• author
    • Kelvin Wade

    • April 12, 2015 in Columnists

    Captain Obvious, we know all cops aren’t bad

    It seems that every time there’s an incident of a white cop killing a black man or some controversial incident involving law enforcement, it never fails that self-appointed do-gooders race to their computers, phones and tablets to post or tweet things on social media to the effect of “Not all officers are racists.” Or they post stories about police officers kissing babies and rescuing puppies. And if a black person posts something defending police it quickly goes viral and is revered like it’s a friggin’ tablet brought down from the mountain from God. Get over yourselves!

    Is the bar really that freaking low? When a Catholic priest molests little boys do people need to be told that not all priests molest boys? When an NFL player beats his wife are there people who believe that every single NFL player beats their spouse? Even the military, which we hold in high esteem second only to Jesus Christ, has scumbags who rape other soldiers. Aberrant behavior in those we admire shocks us precisely because it’s not the norm.

    But any time a controversial incident happens regarding police, Captain Obvious is going to be on the case reassuring us that most police aren’t doing this.

    Life is about complexity and nuance. I’d like to believe I live in a country where even glassy-eyed, slack-jawed mouth-breathers don’t have to be told something that would be obvious to a child.

    This is a straw man argument. There’s no one seriously advancing the idea that all police officers are racists and will shoot unarmed people like it’s deer season. Proving that not all cops are bad adds absolutely nothing to what happened in the Eric Garner or Walter Scott case, among many others.

    These shootings and claims of police brutality are too important to lose in a haze of phony rah-rah sentiment. The Justice Department’s recent investigation into the Ferguson Police Department exposed problems with how the department treated minority residents. So racial profiling and bias is a legitimate area of inquiry in some departments. But one thing that’s often overlooked is heavy-handed policing is often less a problem of black and white as it is a problem of blue solidarity. After all, minority cops have been involved in police brutality cases, too.

    In a recent viral video from San Bernardino County a white man, Francis Pusok, fled sheriff’s deputies on horseback. After falling off the horse, he’s tased and lays spread-eagle on the ground. The first deputy to reach him kicks him in the head while the next one kicks him in the groin. The deputies keep punching and kicking. Overall, he was kicked 17 times, punched 37 times and struck with a baton four times. Ten deputies have been suspended pending an investigation.

    Why do so many cops look the other way when their fellow officers are breaking the law? The same snitches get stitches mentality that infects gang members and street criminals often rears its head among law enforcement in the blue code of silence. Plenty of good cops allow bad cops to get away with behavior that causes mistrust between the police and the policed.

    In one study involving over 2,700 officers in 21 states, nearly half admitted they’d concealed misconduct they’d witnessed!

    We know police do a dangerous, often thankless job. We all know that most do a good job. Duh. But when some screw up we need to take an unflinching look at their actions because we put the safety and protection of the public in their hands.

    There is a constructive conversation to be had. We can check the data and see if the anecdotal evidence that police escalate to deadly force more quickly with minorities is, in fact, the truth. Maybe better training is necessary. It’s pretty well known on the streets that if you run from the police and they catch you, your odds of catching a beating are high. Go on YouTube and you can see video after video of police chasing a suspect and beating him when they catch him. Why is that? Also, as I mentioned earlier, officers witnessing bad behavior on the part of fellow officers need to step in. In many of these videotaped beatings there are other officers just standing around watching. That’s not protecting or serving.

    Likewise, when African-American parents are having the talk with their kids, we have to make sure we’re telling kids to be courteous, compliant and not combative when stopped by police. I would never think of running from the police because it usually doesn’t end well. Running makes you look guilty of something. When stopped by police one’s behavior needs to be calm and cooperative.

    But highlighting good cops when confronted with evidence of bad ones proves nothing. There’s no need to point out the obvious because for that tiny fraction of the population that might actually believe that every single cop is George Zimmerman with a badge there’s no convincing them otherwise.

    When police screw up, let’s investigate it, hold the people involved accountable and make policing better. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt that we know all cops aren’t bad.

      • Madgew

      • April 12, 2015 at 8:08 am
      • Reply

      Always great commentary Kelvin.

        • Kelvin

        • April 12, 2015 at 5:52 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you.

