A Cop Apologist Apologizes

Peter Moskos was once a Baltimore cop, and has since turned his attention toward explaining the police perspective to the public because they just don’t get it.  He teaches at John Jay College of Coppery and Shoe Repair, and even served as guest blogger at Radley Balko’s Agitator, back when Radley was still a blogger and had yet to achieve international fame.

As a Princeton and Harvard (masters and Ph.D. in sociology) educated voice, Moskos is articulate and honest in his explanation of the cop perspective.  This is what he had to say at GQ following the Baltimore riots.

As a former cop, what were you thinking as you followed the riot? What’s easy to misunderstand if you’re not a cop?

You know, cops are put in this horrible position where they have to solve the problems of America that nobody wants to deal with. The same idiots who burned shit down Monday, they’re gonna be there today and tomorrow. The cops are always dealing with them, whether they’re burning things down or not. They’re always there.

I was speaking to a cop, a black guy from East Baltimore, and he’s like look, “Cops reflect where they work. Yeah they can be dicks, but that’s the neighborhood they’re working in. Whether they’re from there or not, they end up speaking the language of the ghetto.”

See? It’s not that cops aren’t “dicks,” but they’re forced to be because of those idiots. Which isn’t nearly as offensive a word as “those animals.”

You’ve policed the areas where violence broke out. What stays with you from your time on those particular streets?

One thing that sticks out from my time is how much all cops hate the ghetto. And that’s not a race thing. I think black cops are better at picking up the class nuances of the ghetto and defining it more about that than about geographic area. Some people want to make this a racial thing, I really think it’s a class issue. You have this underclass that has no education, no jobs, no experience outside of a four block radius. And we ignore it.

So it’s not just the idiots’ fault, but society’s?

The lack of adult structure for kids here is huge. The kids who are out there night after night, they have no parents. The thing that shocked me–and I’m not religious–but it was that none of the juveniles we’d arrest ever went to church. You don’t go to church if you don’t have a parent to take you to church. There wasn’t one churchgoer among the juveniles I arrested. The other thing was the isolation. I’d ask the juveniles if they ever left Baltimore. Maybe they went to the Inner Harbor once, maybe they visited their auntie on the west side. Their entire lives are in a five block radius. They’re raised on the streets by their friends.

If only the idiots vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard. Or went to church in Cambridge.

For cops not from that area, it’s so unbelievable. The lifestyle, the poverty, the crime that goes on there. And they feel that outsiders, particularly liberals and the media don’t really understand what cops have to deal with. They know things are fucked up, but we put cops in an impossible situation.

Because some magical political hand reaches down from the heavens and pulls the trigger on their Glock to shoot someone in the back?  Or reaches up their anus to force their mouths to utter the words, “fuck your breath”?

As Moskos draws upon his Ivy League education to explain, “cops are put in an impossible situation,” expected not to treat the idiots like animals. The job is so very hard.

We tell them to do the best they can, and then when an individual cop messes up, everybody blames the police.

Messes up?  Is that an official police phrase for killing unarmed black men, “messes up”?  And then a young man ends up, inexplicably, with a partially severed spine and crushed larynx, who should be blamed?  Maybe the cop who “messed up”?

And cops feel strangely victimized by this system–they’re put in the middle and used as political tools.

Some might view this not as being “put in the middle,” but rather doing the job for which they applied, were hired, trained and are paid.  Are they “political tools” when they use the word “fuck” in every citizen interaction, or randomly pick out a black kid to  toss against a wall?

Are they “political tools” when they mishandle their weapon and shoot some random black guy in a stairwell, or drive up on a 12-year-old and then say they had no choice but to kill him?  And does “political tool” mean they need to jump a guy on the street and bring him down with a chokehold because they don’t feel like spending the few minutes it would take to let him live?

Peter Moskos may be the smartest voice around to explain the police perspective on the difficulties of doing their job.  And his apology is pathetic and laughable.  Nobody forces a cop to kill an unarmed black guy.  Nobody forces a cop to think of the people he’s charged to protect and serve as idiots. They may be idiots or not, but they are still the people he’s duty bound to serve.

And if he can’t cut it without abusing, harming, killing the people, then maybe the cop should apply for a post at the John Jay College of Coppery and Shoe Repair, where he can commiserate with all the other ex-cops about what a hard job it is, serving the idiots.


35 thoughts on “A Cop Apologist Apologizes

  1. DaveL

    If we can’t hold the police accountable for abuse, brutality, even homicide because they’re forced into proximity with “idiots” with no parents, no education, and no jobs, how on earth do we justify holding those very same “idiots” accountable for THEIR actions?

  2. Bartleby the Scrivener

    We don’t blame the police when a single cop messes up. We blame the police when the police force responds by forming a Blue Wall and protects the actions of a criminal element in their ranks, tries to justify the criminal actions with garbage excuses, and gives a sarcastic yawn in response to citizen complaints.

