Good Cop/Bad Cop

The long-simmering tensions between police and the communities they serve have erupted in a series of protests and confrontations, triggered by events in Ferguson and New York. I’ve posted about this before, and I don’t intend to belabor the very different points of view expressed by the protestors and those sympathetic to them, on the one hand, and (some) citizens and police, on the other.

I will say that the officers who turned their backs on Mayor DeBlasio during the funeral of the two policemen shot by a mentally-deranged man in New York dishonored themselves and their colleagues, and disrespected the officers whose memorials should have been the focus of the day.

Fortunately, those childish displays are not typical of the men in blue, nor are the disheartening reports of police officers who belong to the KKK, who use disproportionate force, and who otherwise display “conduct unbecoming.” Many more officers are like Steve Anderson, Chief of Police in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Chief recently responded–point by point– to an email from a citizen critical of official restraint during peaceful demonstrations in Nashville. His response went viral. You really need to click the link and read the entire exchange, but here is a representative sample:

• “I just want myself and my family to feel that our city is safe, and right now we don’t feel that way.”

I have to admit, I am somewhat puzzled by this announcement. None of the demonstrators in this city have in any way exhibited any propensity for violence or indicated, even verbally, that they would harm anyone. I can understand how you may feel that your ideologies have been questioned but I am not aware of any occurrence that would give reason for someone to feel physically threatened.

• “I have a son who I have raised to respect police officers and other authority figures, but if he comes to me today and asks “Why are the police allowing this?” I wouldn’t have a good answer.”

It is somewhat perplexing when children are injected into the conversation as an attempt to bolster a position or as an attempt to thwart the position of another. While this is not the type of conversation I ordinarily engage in, here are some thoughts you may find useful as you talk with your son.

First, it is laudable that you are teaching your son respect for the police and other authority figures. However, a better lesson might be that it is the government the police serve that should be respected. The police are merely a representative of a government formed by the people for the people—for all people. Being respectful of the government would mean being respectful of all persons, no matter what their views.

Police officers like Chief Anderson–and there are many like him, fortunately– understand their constitutional and public safety duties, even if some of the citizens they serve do not.


  1. I read Chief Anderson’s viral letter last week and found it incredibly enlightening. I applaud him for that! Thanks for making sure all of your readers see it. You (readers) really do need to read the whole exchange.

  2. On one hand, situations like this point out the mischief inherent in treating groups that have something in common (race, profession, gender) like they are more generally the same. On the other, if we didn’t do that, we’d be too insensitive when institutions go ary.

    So, the institution of public safety vs the black race. Is there something that needs fixing?

    In my opinion, probably some attention needs to be invested, but there are way more good cops than bad and there is no scenario where all the bad ones get eliminated. And there are way more good blacks than bad.

    If I was a poor black parent of teenagers I’m sure that there would be some conversations held about avoiding all of the many risky behaviors that go along with urban, poor, and minority. If I was a ranking police officer, the same.

    The headlines that we’ve been deluged with are useful reminders for both parties in the topic. Supervision be it parental or by rank needs some attention. Larger institutional remediation can be avoided that way.

    But the lesson for all of us is a larger one that has to do with social stability. It’s not guaranteed and when it falls apart everybody suffers as things get out of everybody’s control.

  3. I grew up in South Chicago and recall people of all ages bitterly opposed Dr King’s demonstrations in the Chicago area. The culmination was probably the Police Beatings by Daley the Elders Police force at the 1968 Democratic Convention. For the first time in the Television Era, white people were being beat up on the Streets, rather than mainly African- Americans in the Deep South. An earlier incident in Chicago in the late 1930’s was the Memorial Day Massacre by the Chicago Police Department. Later in 1970 during the Kent State Demonstrations several protestors were killed and wounded by the National Guard.

    America has this strange dichotomy we celebrate on one hand Freedom of Speech or Assembly, but if the wrong people protest, call in the Police to crush it. Certainly, there will be people who will take advantage of the situation and loot. There are also people so frustrated and angered by the perception (not without foundation) that the Organs of State Security exist to protect the 1% they will resort to violence and destruction.

    It is interesting the kid glove treatment Cliven Bundy and his armed Merry Men received vs the calling out of para-military equipped Police in Ferguson, Mo. I can only imagine the potential carnage that would have taken place if African-Americans had been armed in Ferguson like Cliven Bundy’s armed Merry Men were.

    It is nice to know we have one Police Chief in AmeriKa who does not see AmeriKa as Police vs the Citizens.

  4. I do know there are good cops and bad cops; always have been and always will be. The police abuses are not only racist as I stated a while back regarding white cops abusing my what daughter, 3 white granddaughters, 2 white great-granddaughters and macing my daughter’s white German shepherd – an all white situation. My daughter is a home owner in Irvington who worked at the same job for 24 1/2 years till becoming disabled, not white trash or criminals.

