Jan. 18, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — A friend recently intimated that I might shade cop-hater. I honestly cannot run from that. I think it can definitely come across that I hate cops. In reality though, I respect the work that so many police do. True, there are specific cops that I hate, like Luis Scarcella and Daniel Holtzclaw. But if you don’t hate those guys, you need to do some serious soul searching. But this isn’t about you, it’s about me. So here goes. Soul searching.
To the police of America, I apologize. Don’t worry, I’m not being snide. I’ve done that already, and I promise to lay off you guys until at least Thursday. I have spent my career trying to protect literally thousands of clients from you. In doing so, I allowed myself to forget that in many instances, you aren’t the bad guys. In fact, quite often, you are the good ones. Since I am a defense attorney and you are the police, this apology probably won’t knock your socks off. But it’s the best I’ve got right now.
If someone decided to classify me as a writer, I would at least have to concede that I am a criminal justice writer. I have written about misconduct and metrocards. Heroin and hoverboards. So many of the things I have written have been directed at the police. Yes, I am disgusted by cops who trample people with lies or boots. I stand behind everything I have said, but I have come to realize that on the whole, there is one section of the criminal justice system that I never really talk about. The criminals.
Now, before I go any further, I want to disclaim that I am not suggesting that the police have not brought a lot of the blame upon themselves. I am suggesting that it is unfair to condemn the police while ignoring the damage that we do to each other. If you find yourself having a visceral reaction to the statement that someone who puts a gun in another person’s face so he can go sell that person’s phone for $50 is a bad person, then know this. You are angrier at the person who condemns the robber than the robber himself.
And one more disclaimer. Other than a very small portion of the population, I have met a lot more criminals than you have. They are not all victims of misfortune or a corrupt system. Many have chosen to act badly and have broken very valid laws. Are there often reasons to mitigate one person’s misconduct moreso than another’s? Absolutely. But many of us have mitigated to the point of full pardon. I can tell you from experience that there are monster people out there. We cannot forget that there is a line between people who are willing to put a gun in someone’s face and those who aren’t.
There is also a line between people who are willing to sell poison to other people and people who aren’t. Yeah, the War on Drugs can kiss my ass too, but my valid and eloquently-put opinion is not incompatible with my hatred of certain drugs. Crack is not a choice, it is an addiction. I doubt there is anyone out there who is crushing it in life while simultaneously smoking rock on a daily basis. Talk to a heroin user coming down in arraignments and tell me that she has willingly chosen her path.
Honestly, think to yourselves, when is the last time I read something that suggested that people who sell heroin are awful people because they are voluntarily contributing to the ruination of one or more other human beings? Is it controversial to say that drug dealers are bad? We talk treatment all day long, but there is rarely the mention that someone who sells crack is a dick.
Believe me, I am definitely pointing the finger at myself here. I have danced around the fact that there are bad people out there and those bad people commit crime against other people. And I’m not talking about all crime. You can light one up for all I care (this is a choice). I’m talking about people who make a decision to break into a house or store and walk back out with other peoples’ things. Those are not your things, those are their things. It is a very simple concept.
Everyone has a story that got them to that point, but not everyone’s story is an excuse.
The kind of people I have described, again, people who willingly violate others, are real. They exist. The person who puts someone else in the hospital or ground because they live in a different set of houses or neighborhood is a bad person. And cops must deal with these people all the time. A lot of us tend to forget that their job can be highly unpleasant a lot of the time.
Does this allow them to become violators themselves? Of course not. But we are all adults here, aren’t we? There are criminals out there. And police are the people we employ to physically pull them off the street. Far too many people get arrested, yes. But many people who violate the law and should be arrested. Society can not function without arrests.
So, if arrests need to happen in certain circumstances, I’m not doing it. You’re not doing it (unless you’re a cop, and if you are, spread the word that I’m not that bad of a guy, okay?). Police are doing it. And it is an inherently dangerous job. I have been guilty of using the “logging is more dangerous than policing” stat. It is true, but it misses a vital point. Loggers are not injured or killed because some random tree pulled out a gun and shot them. It matters. Every time a logger dies, it is a tragic accident. You can’t say that about police. Police probably die by murder more per capita than any other profession.