    …and didn’t you know that “fuck your breath” is CopSpeak for, “Hey! A man’s been shot! Get off him or you’ll make it worse! Sir, please try to hold still so as not to exacerbate your injuries. We’ve called an ambulance and will get you to the hospital right away.”

  3. Dan

    Princeton and Harvard have some splainin’ to do.

    I’ve known people who have gone from cop to some other job, or some other job to cop, several of whom have been bright, well-educated people. At least when they talk about certain issues, they’re always cops, and it usually has something to do with, “you wouldn’t believe what goes on in the ghetto.” I’m not big on call for better training (if someone’s a sadistic jerk, training isn’t really the issue) but perhaps there is a real lack of training or preparation for police to deal with what they encounter on the streets, in the ghetto, etc.

    1. SHG Post author

      “Training” is the palliative solution for people who have a fetish for officialdom. Nobody trains cops to beat people for kicks, and cops don’t need to be trained not to. It’s total bullshit.

    2. John

      “you wouldn’t believe what goes on in the ghetto.”

      Once friends invited me to a picnic in a small park in what I later learned was the most crime-infested, violent ghetto in the city (Allied Drive neighborhood in Madison, WI). To me it looked like a park near some run-down apartments with kids at the playground, teens playing basketball, families having picnics… The cops said citizens were scared for their lives and would not answer their doors. I heard my friends and another person (independently) say the only problems were during police raids where the dealers scattered and the buyers had nowhere to go. The neighborhood was crawling with nervous, armed cops, nervous, armed dealers and nervous, often armed buyers so of course all the citizens ran inside and hid. Based on what the cops said, the cops don’t know what goes on in the ghetto.

      1. SHG Post author

        And your anecdote somehow is the paradigm for all parks in ghettos, both good and bad? Or did you think this was all about you?

        1. John

          I assume the people I know who lived there were experts on the neighborhood. What the cops were saying was wrong based on the statements of the actual experts: the people who lived there and said the cops who showed up every few weeks for drug raids were full of malarkey (malarkey was not the word they used). Notice that I cited people who lived there and gave a neighborhood for anyone who wants to bother researching what the cops said about the neighborhood. Want a time frame and sources to verify? I won’t dox the residents who told me, but the picnic was in the summer of 1997. The people I knew who lived there were there at various times spanning 1996 to 2006. The cops made those statements to the Wisconsin State Journal in 2000.

          Nope. I am no expert. I only know what the experts tell me. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe the cops knew the neighborhood better than the residents. Maybe that was an extraordinary case and cops are usually right about other neighborhoods in other cities. After all, I rarely hear cops make verifiable claims about specific neighborhoods where I know some residents who do not know each other and can tell me what they think is really going on.

          1. SHG Post author

            It doesn’t matter if they were right or wrong, or you’re an expert or not. Your anecdote illuminated nothing, and still illuminates nothing, that bears on the post. Everyone in the world has a story. Yours isn’t any more special than anyone else’s. If you feel some need to tell it, go to reddit. Not here. That’s the point.

            And if you respond to explain why you wrote the comment or why it matters, I will trash your comment. It’s done.

            1. bacchys

              His anecdote was a counter to Moskos’s more vague anecdotal evidence that police “know” the ghetto.

      2. Andrew

        Oh cool, you went to a ghetto park once, so now you’re an expert who has to make sure everyone knows his personal story.

        1. Jack

          What’s worse, is the “ghetto” he is talking about is a regular working class neighborhood with a few cheap-ish apartment complexes between nice condos less than a mile from my apartment. I walk my dog through that neighborhood several times a week and I’ve yet to be shot…

          Maybe his friend who lives in a $300,000 condo is just pissed there are apartments across the street where the blacks live so he calls it the scary, violent “ghetto”. There are a few semi-bad areas in Madison, this isn’t one of them, and it isn’t even Madison – it’s Fitchburg…

          1. John

            Allied Drive uses the Madison post office and is listed as Madison in the directories. Based on the maps I saw, Allied Drive is in Madison with Fitchburg east, wet and south and Madison north. And, no, they were not living in expensive condos. One couple was living in low-rent apartments too small to host a dinner party (hence the picnic). Another one lived for a year just off one of the dealing corners (they could see deals from their front door) and moved up the street the next year to a better apartment and was happy that their kids were no longer seeing dealers every day. Another man’s sister lived there, although I don’t know where exactly.

            Maybe it went “working class” since I left Madison in 2005, but it was not considered working class at the time. It was the lowest rent in town.

