Friday, August 29, 2014
THE POLICE, THE JOB, AND QUESTIONS
WHO’S GOT WHO’S BACK?
Aptly named Pub in Woodside, Queens.
TAGS: NYPD, “COP THINK”, RACIAL DIVIDE, POLICE OFFICER DARREN WILSON,
FERGUSON, MISSOURI, POLICE/PUBLIC RELATIONS,
HONEST DISCOURSE NEEDS TO REPLACE HEATED DEBATE,
FACTS VERSUS FICTION, LEGAL – JUDICIAL SYSTEM GRINDS SLOWLY,
TRUTH – THE TRUTH WILL EMERGE – IT ALWAYS DOES,
A BROODING CYNIC EDITORIAL
(Friday August 29, 2014, Woodside, Queens, NYC) Within a short walking distance of the subway stop that brings you from Manhattan to this historically Irish neighborhood, there are dozens of bars, taverns, pubs and eateries. While the Irish remain the predominant residents of this small neighborhood there are signs of other more recent arrivals that’ve set up a variety of shops and services. Still, for most of us of a certain age familiar with Woodside, the name itself evokes memories of long nights of drinking until sunrise following a 4 to 12 tour of duty. There are a handful of these bars that have historically been known as “Cop bars”; establishments frequented by Cops for generations. It is in an atmosphere such as one elbow in a long wooden bar where a few Cops had gathered for the night. Partially concealed in shadow and creating their own cloaking plumes of cigarette smoke (Bloomberg be damned), the men spoke quietly but passionately about the current events and high profile episodes that have left them disillusioned, frustrated, and angry. Cops haven’t the luxury of bringing such feelings to work; they become masters of “compartilization”
On this one particular night earlier this week, the small cluster of Cops who’d gathered at their traditional corner of the bar represented a good cross section of the NYPD. There were several 30 year plus Detectives, a Patrol Lieutenant, and a solid handful of street cops with time on the Job ranging from 7 to 22 years; two where Black, one Puerto Rican, and one who had moved with his family from Lebanon to Astoria, Queens when he was an infant. On this warm night there was none of the usual “Cop talk”; none of the usual pissing and moaning about bosses, jobs they’d rolled on earlier, pay or pensions. The entire conversation was of the “bunker mentality” that seems to be spreading through NYPD like a slowly mutating virus that is contagious. Cops by their very nature are an extremely close-knit fraternity, tight lipped, somewhat paranoid, suspicious cynics. Their experiences contribute to the acquisition of such traits; traits that have real practical advantages out on the streets in the Line of Duty (LOD).
Yet for every one of those traits there is a parallel characteristic that is also acquired on the Job. Since day after day, night after night, Cops deal with people at their absolute worst, not just the criminals but, innocent by-standers and reluctant witnesses, crying children hiding under beds or in closets to escape the fury that was raging in the next room, the desperate and downtrodden who comprise the “unseen” New York. Each of those sorts of interactions leaves a mark on the soul of a Cop since the overwhelming majority of them are fine and decent people, “Stand up guys” – hard working men and women who often spend their tour of duty as arbiters, expeditors, curb-side negotiators settling beefs between people of all sorts without the use of any more force than the power of their words and their ability to connect to those they serve.
Arguably it is more difficult by orders of magnitude to be a Cop today than it has ever been in the long history of our City. On January 1, 1898 the City we know today came forth by the official consolidation of Brooklyn, The Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Richmond (Staten Island). That same day marked the formation of the unified NYPD; the consolidation of the 18 existing local police entities into a singular Department. The last 116 years have been eventful as our City arose to occupy the unrivaled title of The Greatest City in the World. No other city even comes close. New York City has often been the front-runner and bellwether in areas ranging from banking, commerce, finance, fashion, entertainment, shipping, innovation and has set the standards in a wide array of policies and procedures widely emulated by cities the world over.
The NYPD is also regarded as the most elite municipal, “large city” Police Department in the world and it has been that way for many, many years. Tactics and practices born within the NYPD over the years have been adopted by most major cities by now even if they have been tailored on a local level to more readily fit the demographics and population density of those other locations. New York City, even more than Washington, DC, is the preeminent international City in America for numerous reasons. Yes, we have the right to be a little cocky in our talk and walk; after all, we do live in the center of the universe in many ways.
Since the August 9th shooting death of Michael Brown, an 18 year old unarmed black teen by a white Ferguson, Missouri Police Officer, Darren Wilson, there has been much heated debate about accountability. The predominantly black population of Ferguson has marched, demonstrated, and protested, both peacefully and chaotically in the weeks after that tragic event. Michael Brown was finally laid to rest last week and Officer Wilson remains essentially in hiding at an undisclosed location. Peace or even any reasonable facsimile thereof for Officer Wilson will be a long time coming. Yes, Mr. Brown is dead yet most of the fundamental questions regarding their fateful encounter on that Ferguson street have yet to be answered or made public.
