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.