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by Peter Moskos

April 20, 2009

Police Officer Jokes About Murder Victim

That's just about as exciting a headline as "dog bites man."

I joked about murder victims. Of course you joke about murder victims. I mean, you do try and wait till you're away from from the murder scene before joking about murder victims (though I didn't even always pass that test).

So after work--after seeing another person take his last earthly breath, after looking at a dead criminal's brain spatter all about, after seeing the bastard's family break down over the death of their "baby," after hearing witness after witness say they "didn't see nothin'", after sorting through the guy's bloody and dirty clothes for evidence collection--after all that you go have a few beers with your buddies and you tell stories. You laugh. You try and make sense out of world that makes no sense.

This is what police do. And they do it day after day. What are you supposed to do? Buy flowers and the first silk-screened t-shirt in memory of the dead guy?

You should joke about murder victims. Otherwise you'd go crazy. It's called gallows humor. And I support it. It's cheaper than a shrink. Oftentimes more effective, too.

Now an Erie police officer, James Cousins II, is being suspended for doing just that.

Sure, this cop had a few too many. But we all have.

[video no longer available]

So what exactly is the crime? To think such things? To say such things? Or to be recorded and posted without your consent on youtube? We all gossip and think and say insensitive things in private and to our friends that are not appropriate for public broadcast.

He was off duty and this is free speech. The appropriateness of speech changes according to time and place. If he gave this speech to a news camera for the evening news, then that would be inexcusable. Even in semi-public environments like bars we deserve some protection of privacy and free speech. This wasn't a racist tirade. He didn't use the N-word (neither of which would be appropriate in any context). He's a drunk cop telling a war story.

And for the record, it is funny, even hilarious, to come across a guy shot dead in the head right under a malt-liquor sign that says, "Take it to the head"! Swear to God. Next round is on me.


dave h. said...

"You should joke about murder victims. Otherwise you'd go crazy. It's called gallows humor. And I support it. It's cheaper than a shrink. Oftentimes more effective, too."

Hell, I chuckled.

Working in a trauma center has made me a believer in the necessity of gallows humor (within reason). If I break down and cry over every dead or hideously injured person I see during the course of an average week (to be sure, I occasionally come close, but you learn to stay calm and professional while on-scene)I will burn out or go crazy and I will be of no use to anybody.

Furthermore, I don't know most of these folks, and when you don't have a close, intimate relationship with a victim, there will inevitably be some distance. Indeed, we expect public safety and healthcare personnel to be failrly impartial. And the sad reality is, many of the victims I see were suspects the day before or did something really stupid prior to being injured. That doesn't mean they "deserved it." This doesn't mean I'm necessarily "blaming the victim" (god I'm getting tired of that one), it just IS WHAT IT IS.

And who felt the need to tape that shit. Someone needs to get a life.

Anonymous said...

More on this:


DetBP said...


I watched the CNN piece on this and I wanted to vomit. The NAACP is involved for gods sake! What a load of garbage. I really hope that this police officer doesn't suffer because of this. Every police officer/ medic/ fire fighter does exactly this. It is how we maintain out sanity.

PCM said...

And I guarantee you that the police chief, before we got all righteous and suspended the officer, made the same jokes when he was rising through the ranks.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm just jaded from living in Philly and seeing a new police scandal every other day, but let me see if i have this straight:

-If you're caught joking about a crime victim off duty; suspended without pay

-If you're caught criminally victimizing people under the color of law; desk duty or paid vacation.

As a note, any paramedic who watches this video probably wants the picture for his cameraphone scrapbook...it can go next to "Fatal MVA w/ 'heaven bound' bumper sticker"