    • Excellent column, Kelvin. Yet can there be a “good” cop witnessing a “bad” one? Wouldn’t that just be two bad ones? The study of nearly 50% of 2,700 cops in 21 states admitting to witnessing “bad” cops is equally troubling. How often do “good” cops enable the bad ones? Is there anyone who believes that Officer Slager would not be in jail if it were not for Feidin Santana’s three minute cell video? What is significant in the Walter Scott murder is that Santana, from the Dominican Republic, was AFRAID to leave it with the police and left. He also thought about erasing it. I think America is in deep denial.

        • Kelvin

        • April 12, 2015 at 6:00 pm
        • Reply

        I thought about the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cop thing while writing it. I’m not prepared to label them all bad. What it does point to is a culture of looking the other way. It’s eerie how this parallels gangs. Police often complain about a lack of witnesses coming forward yet a cop reporting a partner is way too rare. I know it’s the fight you are waging. That’s the only way to change the culture: make it too costly to remain silent and not intervene. And what makes this even harder is it’s a top down phenomenon. There’s no upside for an officer to report his fellow officers. It’s a sorry state of affairs.

      • Maya North

      • April 12, 2015 at 5:48 pm
      • Reply

      Beautifully written and absolutely true! They get away with it every freaking time, it seems — and now they’re debating whether to allow people to film what cops are doing. Um…a) freedom of speech and b) gag truth-tellers and it’s ever more license for cops to do anything they want. I would add one piece of advice to what black parents should (sadly) have to tell their kids — “Don’t SWEAR!” I see these people arrested and it’s M-F this and M-F that. One thing to remember is that language like that, especially in white culture, is seen as provoking and almost violently disrespectful. If you’re trying to keep the peace, say “What’re you M-Fing doing to me?” is going to trigger them. Training people on how not to be ravaged by the cops is pretty much the exact equivalent of teaching women how not to be raped. It’s the responsibility of cops not to be monsters — and to stop other cops when they see it happening just like it’s the responsibility of men not to rape and to stop other men from being monsters. In the meantime, however, I am desolated to admit that survival is key…

        • Kelvin

        • April 12, 2015 at 6:12 pm
        • Reply

        Yes, that’s what I meant when I said to be courteous. But it’s hard because often the cop is using that kind of language. “Get your fucking hands up, Junior!” is what the officer said to my friend Dwayne who was the driver, Dwayne told him what his name was but the cop kept calling him junior before ordering him out of the car. And the threat he made before letting Dwayne get out would’ve been laughable if we didn’t think the guy was unhinged. “Put your fucking hands on the dashboard!” He yelled at me. Cops know they’re not dealing with country club trust fund kids on the street. And they know that disrespecting someone is not a recipe for cooperation. And being disrespected in minority cultures can get one killed. But still we all remained calm. It wasn’t the last time I’ve had my hands up in the car. Veteran officers often know how to deescalate tension. My goal has always been to make it safely through the interaction. I go into Eddie Haskell mode every time.

          • Maya North

          • April 14, 2015 at 9:13 pm

          As a former juvenile institution inmate, I do the whole Eddie Haskell thing, too. It works. It’s kind of ridiculous for middle aged white woman me to react that way, but old habits die hard. Still, I know damn good and well I won’t likely be killed. Thing about the swearing is THEY may be doing it, but the people they’re targeting really shouldn’t.

    • Terrific column, Kelvin!

    • AMEN, Kelvin.

    • Kevin, I understand everything you are saying but you are missing one important point. No one is calling for the killing of priests or NFL players. No one is shutting down roads and holding up signs that say F*** the NFL. The reaction toward the police is much stronger and more prone to violence. THAT is why people feel the need to reinforce the good police. The media shows the bad instances of policing much more frequently than the good. The bad goes viral, the good does not. It’s a natural instinct to want to counter it.

      You said it yourself “you can see video after video of police chasing a suspect and beating him when they catch him”. Only recently have people begun posting the videos of police doing good. You also called it a “a haze of phony rah-rah sentiment”, that is exactly why people are doing it. It’s not phony to them, but obviously it is to you. It’s something they care deeply about, it’s people they love and you are ridiculing them for wanting to add some positive to the onslaught of negative publicity.