The hue and cry from the black community in Ferguson and other places, from the pulpits of black churches and from the dripping venom spouted by all the usual black “activists” demanding accountability can be distilled down to one basic notion; they have already decided the outcome of the case, have found Officer Wilson guilty and will not rest until that young Officer is tried as a murderer. Facts be damned; the court of public sentiment has spoken and will continue to speak until their “demands” are met. The legal process cannot move quickly enough for these people.
In reality the legal process is notorious slow; it is a long grind rather than a quick sprint. In this case a Grand Jury that meets just once a week will hear all the evidence the Prosecutor’s Office has accumulated, processed, and analyzed and it is their task – and their task alone – to decide what, if any charges are leveled on Officer Wilson. Despite the popular belief, the Grand Jury empaneled to hear the evidence in this case is demographically representative of the community. Most people who are called to serve on such panels take their civic duty very seriously. The Grand Jury component of our judicial system is tried and true and, although it is secretive, in the overwhelming majority of the cases such panels hear, they arrive at fair conclusions. The concern in this case is that if the Grand Jury does NOT find any criminal negligence, homicidal intentions, or professional misconduct on the part of Officer Wilson, the Ferguson streets will once again erupt in civil disorder if not riotous reactions.
We will give credit where credit is due. In the weeks since August 9th there have been some very logical, thoughtful, and reasonable expressions in the media about Ferguson. Yes, the race-baiting, rabble-rousing, opportunists have occupied center stage for much of the time but in responsible newspapers and media outlets across the country there has been much objective, unbiased opinions stated as well as no small measure of unbiased analysis. However, in too many instances the “debate” has been less than nuanced with all extenuating circumstances obscured by numbers and statistics. While this data may satisfy academics and “experts” it does little to portray the reality on the streets of many cities and communities from coast to coast. Statistics, after all are, as malleable as Play Dough and add little to the civil discourse that needs to be transpiring between the Law Enforcement Community (LEC) and the populaces they serve. The numbers game is a red herring. What matters, what really counts, are attitudes on both sides of the gapping divide between the Police and the public. Once both sides dig in their respective heels, adopt “us against them” mentalities, and rush to judgment prior to the facts there can be no honest debate, no reasoned levelled playing field for both sides to meet and discuss, as adults, the endemic plagues that define much of our society and most of the LEC’s interactions in the communities they patrol.
There is a moral high ground upon which people of good will from both sides can interact towards a common objective. Such a process is doomed to fail well before it even is given the breathing room to begin when attitudes and raw emotion still define the divide.
BACK TO WOODSIDE
As the night wore on and bled into the small hours of the next day there was much exchanged among those who’d gathered that night. Numerous pints of Guiness, dozens of shots of Jameson’s, rounds of high-balls and cocktails of every variety were consumed yet the discussion was of such intensity as to keep each participant focused and sober. That does not happen very often. As Shamus the bartender kept the glasses full and ashtrays empty (yes, we still smoke in this noble saloon) no solutions emerged despite earnest efforts to identify one.
By the time the group walked down 61st Street in search of a diner breakfast and coffee – lots of coffee – they were no closer to answers then they’d been after the first round of drinks had been served. If anything, there was an uncharacteristic reticence about them; not the usual ribald wife and girlfriend jokes, none of the typical banter that flows so easily between Cops like so much hot air blasted into a subway station as the train approaches. It could be said there was a sadness among them; a sullenness, actually. Men (and, of course, women) who go to work every day never absolutely positive they will go home again think in a certain way. That way is not to be discussed here; it is merely mentioned as a fact of life. That risk is real but seldom acknowledged. It silently accompanies every Cop to work each day and sits like a greasy film on long since painted walls in Precinct locker rooms from the Bronx to the ass end of Brooklyn. Balls and genetic bravado conceal a great deal.
The sun rose as a small, well defined pink dot over the Atlantic and spread pale but vibrant hues on the few clouds that happened to find their way to that morning. After the big, greasy sloppy breakfast was eaten, there were handshakes and hugs all around. Backs were slapped, shoulders gripped and shaken, and all parted content in having gone through the venting process. Some would make role call that afternoon; others had a day or two off and would return to Orange, Nassau or Rockland County for much needed sleep and family time. A scarce few without wives and children would return to their rent controlled apartments, perhaps have a beer before bedtime and sleep the pure sleep of men with rigorous consciences, solid principles and very clear identities.
None would dream of the realities of the world, their world. Sleep was far too precious to forfeit on the questions of the day.
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