    I must refer again to my mugging at 11:00 a.m. on my own driveway on April 21st; the identity of the mugger and his driver had been known for four days and they had been followed by IMPD undercover cops since that day. Yet I was mugged and my 2 credit cards used 8 times that day without being seen; they were seen at 6:00 p.m. signing into a room at a local motel and one undercover cop rented the room next door to continue “surveilance”. As I lay in my yard bleeding, I asked one officer why anyone would come into this neighborhood to rob someone. He told me I had been followed from Kroger. They were followed when they sold their car for junk later that week and when a friend began driving them around, parking in lots at stores looking for victims. But…the following Monday undercover cops sat in the small MCL parking lot at 10th and Arlington watching the car but didn’t see the man get out and attack and rob victim #4. They followed the car to a Shell station where they got the call on their police radio that there had been another elderly woman attacked and robbed in the MCL parking lot they just left. All victims elderly white women, the offices responding to the 911 call when I was attacked were all white. I do not feel safe and protected – these particular officers may be “good cops” in the fact that they wouldn’t shoot or strangle an unarmed person to death or knock a pregnant woman to the ground but they are not good cops. They need to get a new day job. This is either poor training or a lack of caring to perform their duties protecting victims and upholding the law. Good cop/bad cop has more than one meaning; more than referring to racism; our trust and faith in them must be earned by their performance in all situations.

  5. It cuts me to the quick to even consider disagreeing with you, Sheila, but there is something amiss in this posting: These ‘long simmering tensions’ were never evident to the black community. To them, it was outright war from the very beginning. White police hardly ever ventured into black communities prior to integration of the forces. That extended down even to fire companies. They only entered under extreme conditions which were understood by all. After the sixties, police and fire served everyone.

    A city cop couldn’t arrest a white man in the nineteen hundreds. In order to fully understand what is happening today, one must have knowledge of what occurred in our yesterday.

    You have to remember that it was Mississippi law enforcement that delivered Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner to the Klan that night in 1964. Some have their noses in a snot because a noted pol associated with David Duke’s organization. How long has it been since one couldn’t get elected in this state without the blessing of D.C. Stephenson? White police have historically terrorized the black community and it wasn’t simmering. It was always explosive. But no one cared. The attitude of the populace, think Marion Indiana, was just as it is today: cue buzzword ‘moving forward’. Or more properly as mouthed by Scalia when queried about the horrendous Court decision on money being people: “Get over it!” It’s harder when you’ve been raised by those who have lived under these conditions their entire lives.

    My father related to me how there was no ‘colored’ jail in his small town of Cornersville, TN. When a black man was to be detained, they simply handcuffed him around a telephone post or tree.

    Historically, the local law enforcement and the KKK have been one to black people. To allow that ‘not all of them’ is not valid. You will note that in the most famous photo of public lynchings during the thirties, Marion Indiana, the whole town was complicit in the activities.

    Law enforcement needs to be enlightened on the abuses associated with their heritage in the black community and I am convinced it would help them to better understand their relationship.

  6. I received one of those forwarded nasty emails where the author thinks he’s making the big courageous gotcha statement that only shows he feels strongly but thinks weakly and narrowly about an important topic. When you talk about the use of power, it tends to bring out the people who love to polarize and think simplistically, rather than understand.

    The scary thought is that without justice the powerful can wield power wherever they want, but as Nietzsche said, “Distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful”. Throughout the whole Ferguson mess, I remembered the famous Niemoller comment:

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

  7. Many rural or smaller communities are so homogenous in their racial makeup that dealing with anyone of a different race, ethnicity or any anomalous appearance or behavior is very rare and most often done with suspicion and hostility. The latent bias in those communities may never be officially revealed unless in a public confrontation or crisis. This not only applies to police and fire, but any public service provider. Historically, Jews, Catholics, Asian, black, red or brown people have had to learn to deal with subtle or not so subtle biases inherent in minority communities with a white dominated power structure. The tribal tendencies of any homogenous group tend to bring out the worst behavior against anyone seen as an outsider. The irony is the fact that some large urban communities have police and fire personnel with deep roots in certain ethnic minorities who have themselves been subject to the same biased treatment.

    Outsiders are often viewed with fear and distrust, especially when skin color or religion are different from the local norms. Interesting that so many of the homogenous groups resisting the inclusion of the outsiders are self-proclaimed Christians. Instead of emulating the actions and expressed directives of their leader, they continue to exclude and actively reject those people they are told they should treat as they themselves want to be treated.

    Social media has also allowed public exposure of bias without face-to-face contact. It has also allowed some groups with clear bias to come together and feed off one another with having to examine any other viewpoint or to defend their bias.

    A book that Sheila has referenced in the past, “The Big Sort”, is an interesting read as it explores the self-sorting that is occurring in more and more places as we become a more mobile society. It is available through the IMCPL. It certainly sheds some revelatory light on current events.

  8. I’d like to expand on my statement of white law enforcement only entering under extreme circumstances; Read: Tulsa Oklahoma, 1921.

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