One mother failed her child, for which a cop gets blamed. One mother loved her child, for which cops get blamed. If you squint hard enough, believe hard enough, deny hard enough and grasp tightly the vision of a future where unicorns, left to their own devices, will merrily prance on rainbows rather than pull out a gun in the Disneyfied Times Square and shoot three random tourists, including a 4-year-old, maybe you can believe this is all the product of externalities. Nothing one does is one’s fault. There is no choice. No agency. No responsbility. What use is government if it can’t protect you from yourself, you friends, your mother?
And what use is government if it can’t protect you from itself?
A line in Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson’s “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” warns: “Them that don’t know him won’t like him.” As a retired law-enforcement professional, it deeply saddens me to witness how my former profession suddenly finds itself in similar straits — reviled, the object of scorn and derision.
Dangerous tropes abound. False narratives proliferate. Bigotry and intolerance are suddenly acceptable, so long as the target wears a blue uniform.
This comes from former head of the New York FBI, James Gagliano, who concludes that he wouldn’t encourage his children to grow up to be cops. This is just as well for all involved if one subscribes to the apple never falls far from the tree theory. The problem is that we’re at a bad place, a stupid place, a counterproductive place for cops, and it was cops like Gagliano whose inane defense of cops no matter what, attacks on anyone criticizing cops, put us here.
The other day, a cop with whom I’ve sometimes endured, other times enjoyed, an ongoing conversation for many years, made an admission to me. He told me I was right.
For years, I challenged cop culture, the myriad self-serving beliefs that whatever they did, it was justified. The outrageous callousness. The premature leap to violence in the name of self protection. The use of force due to impatience and because they could get away with it. I was that crazy reformer cops hated. I was that guy to whom PBA president Pat Lynch was speaking when he said, “if you don’t like the way cops handle things, next time you’re in trouble, call a criminal.” I called bullshit.
I argued for years that cop culture had to change, that cops could not persist in their isolation from the rest of society where they were entitled to abuse their authority, to treat people like dirt, to be as vicious as they wanted to be and to lie about all of it. Cop brass saw the problem and need for change, but rank and file cops believe that the brass were co-opted by the politicians and lost touch with life on the streets. They lived in the gutter. They knew what they face. The brass didn’t.
No one who wasn’t a cop understood. I was constantly told I didn’t understand. The pundits didn’t understand. The politicians didn’t understand. The reformers didn’t understand. Nobody understood except other cops, and so cops didn’t have to listen to anyone. And they didn’t.
I warned them that if things didn’t change, and change dramatically, it was all going to fall apart. My interlocutor told me I was wrong then. But since then, things have changed. The loss of respect, of public cooperation, of any appreciation for what they do well even if they do a lot that demands criticism, is gone with a wide swathe of the public. Enough so that even a guy like Gagliani claims he wouldn’t want his kids to be cops.
Just ask LeBron James, who boasts almost 50 million Twitter followers: Even when a cop rightly used deadly force to prevent one 16-year-old girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, from stabbing another, he tweets that the officer should be held “accountable” and even the threat “You’re next.”
We have lost our collective capacity to view fatal police shootings through an objective prism. They all get lumped together, justified or not. The Floyd case put the entire nation on trial as indelibly racist. Yet the reckoning is itself based on a biased narrative.
Gagliani is right that the “reckoning” is based on a biased narrative. All cops are not bastards, although any cop could be a bastard at any given time. The same cop who will save a kitty stuck up a tree will toss some black kid against a wall and beat him to teach him who’s boss. But Gagliani isn’t right enough to make his point, not by a long shot.
Due process for police? Passé. Presumption of innocence? Police are guilty before they can be tried — guilty even before the clips of body-cam footage are posted.
I’m all for due process, even for police. I’m all for presumption of innocence, even for police. I’m all for withholding tentative judgment until the body-cam footage is disclosed. But for all Gagliani’s whining about the poor suffering police, he’s never expressed those otherwise reasonable sentiments toward anyone who isn’t a cop. He doesn’t love due process, or the presumption of innocence, or even withholding conclusions of guilt until the evidence is gathered and assessed. He loves cops.
But are his antagonists’ rationalizations any different than Gagliani’s? ACAB? Defund and abolish? If there were no cops, would our world be safer, happier, better?
Ms. Sinclair has spent the past 25 years working with Seattle’s at-risk youth and the homeless, so she says the way her son died “felt like a stab in the back.” Weeping on the phone, she says: “As a mother, I’m dying. As a community leader, I’m trying to rebuild strength.” The authorities’ failure haunts her: “I know my son needed the police at that time, and my son needed the paramedics. Why we would ever have an event where there was no police available? That’s lawless.”
Mrs. Sinclair’s son, Horace Lorenzo Anderson Jr., went to check out Seattle’s CHAZ, where the police were ordered to stay out.
He never came home. “Evidently it wasn’t so peaceful,” his mother, Donnitta Sinclair, says.
We need cops. Better cops. More honest cops. Less violent cops. Smarter cops. But without cops, it’s “lawless” and that can’t work either.