Editor’s note: The following piece was written by a member of the Philadelphia Police Department who requested to remain unnamed.
I have been a police officer a long time. I have been in every situation you can imagine. I have seen dead children, dead mothers and dead cops. Indescribable violence and cruelty. Viciousness that gets ignored by the public, swept away and forgotten about because it is easier that way. No one wants to believe that people can be evil.
In some cases, even the police can be evil. Thanks to cell phone and surveillance video, we have seen men shot in the back while running away, beaten with batons while on the ground and kicked in the face while handcuffed. And as a cop, I’ll say it outright: These inexcusable abuses of power need to be dealt with in the harshest possible way. The damage a crooked cop does in Seattle can be felt in Philadelphia. What happens in Ferguson can affect how a neighborhood thinks and reacts in Atlanta. Or worse, it reaffirms what they already thought.
What a police officer does, good or bad, affects everyone.
As I watched Baltimore burn, I thought about what was next for America. The fires were being put out, despite the vandals’ best efforts, and the physical violence was waning. The situation on the ground there will get better. It always does. The police step up their presence, the cameras leave and the interest of the protestors dissipates.
But what continues to fester is the toxic relationship between the police and the inner city neighborhoods they patrol. There is a war going on in the poorest sections of America. It’s time people wake up, learn the reality of the situation and help change it.
Trust and police
When I see the news or read an article, I take it at face value and make my own opinion as I see or hear more information. When someone tells me they did not commit a crime, I only believe them when there is enough proof to prove them right. When a fellow police officer says they observed a drug deal, I believe them.
Why? Blind faith. Blind faith is a dangerous thing. I am inherently skeptical because my experience has told me that I have to be.
Blind faith. I believe what police say happens because they have taken an oath to uphold the law and to have integrity.
So when I see cops convicted of stealing or confessing to robbing drug dealers, the faith takes a hit. I imagine someone in a neighborhood in Philadelphia (or Baltimore) reading about a cop gone bad, and saying “I told you they were no good.”
It pisses me off. But I do what I have to do to get that trust back. I work harder because
regardless of what I think, this IS what I signed up for.
How to fix this
So when I see these riots on television I think: Where are we going? How do we survive and how do we repair?
The answer for me is communication. More dialogue between cops and communities. Cops and kids. Police brass and cops. It is a group effort. That means people need to feel like they can call the police or reach out to them when they are in need. The adversarial relationship has gone on for too long.
I know we aren’t going to convince everyone. The job of policing is evolving and to win the trust we need to be more transparent. (And yes, I recognize the irony of an anonymous cop recommending transparency. But if I put my name to this piece, the PPD would probably rip my head off, metaphorically speaking.)
Transparency and communication means showing people what the real world is like. If it is too explicit for them, then too bad. If it means cops get fired, then so be it. Right now is as good a time as any. If the cops in Baltimore were wrong, then they should suffer the consequences. If they followed protocol then they need to explain — in detail — why they should be cleared.
Dragging feet won’t help the public and it won’t help the cops. And that’s not just in Baltimore.
Everyone has seen the footage of Toya Graham smacking her son and dragging him away from the protests. She said she didn’t want her kid to end up like Freddie Gray.
Think about exactly what she meant by that comment. She doesn’t care who is right and who is wrong. She isn’t blaming anyone. She loves her son and doesn’t want anyone to hurt him whether it is someone his age or the police.
That is what we as police officers see and have seen for decades here. It is the feeling that the people of North and West Philly and West Baltimore already know. It’s the palpable feeling of despair and hopelessness. Welcome to the real world, where claiming The Wire as your favorite show won’t cut it as your credential as a productive member of a major American city.