symbolizes idealism of the past

I stumbled upon a favorite old television show this month when I was getting the oil changed in my car.

I saw an episode of the classic police show Adam 12, where officers Pete Malloy and Jim Reed patrol the streets of Los Angeles. I enjoyed the nostalgia, and also took note of the sharp differences the show has with today’s police dramas and current events.

In one part of the episode, the officers stopped a motorist whose car closely matched a description from a nearby jewelry store robbery. The suspect was restrained in handcuffs until information on the squad car radio revealed that further descriptions pointed to a different vehicle.

All turned out for the best. The officers explained the situation, the driver understood, and he was thanked for his cooperation.

The suspect was a Caucasian male, but even so it might not have been as congenial in the 21st century. There’s a heightened fear of authority and more of an insistence on due process. The driver might have hired a lawyer to consider a complaint.

When did that trend take shape? I think it depends on who you are, on what ethnicity you have and where you grew up.

My friends and I really liked Malloy and Reed. Their clean cut, good guy image seemed to be a reflection of officers everywhere. They were our friends. If we had nothing to hide, we had nothing to fear.

Someone our age who grew up in a neighborhood that had been the site of race riots probably had a different view, and probably still sees things differently than us even in 2020.

As kids we were told about the progress of the civil rights movement, about public figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. who had gone a long way toward making racism a thing of the past. We thought that what still existed was concentrated mostly in the South.

Classes in college, especially a human relations course, led me to a sense of how extensive and complicated the issue of prejudice often becomes.

There’s a barrier to overcome every time two people who are different in some way relate to each other. Race is one of the factors that can lead to biased viewpoints. There are also factors such as gender bias, generational bias and cultural differences. Many times two or more factors become part of a situation.

Anyone who becomes a law enforcement officer, a teacher, a social worker or something similar goes through training that involves examination of one’s own biases.

That’s valuable for learning about ourselves. It shows how we need to think about differences, how we need to approach others with openness and at times go out of our way to be fair.

We have to be careful about imposing our own perspective. It involves knowing that not everybody is going to have the same idealistic view of characters like Malloy and Reed.

Similarly there were 1980s teenagers who didn’t instinctively like Ronnie, Nancy, George Sr. and Barbara. Most of us in my neck of the woods saw them as grandparent-type figures, symbols of what was right about America. Those who didn’t were very unlikely to speak up, and therefore their view went unappreciated.

The need to recognize personal differences is a never-ending process. There’s always more to learn. Until the Black Lives Matter movement rose to the forefront in 2020, I never knew the extent to which black parents talk to their kids about how to behave around authority figures, that it’s a mostly unchanged rite of passage that goes back at least several generations.

Many times our social fabric stays strong, as different people successfully relate to each other in everyday situations. Any job that involves meeting the public includes the need to get along on a basic level with almost all types of people.

The key is to aim for perfection, to try to make it work almost 100 percent of the time. The current publicity that surrounds shooting incidents is a reminder that needs for improvement still exist. They’re extreme examples of anti-social trends, and that provokes extreme reactions.

Hopefully positive developments grow out of the controversy. It might bring us closer to a real-world sort of idealism that all reasonable people should want.


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