I've been spending my time deeply exploring what's going on with law enforcement in America. Of the hundred or so articles I've read, however, one stands out for its raw power and comprehensive coverage. It's called Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop and it's a brutal assessment of how bad things are and how much needs to change. I encourage you to read every word.
American policing is a thick blue tumor strangling the life from our communities and if you don’t believe it when the poor and the marginalized say it, if you don’t believe it when you see cops across the country shooting journalists with less-lethal bullets and caustic chemicals, maybe you’ll believe it when you hear it straight from the pig’s mouth.
I believe that if everyone understood how we’re trained and brought up in the profession, it would inform the demands our communities should be making of a new way of community safety. If I tell you how we were made, I hope it will empower you to unmake us.
One of the other reasons I’ve struggled to write this essay is that I don’t want to center the conversation on myself and my big salty boo-hoo feelings about my bad choices. It’s a toxic white impulse to see atrocities and think “How can I make this about me?” So, I hope you’ll take me at my word that this account isn’t meant to highlight me, but rather the hundred thousand of me in every city in the country. It’s about the structure that made me (that I chose to pollute myself with) and it’s my meager contribution to the cause of radical justice.
And that’s the point of what I’m telling you. Whether you were my sergeant, legally harassing an old woman, me, legally harassing our residents, my fellow trainees bullying the rest of us, or “the bad apples” illegally harassing “shitbags”, we were all in it together. I knew cops that pulled women over to flirt with them. I knew cops who would pepper spray sleeping bags so that homeless people would have to throw them away. I knew cops that intentionally provoked anger in suspects so they could claim they were assaulted. I was particularly good at winding people up verbally until they lashed out so I could fight them. Nobody spoke out. Nobody stood up. Nobody betrayed the code.
None of us protected the people (you) from bad cops.
This is why “All cops are bastards.” Even your uncle, even your cousin, even your mom, even your brother, even your best friend, even your spouse, even me. Because even if they wouldn’t Do The Thing themselves, they will almost never rat out another officer who Does The Thing, much less stop it from happening.
If you take nothing else away from this essay, I want you to tattoo this onto your brain forever: if a police officer is telling you something, it is probably a lie designed to gain your compliance. Do not talk to cops and never, ever believe them. Do not “try to be helpful” with cops. Do not assume they are trying to catch someone else instead of you. Do not assume what they are doing is “important” or even legal. Under no circumstances assume any police officer is acting in good faith.
Also, and this is important, do not talk to cops.
I just remembered something, do not talk to cops.
A WORLD WITH FEWER BASTARDS IS POSSIBLE
If you take only one thing away from this essay, I hope it’s this: do not talk to cops. But if you only take two things away, I hope the second one is that it’s possible to imagine a different world where unarmed black people, indigenous people, poor people, disabled people, and people of color are not routinely gunned down by unaccountable police officers. It doesn’t have to be this way. Yes, this requires a leap of faith into community models that might feel unfamiliar, but I ask you:
When you see a man dying in the street begging for breath, don’t you want to leap away from that world?
When you see a mother or a daughter shot to death sleeping in their beds, don’t you want to leap away from that world?
When you see a twelve year old boy executed in a public park for the crime of playing with a toy, jesus fucking christ, can you really just stand there and think “This is normal”?
And to any cops who made it this far down, is this really the world you want to live in? Aren’t you tired of the trauma? Aren’t you tired of the soul sickness inherent to the badge?
Aren’t you tired of looking the other way when your partners break the law? Are you really willing to kill the next George Floyd, the next Breonna Taylor, the next Tamir Rice? How confident are you that your next use of force will be something you’re proud of? I’m writing this for you too: it’s wrong what our training did to us, it’s wrong that they hardened our hearts to our communities, and it’s wrong to pretend this is normal.
Look, I wouldn’t have been able to hear any of this for much of my life. You reading this now may not be able to hear this yet either. But do me this one favor: just think about it. Just turn it over in your mind for a couple minutes. “Yes, And” me for a minute. Look around you and think about the kind of world you want to live in. Is it one where an all-powerful stranger with a gun keeps you and your neighbors in line with the fear of death, or can you picture a world where, as a community, we embrace our most vulnerable, meet their needs, heal their wounds, honor their dignity, and make them family instead of desperate outsiders?
If you take only three things away from this essay, I hope the third is this: you and your community don’t need bastards to thrive.