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It is an act of civility to be respectful toward others – but it’s an act of cringing servility to call a cop “sir.” It degrades the speaker and it elevates the recipient of the honorific beyond his station. A cop is just a guy (or a he-gal) wearing a uniform designed to intimidate and the hardware to back it up. To call this enforcer “sir” is of a piece with a field hand circa 1840 doing the same as he inquires, oh-so-deferentially, of massa.

The “yes, sir” bowing and scraping one routinely sees during episodes of fascist porn such as the TV shop, Cops is atrocious. Hulking, buzz-cut Officer 82nd Airborne stuffed inside his flak jacket and BDUs has pulled over some hapless motorist and is unctuously lecturing his captive prey about such things as the luscious goodness of seat belt laws or the Great Evil of possessing an arbitrarily illegal drug. The prey has assumed the position – meekly nodding and yes-sirring. Agreeing with all that Officer 82nd Airborne tells him.

Or at least, pretending to. In precisely the same way that striped apes on the chain gang would yes boss the guy on the horse cradling the Remington 870.

Once upon a time, citizens didn’t behave like stripe apes or prison inmates in the presence of a mere cop. The attitude was best expressed by the character Paulie in the Rocky movies: “I don’t sweat you,” Paulie told Clubber Lang.

Citizens in a free country bound by the rule of law ought not to sweat cops, either.

Unfortunately, they have to – chiefly because the country is no longer free and the law is no longer on their side. Cops have been empowered to do almost anything – and can get away with doing almost anything. Hence, the fear. And the fearful Yes sirring. But this only encourages them. You’ve accepted your status as their plaything. Made it clear you will tolerate anything – are guilty, ipso facto, of everything. Stop resisting!

Yes, sir!

This is dangerous, both on the individual as well as the societal level – for the same reason that deferring to bullies on the playground is dangerous. It emboldens them – and it conditions you to accept being bullied.

Let’s equalize things a bit, try to get them back on an even keel. Cops are still – in theory, at least – mere public servants. Typically, they are guys in their 20s or 30s who just barely got out of high school – or just barely into Turnpike Tech. They are not “heroes.” They are not the Boss of you – or me, either. They are government workers with badges and guns. That’s all. And certainly, nothing more – unless they have done something to earn being regarded more highly. Manning “safety” checkpoints and radar guns ain’t that, either.

Civility enjoins respectful adress: Hello, officer. Fine. But not Yes, sir. You are probably a grown adult. Probably older than the cop who has cornered you. The only occasion when Yesssir is appropriate is when addressing one’s superior in age – or one’s superior in rank, if you are in the military. A 50-year-old woman addressing a 24-year-old kid in a blue or black uniform as “sir” is a species of vileness formerly confined to the nations and places Americans once thought of as the opposite of what it used to be like here.

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Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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