This should go without saying, but it doesn’t. I feel that I must preface this by saying that some of my favorite friends are cops. I support law enforcement (but not the way Faux News defines that). I respect law enforcement for doing what the rest of us aren’t brave enough to do. And I understand that cops are only human.
And fair warning: this is a long post and I’d love for you to read it all and also to give your own honest thoughts in the Comments. BUT If you’re not up for reading the whole thing, I suggest you scroll down to the image of the woman holding the sign that begins “Skin Color….” and read the rest of it.
I’ll bet we’ve seen more episodes of various cop reality shows at my house than just about anyone in America.Vegas Strip, Jail, Cops, Cops Reloaded, –we’ve seen them all. Repeatedly. Because they’re always in rerun. We’ve seen so many that, now that we’re older, we find ourselves asking each other, Have we seen this one before?
Why do we watch? For one, they show us a world we have no access to. Having worked in business, academia or for M, securities law, means that we have had very little exposure to different socio-economic classes. And the episodes give us a little of that and teach us a whole lot.
First, they teach us about the desperation some people feel. The hopelessness. The fatalism. You know what? M. and I talk about the social issues raised on this show ALL THE TIME. Our compassion has only gotten greater with exposure through these shows.
They show firsthand why driving under the influence is a bad thing.
And so is lying to police.
We see clearly the dangers police face in even a routine traffic stop. Vividly.
They show us that police must contend with some of the craziest,most laughable excuses we could imagine for having weed on them. Or any drug. “I just bought these pants at Goodwill, someone must have left the cocaine in the pocket.” “Someone put the weed in my backpack before I dropped them off.” Laughable silly excuses.
They teach us that mental illness is a serious social problem. That addiction is as awful as we think it is. Maybe more awful.
And not to resist arrest.
Not to resist arrest–now that’s a big one. Because along with that, these shows teach us that an officer has a whole lot of influence over whether an interaction goes south or not.
She or he doesn’t own the interaction, of course, but it’s very clear that in many cases–not all, but many–how they react and act seriously influences what goes down.
Which is why I love Mayor DiBlasio of NYC and the actions being taken to retrain the NYPD from scratch. More on that in a minute.
Look, we know they’re reality TV cops, meaning they know they’re on film and they do what they can to come off well. Which is to say that a perp can drive without a license, take cops on a mighty chase through a city followed by a gasp-inducing long run through neighborhoods, and after the suspect is apprehended, instead of slamming the guy’s head into the ground, the cop calmly asks, “So why did you run?”
That would not be my first comment after that kind of chase. I’d slam his head into the ground. I’m sure some of these cops want to do just that. But they are on TV and so those who want to do that don’t. After all, PDs don’t want anything that’ll reflect badly. 30 years in PR–I get it.
The “correctional” cops we see on the program Jail are often good-humored and many seem to really care about what happens to their repeat offenders, especially those who are homeless and addicted. They are adept at handling difficult people with charm –until that no longer works and they have to get more serious.
But once in a while a regular cop gets through. One that pushes the perp up against a wall. That slams his head into the ground. And when they do, the comparison is jarring.
Ferguson, Florida, NYC–it’s all about the facts, the facts–but let’s get real–we have no idea what the facts really are in most of these cases. We saw an episode of Jail recently that illustrates how hard it is to get the facts across. Jail cops were taking someone out of a holding cell. Everyone was black, including the officers. The guy they were removing pulled away from the cops, which is considered an ‘aggressive action’ and the cops responded with force.
A few minutes later, the suspect admitted he had pulled away. But back in the holding cell “inmates” were grousing noisily that the force was unnecessary. “He didn’t do anything!” argued the other guys in the cell. The lead cop explained that even the suspect admitted he had pulled away, but it was hard to convince the group it was so. Remember, everyone was African-American, even the officer.
When there is no trust, there’s no benefit of the doubt. That lack of trust heavily influenced what the guys in the holding cell saw and didn’t see. They did not “see” the guy pull away from the cop. They just figured that the cop made it up. There’s a reason for that belief, too.
I don’t know what the grand jury heard in the Ferguson case, because we will never see the transcript. I don’t know how they would have felt about coming out with an indictment against a law enforcement officer, even if deserved. Or if borderline. I know what I thought I saw on the Garner tape, which was one of the toughest things I’ve ever watched.
