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Officially Sanctioned Hippie Punching

[ 43 ] December 6, 2014 |

Just because you are a police officer doesn’t automatically mean you support the racist killing of black people by your co-workers. There are some Bunny Colvin types out there. Including in St. Louis. But the official disapproval of standing with people fighting against racist law enforcement officials is really strong. In the protests over Eric Garner’s murder going unpunished, a single fire fighter in Providence appeared before the protests in a window and raised his fist in solidarity. This was filmed. He was punished while the firefighters openly mocking the protestors were not. Providence journalist Steve Ahlquist is responsible for the coverage. He’s sad and angry that it led to the punishment of the firefighter.

Commissioner Paré recognized the humanity of the action immediately. It was the sincerity of the gesture and the humanity expressed that made a silhouette with raised fist so dangerous. For the system to work, one side must be strong, powerful and monolithic and the other side must be weak, compliant and diverse. When the strong show tenderness and tolerance or the weak demonstrate strength and solidarity, the system strains to breaking, and punishments must be meted out.

I feel sad that my footage has caused the firefighter censure and official punishment. Commissioner Paré says the firefighter should have remained neutral, but were the disdainful looks or dismissive chuckles of other figures in the windows neutral? Dismissive attitudes also lack neutrality, yet it never occurred to me or the protesters to note such attitudes, because they are common. It seems neutrality is only neutral when it serves those in power.

If in the future I film police officers at protests laughing or taking a dismissive attitude towards the activists, will Commissioner Paré take them to task for their lack of neutrality? Perhaps the police should wear helmets to hide their emotions and mask their humanity. No one can see the tears of a stormtrooper as the trigger is squeezed.

Neutrality über alles.

If this kind of enforced anti-protestor mentality exists among firefighters, imagine the peer pressure among the police.

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  • Warren Terra

    See Also:

    Indiana Police Dept Mocks Eric Garner Protests With ‘#WeCanBreathe’ Tweet

    • gmack

      Also, some of the good (white) folks in Rochester–one of the most segregated cities in the U.S., mind you–decided that this weekend would be a good time for a “We love the police!” rally.

  • trollhattan

    Isn’t it an astonishing coincidence the only government employees with wingnut support are now basically required to act like their wingnut admirers?

    • Pat

      They saw what happened to the other guys.

  • Anon21

    Just because you are a police officer doesn’t automatically make you opposed to the racist killing of black people by your co-workers.

    I think you mean this the other way around: it doesn’t automatically mean you support racist killing by your co-workers.

    • Er, yes.

      • KarenJo12

        I’m afraid your original language was correct more often than not.

      • Pat

        I suppose that the question is whether cops who don’t support killing members of the public for petty crimes are involved in training the other cops or other higher-level positions, or whether they have to keep their attitude to themselves for their own safety.

  • Tehanu

    A good friend of mine who lives in Richmond (CA) posted this on Facebook today. It seems it’s not totally hopeless to expect the police to behave like members of the community instead of an occupying army.

    • joe from Lowell

      There are models out there of good policing. They need to get more attention, if only to shoot down the argument that there is no alternative to the occupying army model.

      • ScarsdaleVibe

        to shoot down

        Er, maybe not the best choice of words.

        I myself have an unfortunate subconscious tendency toward inappropriate wordplay. Way back in law school I absentmindedly used the phrase “burning desire” when called on about an arson case.

  • Tom in BK

    I have a couple of cops in my extended family. The litany of self-pitying Facebook posts from one in particular has been galling, and arguing with him (whoops, shouldn’t have had that much to drink!) brought out all of his buddies on the force to defend the shitheels who killed Eric Garner. It was an unsettling, if not entirely unexpected, experience.

    These are Boston cops, not NYC cops. But cops are cops, and the tribalism is real, it’s scary, and it’s dangerous.

    • ScarsdaleVibe

      #notallcops

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        #notalldogs are rabid, either.

    • Thlayli

      Blue Wall, yo.

      All of them enforce the Blue Wall, because they never know when they’ll need it around them. The last thing they want is to find themselves with a dead body at their feet and the other cops saying “he didn’t back up Pantaleo, fuck him, let him hang.”

      • Pat

        I can see that as a reason, but it presumes that they know they shouldn’t be killing people, or that they feel they could be putting themselves at risk by killing people. I’m not sure that their understanding of this is at that level.

        Does anyone know how much this could contribute to the problem?

