The code of silence ends here

As outrage burns over the murder of George Floyd, my commitment to police reforms & accountability has never been stronger. I’m outraged because the actions of those officers do not represent our honorable profession. I’m outraged by the depravity shown by Derek Chauvin under the color of authority, and we all instantly knew every cop was going to wear that crime for a long time. Rightly so. 

Not because all or even most women and men who serve as police would ever condone such despicable behavior. That’s a given. What brands us is the internal malfeasance that keeps us from removing such people long before they commit their violent act or crime that stains everyone in a uniform. 

The video of George Floyd’s murder laid bare the complicity of our entire profession. We have insisted for decades that only bad apples commit the worst abuses. Any mention of those “bad apples” is met with strong protests and denials. It’s not me, it’s not me! We cry.

The last two weeks exposed the ugly underbelly of a law enforcement culture that has been tolerated far too long. The horror of George Floyd’s death showed us all the deeper systemic cancer: One truly criminal actor and the shock of three others who either did not care or did not feel empowered to stop him. No, police misconduct isn’t increasing, it is simply being videotaped. The ongoing civil unrest is policing’s collective penance for refusing to reform on its own.  

Good cops & police leaders: Just because you think there is no problem in your community doesn’t mean people of color feel the same. Understand you have blind spots. The civil unrest in your city should tell you things aren’t quite as rosy as you think. People who have been on the receiving end of rude, dismissive, aggressive, or abusive cops are walking around with unresolved pain and anger. Please hear the pleas of marginalized communities who have been crying out over mistreatment and abuse by people you know need to be removed from the police profession. 

We all know who they are. Line officers know who they are. Police managers and staff know who they are. There’s just never enough collective will to purge them. So, they remain among us like cancer, insidiously infecting the squads around them. Supporting a subculture that in practice counters and undermines the police mottos of protect and serve and all of our lip service about community policing. We have always pretended because they haven’t done something that rises to the level of criminality, their behavior can be ignored. Like our racist uncle who rants and we shake our heads, the time has come to acknowledge that the harm they do. The daily microaggressions they inflict on people are just as damaging to our professional credibility and when their conduct rises to outright criminal behavior? God help us, we’re seeing the result. 

Police leaders have failed our communities by failing to address this systemic, pervasive issue that they absolutely know exists. Why are so many disciplined officers allowed to resign and keep their certifications? How is it possible that there are databases of cops known to have committed sexual misconduct or are flagged as criminals, and still walking around in uniforms? Why is there no leadership push for national standards to decertify bad cops? 

Why is it taking two weeks of rioting in the streets to get most of you to even acknowledge publicly that we have to make some changes? 

After Rodney King’s beating, evidence showed us LAPD officers sending racist computer messages like “gorillas in the mist.” Ten years later, I knew officers who used racist acronyms to remember the streets in the projects: AFRO SCUM. The investigations following Ferguson, Chicago, and Baltimore revealed continuing racial undertones. Minneapolis has a long, fraught history of police brutality in their city. Let’s not forget it is where Philando Castillo was murdered, even though he was a lawful gun owner and did everything the officer told him to do. 

These are truths. Police truths. It is no longer enough for any of us to say, “I’m not racist” or “I’m not that cop.” We refuse to look at our racist past in the eye and deal with it and it is long past time for our police culture to stop pretending race isn’t still a significant issue. The people of color in our communities still feel the undertow of bias in many encounters. They are frustrated by our collective failure to do anything meaningful day to day. We need to drop our defensive shields and get real with our fellow citizens.

And we have to start cleaning our own house. The cops that make every call harder because they piss the citizen off almost immediately. The cops that intentionally piss off the citizen so they can say, “Uncooperative. Back in service.” The supervisor who runs an entrapment traffic detail to stop cars in the black neighborhood. The jerk who purposely drives through puddles and splashes people just for fun. The one who “testilies” because the guy in the back seat probably got away with plenty of other stuff anyway. The non-stop microaggressions and indignities committed by these kinds of cops are festering wounds in minority communities. So, why are we surprised when the next shooting turns into a riot? 

The code of silence ends here, my friends. You may not have the power to fire a bad cop, but you must make it clear to your unprofessional peers that racism and abuse of power are not tolerated. They make your job more difficult and they endanger your safety every day. You also have the power to change the culture of your unions. If you think it’s wrong to protect bad cops, then make them stop doing it. If they are beating a drum of us vs. them, they are not truly protecting you, they are fomenting dangerous divisions that will endanger you further. 