They also said that the fact that he could say “I can’t breathe” meant he could. Technically, they’re right. At that moment he had enough breath to speak. But those were his last words, because his breath was then cut off completely. So that defense seems a stretch.
The officers involved said, too, that they feel alone and unsupported. Click HERE to check out this from a law enforcement website. This troubles me, because, while officers want the public to have an understanding of the challenges they face, they clearly do not have any understanding of how what went down came across to the rest of us. Or what it feels like to be profiled because you are black. Click HERE to read this piece I saw on Linked In by the black CEO of Kaiser Permanente. Don’t miss this one.
Which brings me to that ridiculous show of NYPD officers turning their backs on Mayor DiBlasio–even at officer funerals. Few black officers turned their backs, by the way. But the officers who did were having a knee-jerk response to The Mayor admitting the reality of being black in NYC. That reality was reflected in a white father’s comment that he felt the need to counsel his bi-racial son on how to behave if stopped by an officer. How that could be interpreted by some officers as lack of support for the NYPD is beyond me. But that’s how the union positioned it and is the position of officers I can only believe have not thought this through. Or who don’t want to think it through. Here’s reality:
Reuters interviewed 25 African American male officers on the NYPD, 15 of whom are retired and 10 of whom are still serving. All but one said that, when off duty and out of uniform, they had been victims of racial profiling, which refers to using race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of having committed a crime.
The officers said this included being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping. The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them.
Desmond Blaize, who retired two years ago as a sergeant in the 41st Precinct in the Bronx, said he once got stopped while taking a jog through Brooklyn’s upmarket Prospect Park. “I had my ID on me so it didn’t escalate,” said Blaize, who has sued the department alleging he was racially harassed on the job. “But what’s suspicious about a jogger? In jogging clothes?”
The NYPD and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the police officers’ union, declined requests for comment. However, defenders of the NYPD credit its policing methods with transforming New York from the former murder capital of the world into the safest big city in the United States.
Notice that the union declined comment. Uh-huh. This story didn’t fit their world view. But you know what? THIS is reality. Turn your back all you want, but it won’t change a thing.
Are officers now turning their backs on black officers who might say aloud that they’ve been profiled and then been slammed against a car? Or do they only have the “courage of their convictions” when it comes to the Mayor?
Officers who turn their backs are also turning a blind eye to the facts–and that stands in the way of any positive change. So no, I don’t respect NYPD officers who do that. I think they’re silly and worse than that, harmful to law enforcement, which I believe overall wants to do the right thing.
Click HERE to read an interview with an NYPD cop, anonymous, who blames NYPD’s inordinate number of profiling stops on the training provided under former Police Commissioner Kelly. He says it’s institutionalized.
The many issues in all these cases underscore the complexity of our societal problems. But they all point to the same thing: the need to build bridges, not tear them down. These back-turning officers? They’re tearing them down.
THIS is the atmosphere in which NYPD officers are going to be retrained. How well do you think that’s going to go for some of these resistant-to-reality guys?
But retraining is the right thing to do.
And if you don’t agree, spend some time–a whole lot of time–with the cop and jail reality shows, which give civilians a tiny taste of what seems to work. Because that’s the closest any of us are going to come to understanding what goes on in the street.
But don’t take my word for it. Or a TV show’s. The last word belongs to a good friend of mine who retired from a long career in law enforcement–both on the street and in management. Here’s what he says:
I managed the investigations of (more than a dozen) officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths and probably have as good a handle on the legalities and issues surrounding those events as anyone. I’ve been talking with some cops of late and tell them to cool their heals. Clearly the American public, and much of the media, don’t have a clue about criminal or civil law.
That said, there is definitely a divide between law enforcement and persons of color. It needs to be bridged. There are ways to try to do that without compromising police standards and the law. It’s going to take a big concerted and sustained outreach by cops throughout the nation. Many won’t want to do it and that’s all the reason for strong, ethics-based police leadership to do just that….. Lead.
I’m sure my opinions would be met by resistance by many cops who can’t see the proverbial trees through the forest. Change is coming. It just depends if the cops want to be part of the change. Get out in front of that which you are already behind, I say.