        • DocAmazing

          Among physicians, there has traditionally been an ethos of not speaking ill of another physician, yet we monitor each other pretty closely (and if you doubt that, go to your local hospital and quiz them about their credentialling process and ongoing monitoring of physician performance). It’s tempting, of course, to credit that to the threat of liability and the surplus of malpractice attorneys, but cops get sued and it does not seem to slow them down–because they aren’t personally liable, I suppose.

          Docs have to register with the feds (DEA), the state (state medical boards), and, if they’re going to claim any knowledge of their trade apart from “I know which end of teh stethoscope goes in my ears”, an Academy or College and a specialty board, as well as Medicare, insurers, and a number of public/private entities and registries. Cops, as far as I know, are locally certified and may belong to a federal registry, and that’s about it. Seems like tighter federal monitoring would be called for. That would probably increase accountability; it sure has for docs.

    • UncleEbeneezer

      I got into it wit some ex-cops a month or so ago on FB. Ugh. The Us/Them, Guilty Until Proven Otherwise and Respect My Authoritay mindset is so entrenched that they couldn’t even fathom another view or the idea that anyone should be allowed to criticize police. And of course even if such discussions were permitted anyone who hasn’t walked-a-beat would be automatically excluded it (and even former cops who think reform is needed are suspect simply for holding that view.) The patronizing and even bullying attitude I encountered was enough to make me exit the conversation pretty fast. I know #notallcops and all that but man, reading the comments at policeone only reinforces just how prevalent this attitude is in the law enforcement community.

      • Hogan

        How many cops does it take to change a light bulb?

        “You don’t know! You’re not out there every day!”

    • Origami Isopod

      Oh, I have a friend who was in Occupy who could tell you aaaalllll about the Boston cops…

  • keta

    I dunno, knowing both firefighters and policepeople in my life and hearing stories from each faction has led me to believe the herd mentality runs deep in both camps. It’s the “us against them” dynamic that bonds folks working in hazardous professions. And in my experience misogyny is more marked with the smoke-eaters.

    • ScarsdaleVibe

      These days it’s mostly perceived danger. Which is not to say that there are *no* risks inherent in being a cop, but they do sound like emo kids when they play the well worn “putting my life on the line every day” guilt trip card. Put it back in the deck, I say.

      • cpinva

        “These days it’s mostly perceived danger.”

        this. when you’re taught, from your first day at police school, that any contact with non-police persons can be fatal, then the presumption that you’re always in danger when on the job is no great surprise. it turns out that the Geneva conventions provide more protection to civilians in a war zone, than those same civilians can expect from contact with non-military police, who aren’t governed by the laws of war. this should be, at minimum, unsettling to the rest of us.

        • JL

          I’ve helped with diversity trainings of sorts for police officers at the small private university, located in a low-crime neighborhood, where I am a graduate student. The police there, many of whom have never policed anywhere else, spout the same sentiment. I have had them become overwrought at the mild suggestion that there might be ways in which they could interact better with LGBTQ students and start talking about how the entire training is an attack on them and how every day when they go to work their number-one goal is just to get home alive. I’m not sure the university has ever had a case of one of its officers being injured on the job by another person.

          • DocAmazing

            Not to make light of the subject, but who’s teaching these cops to be such drama freaks?

            • ScarsdaleVibe

              I bet there’s some great anthropological work on this question. I wonder if Aimai knows of any.

            • keta

              In the US, my guess is popular culture. Isn’t it the drama that attracts many of them in the first place?

              Here in Canada it seems to be more about a career choice that offers an opportunity to see the country while you make a solid income. RCMP candidates now need an undergraduate degree to be considered for the force. The lack of a gun fetish here precludes cowboys/girls getting a boner for a badge.

        • ScarsdaleVibe

          Yeah, the military comparison is a depressing one. I think I read a statistic somewhere that cops are more likely to die in a car accident (not in a dramatic LA car chase, your quotidian car accident) than a shootout with a scaryblackman. Or anyone. Truck drivers face more danger. Construction workers. If truck drivers, for example, protested for higher wages or better hours and said that they “put their life on the line” every day, I’d say fuck yeah you do! Statistically one of the most dangerous professions.

          There are some damn shitty places to be a cop, but the United States isn’t fucking Iraq.

          • Jackov

            Not exactly. If you combine car accidents (which includes pursuit, responding to calls and just driving around) with officers being killed by other drivers (generally when they are involved in a traffic stops) it is close to the number of cops killed by a felon with a gun at ~55/year.

            Many more truck drivers(~650)die on the job than police officers but they are also responsible for about 1800 deaths per year as well.

            • njorl

              In 2013, 27 officers were killed in homicides, 77 in accidents. Officers killed 1300+ civilians (only ~400 were reported to the FBI despite reporting being mandatory).