I tend to see the police as villains because I often talk exclusively about the villains amongst their ranks. There are far too many and that must be fixed. But so many police officers do actually go out there and deal with the bad people. Hell, they even do it for someone like me.
So, to all the police out there who are doing it the right way, I say thank you. To the ones who run towards the sound of gunfire, I apologize.
But to those same police, don’t expect the cuddly feelings to become habitual. This post was like the episode of MASH where Hawkeye and Trapper John (RIP) became friends with their arch-nemesis Frank “Ferret Face” Burns. It was only one episode, but it was important.
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You’ve gone soft on me, Womble…
Faultlines: Gertruding edition. This site has stuck up for good cops plenty of times. There was no need to give them a tummy rub between pointing out all the bad they do.
Tummy rub? Hardly. Just saying that while we are telling cops to be perfect, we can’t forget how shitty we can be as well.
Yeah, but when I’m shitty, I don’t gun down a dude and avoid any consequences…
And it never hurts to remember that while cops may not have the hardest job in the world, and while cops can do some bad things on their own, there really are bad dudes out there, and we still need cops to do their job and deal with them. Really bad, violent, nasty, evil dudes.
Maybe, maybe not. My point is that there are good cops, just like there are awful civilians. It was a point that I needed to make to myself more than anything.
You sure as hell don’t need my affirmation. That said, I fully understand you when you write: “It was a point that I needed to make to myself more than anything.”
What CJWs (criminal justice warriors) and other true believers don’t understand is this: Intellectual honesty matters.
All the best.
And again, when a civilian does an awful thing, they get arrested, and put on trial, and even get convicted…
When a cop does the same thing… They don’t.
Forgive me for being less forgiving of police.
Scott’s post today lays out the main point. Calling out bad cops and the counter-productive parts of policing culture must be done (e.g. 95% of Fault Lines and my own posts). But these points are not incompatible with being honest with the fact that cops have a difficult job. Do many abuse power? Yes. Do many protect us and contribute to an orderly society? Also yes.
“Loggers are not injured or killed because some random tree pulled out a gun and shot them.”
No, but convenience store clerks are, and they are shot and killed far more frequently than cops are.
So I will save my praise for the people that do a dangerous job AND don’t shoot unarmed civilians/dogs.
Trust me, Scott, I hear you. I don’t expect I’ll be receiving any awards from any police organizations any time soon. But this …
“So I will save my praise for the people that do a dangerous job AND don’t shoot unarmed civilians/dogs.”
There are plenty of cops who met both criteria. The bad, awful and horrific ones that wear the same badge may overshadow, but they do not erase the good ones from existence.
And those cops who doesn’t do the shooting do nothing about the ones who do.
They burn right along with them.
[…] Yet, this fact is very different from a point that is true. As Ken Womble explains: […]
The apology you presented is a noble and honorable act. I believe there is many honorable and courageous people among law enforcement. They deserve that recognition because of their valor.
Yet in order for your apology to begin to have parity with the intent it was given there has to be more recognition of the disparities that this blog has more than illustrated and public sense of those brave souls who do law enforcement to work with you and your associates to publicly change the system to address those very inequities our legal system is apparently burdened with.
“those brave souls who do law enforcement need to stand up from behind that alleged “blue sheild” and work with you”
Please explain: ” If you find yourself having a visceral reaction to the statement that someone who puts a gun in another person’s face so he can go sell that person’s phone for $50 is a bad person, then know this. You are angrier at the person who condemns the robber than the robber himself.” What were you getting at? I’m probably missing something. Good article, though.
Thanks. I find that there are more than a few people who think that everyone is the victim of police abuse or lies. Or if they did it, they are only a victim of circumstance. This was for them. Also, I wanted to go on record as staunchly anti-robbery.