People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Rapping Back #67
Lesson Learned from Outrage Over Racist Police Shootings: There's a "War on Cops"
The Portland Police Association (PPA) seems to be taking its cues from the ignorant backlash after Mike Brown's death in Ferguson caused many Americans to call out for the end of police shootings of unarmed African Americans. In this narrative, the cries for justice are equivalent to a "war on cops." From August to November, at least 8 of 19 articles posted on the PPA's newsletter site, the Rap Sheet, reflect this concept.
In a piece posted in October from PoliceOne.com, editor Doug Wyllie focuses on the "Pulse of
Policing," denying such a war exists, but ignoring that the protests are calls for accountability.
He says officers feel that a "majority of Americans are at war with their police. This is not true,
of course... but the national narrative in the press and public protests-- fomented by a small fraction
of the population-- is unambiguously anti-police." He says as a result, cops feel
"dejected" so they are hesitant to do their job.
Interestingly, Wyllie also talks about how officers can avoid heart attacks by focusing on the fact that 40% of cops are obese. "We have far too many fat cops out there on the streets," says his article.
An article in August fails to contextualize its rallying cry to make "Birmingham" a meaningful city name like Ferguson. Apparently, a detective there who conducted a traffic stop ended up having his gun stolen and was pistol-whipped by the suspect, with the narrative including that the cop hesitated because he was afraid to shoot. The Rap Sheet article, reprinted from PoliceOne.com, says many cops now won't use "justifiable" force because they are afraid of being called "a racist or a fascist." It asserts officers won't take action or will end up "in court, in jail, or in the grave." It envisions a future in which "demotivated" cops show up late and write a report, then hide until the next call.
The article then argues criminals are emboldened, citing statistics from the National Review that homicides are up 18% in 35 cities, with most victims and perpetrators being black. "When police back off, it is residents of poor inner-city neighborhoods who pay with their lives." Conversely, we note, when officers get "pro-active," those same residents pay with their lives. The article claims "a society that makes war with its police must learn to make peace with criminals."
The author urges officers to reclaim their own history, not allow any "broken windows" on their watch (a code word for over-enforcement of so-called quality of life crimes which disproportionally targets people of color) and not to let hesitation be the result of the "false narrative of 'hands up, don't shoot.'"
A news article reprinted in September says officers in Colorado are on high alert after an anonymous phone caller threatened to shoot cops who were patrolling alone. "As anti-police sentiment grows across the nation, the call did not surprise officers."
Another article from September is clearly a reprint of something written before commentator Paul Harvey died in 2009, in which Harvey asks "What is a Policeman?" This piece asserts that "Culled statistics wave the fan over stinkers, underscor[ing] instances of dishonesty and brutality because they are news." Harvey insists that they are news because they are not commonplace. He talks about how an officer's instant decisions are something a lawyer takes months to make, and how an officer who fails to give medical aid has to "expect to be sued." Continuing to ignore the power imbalance, he says of the generic policeman: "If you hit him, he's a coward, if he hits you, he's a bully." Actually, if you hit him, you're a felon, if he hits you, he gets promoted.
Rather than examine the underlying power dynamic that led to the Black Lives Matter movement, the police (if you believe the Rap Sheet) decided the solution is to put a better spin on the role of law enforcement. Two articles posted in October actually touch on that power dynamic, but back away from advocating change.
One of the articles on "Street PR," written by seasoned cop/author James Born, says officers are suffering through tough times because of media coverage, especially when they don't have a Public Information Officer who is good at positive messaging. He advises patrol officers to think about the two types of police power: control and influence. "We can control a situation, a person, even a neighborhood," but don't use that power to influence opinion. A few of Born's suggestions are good ideas for building trust, not just public relations: explain to people what's going on, and when someone talks to you, "smile politely and listen to what the person has to say." Unfortunately, Born undercuts this idea by adding that while listening, the officer should be "quietly making your own judgments... in your head."
Born encourages more contact with civilians that include saying hello and smiling, especially he says, at children (who of course have no idea how to analyze the power imbalance of the armed, licensed-to-kill state agents making friends with them). He notes that community contact is part of the basis of DARE (the drug resistance program proven to be ineffective--PPR #16), "basically saying that cops are not jerks." He warns officers not to explain away police actions by saying "It's a cop thing," which "promotes an 'us against them' syndrome." Doing so, says Born, costs public support, so money stops flowing, and people can't look at shootings with an open mind.
The other article, by Melissa Littles of thepolicewifelifeblog.com, talks about her role as a police officer's wife, referring to the national climate and saying current events make law enforcement spouses protective. She relates previously being married to an abusive cop, noting officers use their badges as weapons: "The problem is, abusive cops have a sense of power and that complicates the situation." However, she also goes on about how an officer's wife has one main concern: all that matters is he comes home alive. This leads to a disturbing moral relativism as it ignores the families of those who may have been harmed or killed by the police.