  4. Kyle W

    If you’d read more of what Moskos says, you’d find he’s actually in line with you on pretty much all of those incidents. He says that shooting the fleeing guy in the back is indefensible. He said that driving up on a 12-year-old was a mistake (although not a criminal one). He’s far from a cop apologist. In fact he’s pretty level-headed.

    1. SHG Post author

      No, he’s not. Not at all. Mosko’s sees no institutional, systemic or cultural fault on the part of the cops, but only one-off outliers that reflect no larger failing. So no, he’s not “actually in line” with me at all, but plays foolish people who can’t grasp the critical distinctions and desperately want to believe it’s all “one bad apple,” that there is no “cop problem,” but just an idiot problem.

  5. Alex Bunin

    No dispute that it is a hard job, but “impossible”? If that is true how is it even moral to go to work? Do you just accept that you will “mess up” and kill others? [Sorry, I’m into rhetorical questions today].

  6. John Barleycorn

    I think David Simmon’s piece over at the Marshall Project gives the best Baltimore specific policing perspective that I have read this far.

    Peter needs to listen to Message by Grand Master Flash again and report back on why you shouldn’t have to travel out of the neighborhood to enjoy some refreshments and break bread with the neighbors on a May Day especially one that falls on a Friday.

    I am off to see the wizard though. Someone has to see if he is up to the task of implanting subliminal bygone historical context, sharing little leaps of consciousness, and blessing all the young leaderless “hooligans” with eternal early parole fairy dust.

    You never know, one of these May Days they may need all the help they can get when the scouts from urban reservations from coast to coast start connecting the dots on the ride home.

      1. John Barleycorn

        LOL! If you don’t like Neil’s resume you should take him out for beers and head butts one of these days.

        Don’t let him pick the bar.

        1. SHG Post author

          First, my issue isn’t with Neil’s resume, but the pomposity with which he started his gig. Second, he’s a bigshot. He should take me out.

          1. John Barleycorn

            Good point he should. And I hope he does.

            You should still pick the bar though.

            You never know which way pomposity will go with beers and head butts.

      2. Richard G. Kopf


        Thanks to you and Mr. Barleycorn for the reference to David Simmon’s piece. Setting aside the biases that he (and all of us) rely upon, his explanations and insights helped this dumb German from flyover country better understand the origins of the behavior of the police in Baltimore. All the best.


  7. John Barleycorn

    Looks like State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has a slightly different take on what constitutes an apology.

    1. John Barleycorn

      It will be interesting to see what PBA’s across the nation will have to say about the memo delivered today, by a prosecutor born in the first year of the millennia generation, on the courthouses steeps in Baltimore.

      May Day 2015 might just go down in the history books as a turning point.

      RIP Freddie Gray

        1. John Barleycorn

          Good thing State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby didn’t forget to mention that the knife was folded and not of the illegal variety as well as pointing out that the arrest in and of itself was illegal. But what does she know!

          As Gene Ryan from Baltimore’s Fraternal order of Police points out its a tough job diligently balancing their obligations to protect the Mr. Grays of the world and discharge their duties to protect the public.

          But if the Mr. Grays of the world aren’t members of the public who are they Gene?

          I assume Gene is looking for some sympathy play and would like the general public to be clear that the Mr. Grays of the world are “criminals” and not of the public

          1. SHG Post author

            You may want to note a certain portion of the letter, that part where Gene points out that Mosby’s husband’s political career might suffer. You know, “nice husband you got there, Ms. Mosby. Shame if anything was to happen to him.”

            1. John Barleycorn

              I cant even begin to imagine the conversations that are taking place high and low within every political and private circle throughout Baltimore today.

              Lets hope some of those circles cross and the conversation expands while calm heads prevail as justice is done.

              It’s simple really, says so on your banner esteemed one…

            2. BillyBob

              BalltiMORE heading towards the new DeeTroit; i.e., in the toilet. Yea, yea, yea. Never liked that Baltim0re accent anyhow! It grates on me BigTime. Did Edgar Allan P0e talk like that? I don’t think so! FifthyDelphia also claims co-ownership: Same accent! Another city they should drop a bomb on. Been therre, done that. We trust they will be able to figure these things out, but are no holding our breaths.
              More of the same ol’, same ol’ in all probability. Arrest, arrest, incarcerate and keep the *wheels of justice* in motion.

            3. Patrick Maupin

              Yeah, it’s pretty amazing that would be in a letter that is bound to be made public. IMO, de Blasio has a lot to answer for, and not just to New Yorkers. Every time some high-ranking official knuckles under to this sort of crap, it validates the technique and makes it that much harder for the next official. Let’s hope Mosby has de Blasio missing balls.

  8. Pingback: Freddie Gray’s Bad Arrest And Still Dead | Simple Justice

    1. SHG Post author

      As long as we’re playing true fact, the salient detail was that it was in New Jersey.

      That is all.

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