I believe good cops want bad cops held accountable. The protests in the streets are demanding reforms and policies to help do just that. We all must be part of the solution. You must reject those among you who do not uphold the integrity of policing. You must speak. Follow your oath. Lead, though it may not be easy. Police leaders must help you by standing up and calling out the systemic failures that keep bad cops on the job. Taking these steps will earn community support. Community support and trust are what will make you safer.  

Please do not listen to those who tell you citizens hate you. Or that there is a war on cops. Policing has always been dangerous. The truly criminal will attack peace officers. They always have and always will. But the fact is policing is safer than it has been in decades. There is no war on cops. There is a war on bad cops. There is a war on abusive cops. There is a war on dirty cops. Rightly so. They are the criminal in your midst. 

To my fellow citizens, outraged over a seeming avalanche of videos showing murders and abuses of citizens at the hands of police. I hear you. Change must occur. It is unacceptable in a democratic, civil society, and should not happen. Sadly, it happens over and over. Police misconduct is a cancer and protests are the cure. As Dr. King famously said, “A riot is the cry of the unheard.” 

I believe the images of uniformed police officers callously murdering a man in their custody has finally awakened us for good. The time has come for real change at long last. Keep up the fight, but do it peacefully. We’ve had lots of examples of good cops kneeling & expressing solidarity with you. Let’s build on those connections. Hold those who do not deserve the public trust to account. Let’s demand justice and control over how we are policed. That’s how it works in a democracy. You have the entire world’s attention. Let’s finally achieve the dream of justice.

A police reckoning has arrived

Since the murder of George Floyd one week ago, I’ve been concerned about the escalation of violence and the risk to more citizens and cops. We should be thinking about the exponential risk to every good cop who now has to wear the depravity of one of our brothers in blue, callously snuffing out the life of a person in his custody. This event has ramped up violence nationwide and, as always, cops on the front line are the ones in harm’s way.

My friends, we must understand how we got here. I want to talk to you truthfully and frankly, as a fellow cop, because we have to tell each other the truth and see our faults, or we’re going to lose our legitimacy once and for all.

We have convinced ourselves for decades that there was something a suspect did to cause his death. That their actions must have caused their own death. Always. That’s the mantra, right? It’s on a mental loop in our heads, “If he had only”…surrendered…not fought…complied…pick a term. And most of white America goes along with us. If only the person had done, or not done, whatever. The person is never killed by the fault of the cop. Never official misconduct or malfeasance. Their actions dictate our response.

Qualified immunity shielded almost every bad actor that came along. Shootings of individuals lawfully carrying firearms, children playing with toy guns, people playing video games inside their home, women sleeping in their home, the list goes on. We do mental gymnastics and think up a myriad of reasons to absolve the cop of any responsibility. Regardless of training. Regardless of the circumstance. Regardless of common sense. We are tone-deaf to how this looks to the average citizen.

Then came Minneapolis. I’d like to think the image of a cold, callous cop calmly kneeling on the neck of a non-resisting man is finally, finally a bridge too far for my fellow Americans and cops to swallow. This time, it is impossible to look away.

It’s time to put up or shut up, my fellow good cops. We’ve been crying for years “bad apples” not us! Any direct question about individual responsibility is ducked and dodged. Then came Minneapolis and it was all laid bare. The depravity of the primary cop and the failure of the others on scene to stop the murder. What you need to understand is that this is what has been at the heart of the issue for decades. That complicity has tainted you as well. The disgusting behavior of police misconduct has always painted us all with an ugly brush. We were fools to tell ourselves that it could be otherwise.

That is the critical message we have failed to hear. When the criticism comes we immediately go to our defensive crouch, insist it’s only those unnamed bad apples. Trust us. Except that nonstop videos say otherwise. They keep coming daily. We must make it stop.

This is what I want to say to you today with all the love and brotherhood I can muster. It is not enough to say you are not that cop. You must stop that cop. You must reject that cop. You must purge those cops from your ranks. You must make those cops pariahs. You must rise above those cops if you are ever to release yourself from the stain of their deeds.

I realize right now it’s easy to get caught up in the anger against protestors. I’ve been there, too. Taking rocks and bottles, holding the line with a gas mask & shield. This is the part of the job nobody tells you about when you sign up thinking you’ll save the world. Please try not to buy into the negative war on cops rhetoric. There have been riots and difficult times before. Good cops are the ones who will weather the storm, like always.

What’s different now is the political climate mixed with social media and nonstop noise. Will law enforcement live up to the lofty ideals of its code of ethics or succumb to the basest depravity of the disgruntled or criminal in our midst? Resist the temptation to believe the worst and stay true to your oath. We are at a critical juncture in law enforcement, my friends. The future is up to every one of you.