      Speaking of Captain Obvious, there are problems within the infrastructure. To claim otherwise would be bogus, no matter how much training you provide, each officer comes to the table with emotions, baggage, bias, and weakness, just like every other human. There will always be instances of abuse, we need to find a better way to handle these things than trial by media. As long as the continued, inflammatory coverage persists, people whose lives are touched by police officers will continue to “highlight good cops” because no one else is doing it.

        • Kelvin W.

        • April 14, 2015 at 11:19 am
        • Reply

        Hello. Thank you for your response. First, my name is Kelvin, not Kevin. You said that no one is calling for the killing of priests who molest children or saying, “Fuck the NFL!” but that’s just not borne out by reality. People routinely call for the execution of pedophiles. And I’m confident that those same outraged people wouldn’t make an exception for priests who rape kids. Now of course the majority of priests aren’t molesting children. But how does that fact mitigate what the bad priests have done and the church’s response to it? It doesn’t. One has nothing to do with the other. There has been outrage at the NFL this past season like never before. There was a lot of “Fuck the NFL” sentiment out there. Concussions, domestic violence, rape, murder…And again, the majority of players aren’t doing those things and in fact are doing a lot for their communities but the public wants to know, “What are you doing about these problems?” But if your argument is that the “media” focuses more on negative stories about police than positive, welcome to journalism in America. The Catholic church and the NFL can make the same claim. Man bites dog is a story because it isn’t the norm. “Cop shoots fleeing man in the back” is a big story because we know the overwhelming majority of cops don’t do that.
        Of course police bring their baggage with them to the job. They bring their biases and life experiences like everyone else but that’s no excuse for breaking the law. No one is forced to be a police officer. Criminals often have horrible early years and experiences that help propel then to a life of crime but they’re responsible for their behavior. No one gets a pass.

        Despite the protesters the public stands behind police and why wouldn’t they? They’re the thin blue line between us and anarchy. We know the public backs police because of how rare it is for police to be brought up on charges let alone convicted. When police say you’re not seeing what you think you’re seeing on a video the majority are willing to buy it. There’s an instinctive trust of law enforcement and that’s not a bad thing. (The black community is skewed by a different history of law enforcement where police have been the enforcers of Jim Crow and oppression. Minorities often see heavier handed policing and sometimes experience brutality that no one believes until there’s video. And sometimes that isn’t enough.) That phony rah rah sentiment is Fox News turning every incident into a political us vs. them. It’s people setting up GoFundMe accounts for officers before they know the facts. It’s the public’s willingness to see the Rodney King beating tape and buy the argument that your eyes aren’t seeing what you think you’re seeing. It’s the police that always get the benefit of the doubt because, honestly, the victims in bad police shootings or brutality cases aren’t usually sympathetic people. And the majority is willing to dampen its enthusiasm for justice when the victim is young black guy that they’d be afraid of on the street. That’s just the reality.
        I knew writing this column would meet resistance and make people uncomfortable and that’s okay with me.

    • Back in my psychology student days, I remember learning that the personality traits of cops and criminals are strikingly similar. Maybe the key is detecting what flips the switch toward obeying the law or breaking it, and filtering those applicants out of the police academies.

        • Kelvin W.

        • April 14, 2015 at 11:30 am
        • Reply

        Just read a fascinating book called “The Psychopath Whisperer” by Dr. Kent Kiehl. Kiehl has interviewed hundreds of psychopaths and scanned their brains in an fMRI. He’s found that psychopaths have an anemic paralimbic system in their brain and they can even see it in children. (Though, they never label kids or teens as psychopaths because it could set up a self fulfilling prophecy). The problem is not all psychopaths become criminals or are violent. It’s stunning because usually we’re more lenient in society of people with diminished capacity and psychopaths’ brains are not like everyone elses and it appears they’re born this way. Their upbringing can shape which direction they go.

        I digressed. I think more training is necessary. It’s completely human that if you see a suspect run over a fellow officer and you’re chasing that suspect and you catch him, the adrenaline is pumping and you’re pissed off. It’s at that moment that bad things can happen. It’s hard to train officers to not respond in the way anyone would want to respond. But the way I see it, if we can train police dogs to ignore a steak flung at them by a fleeing suspect (and they’re trained that way. I saw a tape of someone throwing food at a police dog and the dog ignored it. My Beagles could’ve NEVER been trained to do that. LOL) then we can train officers not to cross the line.

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