You Love Cops… Admit it
This past Monday, L’Heureux invited me to a book discussion led by one of his students (follow Dr. L’Heureux Lewis on Twitter). It was held at HueMan Bookstore on Frederick Douglass Blvd, not too far from my home in Harlem. I figured I might as well attend. He didn’t tell me the name of the book, but I trust his judgment enough to know that whatever book it was, it would likely be worth discussing whether I read it or not.
There was an air of familiarity when I joined the group of readers, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I expected to find myself in a situation where I had nothing to contribute to the talk. Lo and behold… The book was “Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice” – a book on Hip Hop and the Criminal Justice system by former federal prosecutor Paul Butler. If ever a book I wanted to discuss after a frustrating day in Criminal Court, this was it. The air of familiarity I felt was the common knowledge base in the group. Nearly everyone present had brushed up against the criminal justice system in some capacity – whether as a Professor teaching criminology, a woman being harassed by NYPD, or a scholar with a felonious past. And of course, fellow fans of Hip Hop were present. I liked this group. I felt at home. I heard some fantastic, disturbing, and incredulous stories (the man sitting to my right shared a story of how he survived a police chase in Spain). The common thread I found in everyone’s tale however, was their supposed distaste and distrust for law enforcement. “I hate cops” or “They make me uncomfortable” or in my personal case… “Cops scare me”.
But everything I see around me tells me otherwise. By the time I meet a new client, s/he has probably already given the arresting officer a confession. I have no issue with this – what bothers me is that after “singing down at the precinct” my client doesn’t trust me & suddenly refuses to tell me the whole story. The cop is walking around with knowledge of every last bodega you robbed, and yet you don’t even want to give me your address. This infuriates me. I know we lawyers don’t have a great reputation, but damn…. I don’t arrest anyone! The answer must be that my clients love Cops.
This “love” was also found among the readers at the HueMan bookstore. The man to my left shared stories of how he complied with the police, showing deference to their authority on numerous occasions. He admitted that “some cops are good, some bad,” but adding that he didn’t like any of them. A college student a few seats away also expressed her disgust in police, but admitted that “you’re raised to respect them and turn to them for help”. And that is precisely it… We are raised with the idea that Police Officers are here to protect us. While this may be relatively true, we fail to also acknowledge that WE just might not be part of the group a particular cop thinks s/he’s out there to protect. To the police officer, my community is better off after putting the front stoop weed smoker away. But guess what? The maximum jail sentence for misdemeanor possession of marijuana is 90 days. After this front-stoop-weed-smoker has kicked it at Rikers, his license to drive is revoked, and he now has a criminal record. That’s all that has changed. He still smokes weed on my stoop. It is very likely that with his revoked license & fresh new criminal record, he’s not getting a job anytime soon and will very likely become my “front stoop staple”. Gee, thanks NYPD.
The last time I “needed” police, campus police & city police squabbled over whose territory my victimization took place in. By the time police chose to get involved, I felt no more “protected” than before I dialed 911. While I recognize that this is simply one incident, it has shaped my view of the Police Officer’s role in my life. When I see cases getting dismissed in court because a) police officers can’t make it into court to testify, or b) their testimony is so canned, no judge or jury could believe their testimony, I wonder to myself whether a Cop’s role is simply to conduct arrests irrespective of legality. I get the sense we all are fine with this. We accept that police officers are to simply conduct arrests. Even in times of utmost peace, we want our cops conducting arrests (well, I personally would like to be put out of business, but alas… I digress). The NYPD measures their work according to arrests – not convictions, not lower crime. As we New Yorkers know, crime has been steadily decreasing (statistically it seems) over the past few years. Nevertheless, arrests have gone up. The number of police officers on the street has gone up. This makes no sense. Unless the cop’s role is to simply conduct arrests irrespective of legality, the rate of arrests should follow the decrease in incidences of violence.
What we have are police officers arresting people more aggressively on “Quality of Life” crimes – urinating in public, sleeping on train seats, walking through train cars, street prostitution, disorderly conduct, fare evasion, taxi cab hacking, riding a bike on the sidewalk, etc… I am offended at the fact that I have to pay taxes to make these arrests-prosecutions-and-my-salary happen for these dumb “crimes”. Now don’t get me wrong, I personally know some phenomenal police officers – actually, let me take that back… I know some phenomenal detectives. Most street cops I’ve met are either bright and lazy, brilliant and retired or they’re patrolling the street lacking basic common sense.
With this post, I don’t seek to suggest police officers have no use. There are some pretty violent crimes taking place in, and I think we can all agree that we want Police Officers out there conducting those arrests. My goal is to point out that no matter how much you may claim to hate the police, you show them just enough love to never change their behavior. You say nothing when they illegally stop & frisk your neighbor, you tell them your whole life story when they decide to arrest you. Even if you say you don’t trust them, everything you say & do screams otherwise.
So admit it… You love the cops
Excellent Blog. And I am definitely going to check that book out too.
Nice reflection on the discussion and providing a greater context to your comments. It’s really interesting to me that cats will talk to police openly, but construe their lawyer as the enemy. I think you’ve hit something significant about the perception of authority and assistance that perversely makes those arrested think or be coerced into confessing (via the police) yet give away their power to advocate for themselves (via their lawyers). I’m often thinking from an community advocate and informant standpoint but wonder what could be done to turn that dilemma on it’s head.