Of course, this is someone who adds in this advice column that her mantra is "It's not my job to
blow smoke up your ass," and that her husband's outlook on his job is that "stupidity and
haters equals job security."
As we've noted before (PPR #7, for example) there are similarities between domestic abuse and police abuse. The October Rap Sheet has a post for Domestic Violence Awareness Month defining the crime as a "Pattern of coercive tactics that can include physical, psychological, sexual, economic and emotional abuse" to attain power and control. Now if only the cops could connect this definition to the statements made by James Born and Melissa Littles about police power.
Another article posted in the Rap Sheet in September echoes this idea. Chief Kenneth Berkowitz of Canton, MA writes about ending the negative perception of cops. He claims his officers had a good relationship with the community because they held anti-bias trainings before "the anti-police protests spread nationwide." They held meetings titled "Black and Blue: All Lives Matter" and "Black and Blue: Teen Lives Matter, too." This co-optation of the Black Lives Matter slogan proves that Berkowitz's anti-bias trainings didn't do deep enough analysis (more on this below). Again missing the point that the police wield the power of the state and take lives without being held accountable, he writes: "If the mission is to pursue peace, justice and tolerance for all, isn't it hypocritical to lump 800,000+ American cops into a single, negative identity?"
Berkowitz relates a story of seeing an African American stop his car near a patrol officer and put his hands up, which startled him, but to which the cop said "Since Ferguson, I get that a couple of times a week." He writes to address that motorist, saying not to paint officers with a broad brush, but rather to ask yourself if you are making the "world a better, safer, more tolerant place." He says that cops make right decision most of the time, and that of millions of interactions, the public only hears about 1 in 100,000. (That's 10 in a million... which is not insignificant in this context.)
Interestingly, both the Paul Harvey piece from September and the Melissa Littles piece from October use a word we try to avoid here at Copwatch: Harvey says that officers are called "sir" to their face and "pig" or worse behind their backs; Little says that kids at school call her child's daddy a "pig." FYI, that's not coming from us.
PPA's Staffing Grievance In Offensive PR Campaign
In our last issue, we noted the PPA had filed a grievance against the City for "dangerously low" staffing levels at the Bureau. PPA President Daryl Turner kicked these complaints into high gear since then, culminating in a campaign launched in early October called "Having enough police matters." It appears that the police have no shame when it comes to appropriating the slogan of a people's movement to perpetuate the very institution that led to that organizing in the first place. In the October Rap Sheet, Turner says the City is not planning to spend money on police to respond to calls, fight gangs, assist citizens with mental health issues and "serve those impacted by livability issues surrounding homelessness." He claims that the Bureau is 700 cops low of national benchmarks. (No doubt based on the faulty FBI statistic quoted in PPR #66 of 2.7 officers per 1000 residents.)
In two separate pieces in August, Turner was beating the same drum, saying in one that "gang- related" violent crimes are up (though the police define what that means--article here), cops cause delays responding to calls when they have to wait for backup, and officers have to work overtime. He says "City Hall has turned a blind eye towards the safety of our communities as well as the safety of our officers." Although the DOJ has criticized Portland for not sending its Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team out to enough mental health related calls, Turner claims "those in mental health crisis are at risk while just a handful of specially-trained officers race from call to call." He worries that Portland's children won't be safe with a reduced school police force, saying they will fall victim to gang violence and traffic hazards.
His other piece takes the turn of making the word "accountability" mean something other than "police should be disciplined for violating people's rights." Titled "Accountability does not discriminate," he complains how Mayor Hales wants to spend money on housing and homeless services, but not homeless people's greatest need-- more law enforcement (!). Turner says the PPA supports helping homeless people, but Hales' effort won't "meet the needs of residents and business owners who are also impacted by livability issues surrounding homelessness." He worries police will not be able to address (1) people sleeping in doorways, (2) public places being used as bathrooms, and (3) garbage and biohazards like syringes and condoms. He argues police are the most visible service, but are being given no resources. Officer Turner, simple logic says if more people are given housing and services, those "livability" issues for the "haves" will dwindle to a near-zero level. He ends by stating "accountability should not fall on the shoulders of Portland Police Officers; it does not discriminate." What he means is that everyone is "accountable" to answer the calls of community.
The Portland Police Association does not set policy. However, some PPA leadership, officers, and guest authors express negative attitudes toward citizens and civilian oversight in their newsletter. We worry these ideas may spread through the rank-and-file.
Find the Rap Sheet at ppavigil.org
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.