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by Peter Moskos

December 20, 2013

Why (some) good people don't like cops

Because (some) cops enforce non-existent laws and treat them like sh*t. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about a recent encounter with police on the streets of Chicago:
Catercorner to the volunteers of Safe Passage, two cops sat in an SUV, snug and warm. Our video team was shooting the conversation between our host and the kid. One of the cops rolled down his window and yelled, "Excuse me you need to take your cameras off this corner. It's Safe Passage."
When the officer wanted us to move, there was a very easy way to handle the situation. You step our your car. You introduce yourself. You ask questions about what we're doing. If we are breaking the law, you ask us to move. If we are not breaking the law and simply making your life hard, we are likely to move anyway. You are the power.

The cop did not speak to us as though he were human. He spoke to us like a gangster, like he was protecting his block. He was solving no crime. He was protecting no lives. He was holding down his corner. He didn't even bother with a change of uniform. An occupied SUV, parked at an intersection, announces its masters intentions.


Anonymous said...

I always quote Bukowski:

"Don't you hate cops?"

"No, but I feel better when they're not around."

Anonymous said...

"What people who have never lived in these neighborhoods must get, is that, like the crooks, killers, and gangs, the police are another violent force that must be negotiated and dealt with. But unlike the gangs, the violence of the police is the violence of the state, and thus unaccountable to North Lawndale."

Another powerful piece from Coates. When police are not held accountable to the community that is legally required to pay for their services, they bear an eerie resemblance to any other gang, protecting their own and doing as they please. I believe it's been argued that the police are a lot like the mafia, they just have better P.R. In Chicago, the line between cop and gangster is often very thin indeed. Even when I was still looking at LEO jobs, I never considered CPD. I've learned too much about the "Chicago Way."

It doesn't have to be this way, of course. There could be authentic police accountability boards (with subpoena power). Cops who interfere with photographers or other journalists (See the website "Photography is Not A Crime" to see regular instances of this oppressive behavior)could be subject to criminal charges, not just bad press and/or administrative remedies.

Another interesting idea discussed by retired Police Chief David Couper (see his blog Improving Police: http://improvingpolice.wordpress.com/), would be to require police officers to have "malpractice" style insurance. This could further professionalize police while protecting taxpayers, who are currently forced to pay for the misdeeds of officers.

And of course, we should get police out of drug/vice enforcement pronto. Nothing encourages police gangsterism like narc work.

Dave in IL

Anonymous said...

Hey Peter,
Saw this right after visiting your blog:

Man, first Uruguay legalizes marijuana and now Canada is striking down anti-prostitution laws. Change is in the air!

Dave in IL

PCM said...

And nothing encourages police bitterness like being assigned to a "safe streets" detail.

Still, you have to wonder why some officer decided to enforce a non-existent "no filming" law. Perhaps it was nap time.

PCM said...

And I couldn't disagree more with the idea that police are just like the mafia, but with better PR.

Anonymous said...


To be fair, I didn't say that police are "just like the mafia," I was just saying I've heard that argument made.

I happen to think this is just one of those knee-jerk assertions made by libertarian/anarchist types. However, based on personal research, I still say that cops, if not held accountable, can become very similar to the gangsters they are allegedly opposing.

Dave in IL