I have always maintained we are better than the worst of us. Those brave enough to run into gunfire or burning buildings are brave enough to stop misconduct by our peers. I believe in the better natures of the true heroes behind the badge. Hold tight to your humanity. There is no us and them, only one human family. Let’s get through these difficult times by committing to our communities and one another to demand only the best serving beside us.

Police honor and integrity are more important now than ever before. A police reckoning has arrived. Our profession and our nation are depending on our morality and courage.

Be safe.

George Floyd was murdered under color of authority

When the fight’s over, it’s over. No amount of respect for policing should ever excuse criminal cops.

My friends, I’m struggling this morning. I’ve struggled all week since the murder of George Floyd. At first I couldn’t even process the cold insensitivity I watched on the video. A public servant, entrusted to maintain law and order, completely indifferent to human life. I’ve watched that video multiple times, trying to figure out how to understand the actions of those public servants. I cannot imagine how traumatic this is for Black Americans to witness another Black man killed right before their eyes.

Every once in a while, a video comes along that is completely indefensible. Right now I cannot excuse is the deafening silence from my policing peers. Silence is complicity. Silence is consent. If we do not condemn wrongdoing publicly and loudly, we are lost. Our silence tells the world we’re okay with one of our peers calmly kneeling on a man’s neck for seven minutes and killing him under color of authority.

When the fight or resistance ends, it’s over. Period. And, no, we’re not going to get into adrenaline and all that as an excuse. It’s real in some cases, but that’s what your partners are for. That didn’t happen here. Also, an experienced professional should be able to draw some calming breaths and get control in much less than seven minutes. Let’s leave that there.

Here’s what happens in those horrific seven minutes. Three of these cops are on the man’s back, one calmly pressing his knee into his neck. There is no resistance because only the officers knee is pressing into his neck, he doesn’t use his hands, which means there is no struggle. The man begs for air, the officer calmly remains on his neck. The man makes a feeble attempt to rise—no doubt trying to survive, not resist. The officer remains on his neck. The man goes silent. The officer remains on his neck. The man goes limp. The officer calmly remains on his neck. The paramedic comes and checks his pulse. The cop calmly, callously, remains on his neck.

Not one of the other officers appears to register alarm or tell their fellow cop to get off his neck. Not one. If they do, the cop ignores it and calmly keeps kneeling on his neck.

Most of us have been there, subduing a person for whatever crime. When you are straddling a person’s body you can feel their movement, tension, shifting, and struggle beneath you. You feel the moment when the struggle stops. The movement ceases. And when that happens, you are the professional. You are supposed to stop as well. This is the part I cannot wrap my head around. When the fight is over, it’s over. When the human tells you they are in distress, it’s your job to summon help. When they stop fighting you, it’s your job to stop all force. When they stop breathing, it is your job to start life saving efforts.

There is no gray area here. That is the job. Prisoners in our custody are our responsibility. Yet, there are far too few voices from our side of the thin blue line calling for accountability. I’m struggling with why not. I’m struggling with how the vast majority of us have gone silent. I’m appalled that a fellow cop could calmly, callously, press his knee into the neck of a non-combative human, ignore his pleas for help, ignore his pleas for air, feel the moment when he goes limp, and keep kneeling on his neck without so much as a change in expression on his face.

I’m not okay with this. Those cops do not represent me. They do not represent the profession I belonged to for twenty-five years. They do not represent the humanity and courage of those good cops I was proud to serve beside. They, and those like them must be purged from our profession with impunity. This cannot stand. These horrors cannot continue.

Right now we need to ask ourselves who we are. Are we the heroes we want everyone to see us as or are we cowards? Why do we have the courage to run toward gunfire but not to tell our fellow cops to get the hell off a guy’s neck? Are we so invested in our membership in the brotherhood of the badge that we can’t call out bad behavior in our own house? Have we so convinced ourselves of our own infallibility that we cannot tolerate any insinuation that any one of us might be wrong? Do we believe that because the job is dangerous and any one of us might fall is a reason to never speak ill of another cop, even when they are unethical or even criminal?

My brothers and sisters in blue, we must stand against this. We must own the damage done by a long line of cops who did not deserve to wear your badge. We must reclaim our honor. We must stand for the rule of law. We must call out crimes under color of authority when we see them so that the citizens of our country know we care. Only then will we begin to heal. Only then will the bloodshed cease on all sides.

A fellow cop and dear friend told me through tears yesterday: African Americans are all screaming: We can’t breathe in America!

Riots are raging and cities are burning. The howl of pain from the unheard that Dr. King told us about fifty years ago. George Floyd was murdered under color of authority. We must not look away. We must own it and work to ensure it never happens again.