No! Poverty is not to be blamed for the murder of Michael Brown. Lack of opportunities did not take the life of Freddie Gray. The "absent black father" was not responsible for killing Walter Scott. Police officers, armed with the legal authority of the state and under the aegis of their departments, murdered those men.
In addition to changing the laws, we must also change the culture that allows police officers to think that they are a law unto themselves; that they are lords and masters of those whom they swore to serve and protect. To make that change we need outside agitation for sure; but even more importantly, we need those on the inside to make a stand against the lawbreakers in their midst.
Are there any Frank Serpicos to be found anywhere? Who will step forward? The problem is even worse than it was in the 1970s.
Today the Blue Wall of Silence endures in towns and cities across America. Whistleblowers in police departments — or as I like to call them, “lamp lighters,” after Paul Revere — are still turned into permanent pariahs. The complaint I continue to hear is that when they try to bring injustice to light they are told by government officials: “We can’t afford a scandal; it would undermine public confidence in our police.” That confidence, I dare say, is already seriously undermined. (Frank Serpico, October 23, 2014).
[Frank Serpico is a retired New York City Police Department officer who is famous for blowing the whistle on police corruption in the late 1960s and early 1970s, an act that prompted Mayor John V. Lindsay to appoint the landmark Knapp Commission to investigate the NYPD. Much of Serpico's fame came after the release of the 1973 film Serpico, which starred Al Pacino in the title role. (Wikipedia)]
I am pleased to report that all is not lost. There is some glimmer of hope. Bravery and honor are not only to be found in our history books. There are two examples of that which we need that should be getting a lot more publicity than they have thus far: Joe Crystal and David C. Couper. David C. Couper was Madison’s chief of police from 1972 to 1993 and is now an Episcopal priest in Wisconsin:
When I talk publicly about the problem of deadly force and disrespect, many white people look at me with puzzled eyes. They don’t know what I am talking about because, as it turns out, they have had little, if any, contact with police. Not so for those men and women of color in my audience. They know—and they know all too well. Recent discussions have helped us understand that “unconscious bias” is inherent in our species; what is needed is being able to identify and manage it. (A Police Chief's Call for Reform by David C. Couper)One of the voices that stood out for me during the Baltimore Uprising for Justice was that of Joe Crystal. He was being interviewed by someone on MSNBC and my reaction was, “now you come forward?” Turned out I spoke too soon.
Joe Crystal had been doing the right thing even while he was a member of the Baltimore Police Department. He went up against his brethren in blue and in so doing, put his life on the line. BuzzFeed did an extensive piece on Crystal in what one of our members described as a "bloody awesome story." What he had to reveal was both "gripping and nauseating." You can read the whole sad account for yourself, but just one paragraph that captures a culture out of control...from top to bottom:
Is there any help to be had anywhere? How about a lieutenant?Crystal turned to the police union. He told Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police president Bob Cherry about the harassment, and he said that Cherry told him the department “was blood in blood out, and that’s why [the violent crimes unit] was mad at me,” and maybe he should consider going to another department. (Cherry didn’t respond to interview requests for this story.) Crystal hoped to transfer out of his unit. He asked a sergeant, the old family friend, where he could go. As Crystal wrote in his journal, the sergeant told him that no supervisor wanted him because he was “a rat.” The sergeant then said, “You better pray to God you’re not the star witness against Gialamas, ‘cause your career is already fucked, but if you are the star witness against him you should just resign.” (Breaking Baltimore's Blue Wall of Silence, Buzzfeed)
On the advice of another sergeant, Crystal met with the lieutenant in charge of a violent repeat offender squad about a possible transfer. The lieutenant told him, he wrote in his journal, that he didn’t want him on the squad because he had snitched. The lieutenant said, “’When you are on the VRO squad you have to do things in the gray area,’ and he did not think I could do that.”We need more than two good men. We need hundreds of good men to make a difference. To change the culture from within. We thank Joe Crystal and David Couper for following in the grand tradition of Frank Serpico.
Where are the others?