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by Peter Moskos

January 10, 2009

True Confessions

A review written by me of The Thin Black Line: published in the Washington Post's Book World.

It's a collection of stories told by black law-enforcement officers. Not a great book, unfortunately. But the review is well worth reading:
THE THIN BLACK LINE: True Stories by Black Law Enforcement Officers Policing America's Meanest Streets.

By Hugh Holton.

Reviewed by Peter Moskos.

The stories police officers tell each other often don't amuse outsiders. While fellow cops laugh, an outsider is left thinking, "Is it funny that a man bleeds to death?" or "You took crutches away from a one-legged homeless man?" But police don't tell these stories to entertain outsiders. A story is more than a way to bond over a beer after work; it's an essential tool of the trade.

Stories provide sense to situations that lack it. Laughing at gore, the softness of human flesh and the misfortune of others isn't necessarily a sign of an uncaring cop. Gallows humor is a way to compartmentalize, to maintain one's sanity, to reserve empathy for situations in which emotion might be more productive.

Before I was a police officer, I loved the TV show "COPS." But after a few nights in a police car, I realized that "COPS" wasn't the real deal. The dialogue was stilted, on guard, seemingly self-censored for the more politically correct masses. The Thin Black Line, a collection of 28 oral histories of black law enforcement officers in U.S. cities from coast to coast, is similarly restrained. I'm certain these officers have great stories to tell. They just don't tell them here.
Read the whole review here.

1 comment:

Louise said...

Well-written review. The authority of your point of view is clear.