              This works out to a homicide victim rate for police of about 3.4 per 100,000. The rate for the general public is 4.3 per 100,000.

              Of course, the homicide rate for the general public is inflated by people who engage in dangerous activities that get them murdered, like selling drugs or becoming pregnant.

              • Jackov

                Reporting officer involved deaths to the FBI is not mandatory hence the official data drastically under counts civilian deaths at the hands of the police. The WSJ estimates the FBI data only captures 45% of all officer involved deaths even for the 105 largest departments that voluntarily report.

                I used the ten year average (2003-13) for officer deaths in both traffic accidents and gun homicides which was ~55/year. The low for gun homicides was 30 in 2013 and the high was 69 in 2011.

      • keta

        I hear what you’re saying, but the “us against them” mentality I refer to isn’t just about getting shot at or risking your life in a burning building. The mentality is strengthened in hundreds of ways, including scraping dead bodies off roadways, dealing with people fucked up on any manner of drug and/or drink or mental health issues, and otherwise consistently dealing with shit that isn’t functioning the way it should.

        • Origami Isopod

          That mentality contributes in its own limited way to the fucked-up-ness of society.

          If the social safety net were better, if public transit were more widespread, if there were more jobs, etc. etc., there would be less of these sorts of things for cops to deal with. Police response is not what causes the starving of social services and so forth, but police response to poor people, black/brown people, etc. can certainly aggravate the effects of terrible public policy.

          I haven’t read the Linda Tirano discussion yet, but think of cops having the cars of poor people towed away for broken lights and other things they can’t afford to fix, leaving them with no way to get to work.

    • Pat

      It’s the “us against them” dynamic that bonds folks working in hazardous professions.

      That’s an interesting observation. Do you think it also applies to nurses? I’ve always thought that the tow-truck guy who gets out on the freeway to hook up your car had to be a little maniacal to walk around in traffic every day. But in these professions, maybe mishaps are seen more as accidents.

      I think that firefighters and police officers are part of the authority structure more than nurses and tow-truck guys. That would certainly lead to more of an “us against them” mentality. The TV reality shows that follow cops around and show the public as subhuman probably don’t help.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        hasn’t pretty much *everything* turned into an “us vs them” situation?

      • keta

        I think it applies to many, many cohorts; certainly many nurses and other health management professionals, who do deal with dramatic events on a regular basis.

  • efgoldman

    Commissioner Paré says the firefighter should have remained neutral

    Yeah, nobody on the force seemed to mind a whole lot when they picketed the mayor’s house when they didn’t like the contract they were offered.
    I respect police and firefighters generally for the dangerous jobs they do. And I am generally supportive of unions, even of government employees. But the public safety unions lost me in the 80s when they swung to supporting Ronaldus Magnus and Bush1 even after Reagan broke the air controllers.

  • scott_theotherone

    This shouldn’t be underemphasized, since it kneecaps a key argument sure to be brought up:

    Since then, violent crime in the city has plunged, no officers have been shot, and no suspects have been killed by officers’ bullets.

  • smeneely

    “Three cheers for the man who shot Frick!”

  • Dallas

    Tank man vs. tank commander.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    way the hell off topic, but i see in “recent coments” that a bot titled “defective product attorneys” has posted on an old thread, and now i keep wondering whether it’s the products or the attorneys that are supposed to be defective…

  • JL

    A few relevant anecdotes:

    2011: Back in the camp days of Occupy Boston, I was working the medic tent one evening when a furtive-looking dude crept up to the tent under cover of darkness with a bag of first aid supplies and handed them to the other medic in the tent. He told us that he was a firefighter, and he couldn’t come help himself because he would be fired if the department found out that he was supporting the protests, but he wanted us to have the first aid equipment.

    2012: It was Sunday afternoon at the NATO Summit in Chicago, and the police had laid into a kettled crowd with batons, causing a lot of terrible injuries. A medic friend from NYC, having lost her buddy in the chaos near the front line, was trying to help a head-wounded protester on her own, wrapping her arm around his head to stop the spurting blood as she was hit with batons because she had no safe room to stop and treat him properly. She managed to maneuver him to a more open area and saw that an ambulance had arrived. She walked her patient, with his spurting head wound, over to the ambulance and asked the EMTs to help. An EMT said “We’re not here for you, we’re only here for police.”

    2014: During the Boston protests a few days ago of the lack of indictments for Eric Garner and Mike Brown’s killers, police mock protesters by, among other things, mimicking chokeholds.

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