I have one brother. There’s nothing I won’t do for him. And although we’ve had our share of disagreements, whatever happens between us stays between us. If he calls me in a bind because he fucked up, I’m helping him clean up the mess and telling nobody. His secrets are always safe with me and I’d sooner lose my job, my freedom and my life than betray him.
I’d imagine most people feel the same about their brothers. As such, one can see why police officers referring to themselves and functioning a “brotherhood” is at a minimum conflicting, and at most flaunting corruption.
Stripping away all the sensationalism, deifying and romanticizing, policing is a job. Police officers are paid employees whose first loyalty should be to their customers (citizens) and not to their coworkers. But when there’s a culture that promotes the protection of those in the brotherhood above the interests of the citizens you’re charged to protect, an inevitable adversarial relationship between police and citizens is created, fostered and perfected. Further intensifying this dynamic is the protection at any and all costs guaranteed by the police unions.
At no time in my life can I remember this evidenced more clearly than it is now. When Akai Gurley was “accidentally” shot by an officer employed by the NYPD, the union’s allegiance was not to the innocent citizen shot through no fault of his own, but to the officer who had so recklessly conducted a patrol of the dark building with his weapon drawn. As is always the case, the union rushed to defend the officer. And while when any allegations of excessive force or brutality are made, particularly when the victim is black, the chief of the named police department usually issues a standard statement promising a thorough internal investigation — let’s bookmark the absolute absurdity of that — the corresponding police union or its representatives go straight to the scripted response declaring the integrity of the officer’s actions and issuing, at best, an insincere apology to the victim and/or the victim’s family and at worst, blaming the victim for his own death, see Freddie Gray.
Then the “brothers” following the lead of their parents, the chief and union, begins its campaign to protect their brothers (or sisters) and punish the public for holding them accountable for their actions. black
Having had this scenario play out countless times, I was still floored when the Fraternal Order of Police River City Lodge 614 issued the following open letter:
That the letter is addressed to the public, criminal element of the city of Louisville and the “self appointed spokespersons who choose to remain blind to reason, who use misinformation and who sensationalize tragedy at every opportunity to forward their political agendas” sets the threatening tone. Disgusting language aside, the problem with the opening statement is that it somehow separates the public from those in opposition, casual or direct, with the police. The job of the police is to serve the public without qualifiers. That this organization believes that the police are only public servants for those citizens they approve of is evidence that there is a difference between the rhetoric and propaganda police departments push and their very real practices.
A criminal is still a part of the public. So too are people who criticize, protest against and even hate the police. The teacher doesn’t get to only educate her favorite students. Firefighters don’t get to ignore fires when they don’t like the victims. Paramedics don’t get to let people die if they’re not pleased with them. Why then have the public servants of law enforcement decided that their performance is dictated by how they feel about the citizens?
Beyond the aforementioned, though, this divide-and-conquer tactic pits the “public” against all others fostering an “us vs. them” dynamic which makes some citizens believe they’re superior to others and entitled to seek extrajudicial retribution.
In proceeding, the River City Fraternal Order of Police’s President, Dave Mutchler, – YES, THE PRESIDENT ISSUED THIS LETTER! – thanks those who support the police as they serve and protect, asserting that “ninety-nine” percent of police officers serve with integrity and courage.” Poorly written as this letter is, I was still shocked to see such strong propaganda masquerading as factual information. On what basis is the claim that only 1% of all police officers do not operate with integrity and courage? And even if this preposterous figure is taken at face value, shouldn’t the 99% be weeding out those bad apples?
The letter continues, “To the criminal element in our community-we do not fear you…No matter how weak our criminal justice system, we will hunt you down again and again until they put you away or you go away…Most importantly, though, take note of the following: If you actively resist or assault us, we will use every option available to take you into custody. If you use deadly force against us or use or attempt to use a dangerous instrument or deadly weapon against us, we will use deadly force against you and we WILL stop the threat to us, our fellow officers or the citizens we serve.”
This is a challenge. It’s daring any criminal, perceived or real, to try the officers. It’s the schoolyard fight where the bully taunts his opponent with insults until he draws him in. This is an official representative of a police department declaring the intention of the force to execute citizens. It’s a cover-your-ass move to ensure that when the police increase the use of deadly force against unarmed citizens, they can refer back to their warning. This is preparation for murder and planting evidence.
The kind of gall it takes to issue a statement like this can only be developed through decades of unrestricted power. The police and their representatives know that no matter how corrupt, brutal and criminal their actions, collective accountability and punishment are not options. They have been allowed, encouraged even, to act as judge, jury and executioner.
Even further, the letter goes on to threaten, in no ambiguous terms, anyone who dares question the iron fist of the law explicitly the “sensationalists, liars and race-baiters” who twist the truth or otherwise engage in vile behavior meant to push” their “selfish agenda.” The message is clear: Accept whatever the police do, embrace however they serve, or be punished.
Among this disgustingly combative wording, the use of the term “race-baiters” leaps off the page. That a person would be so emboldened that he, acting in official capacity, would use thinly-veiled racist language is incomprehensible. You see it took four paragraphs, but we finally arrived at the meat and potatoes of this letter. This is a warning to the black community who dare demand equal standards of policing. Mutchler speaks directly saying, “As police are disempowered the predominately minority areas of cities, including Louisville, are suffering at the hands of killers and violent felons.” Code word: minority. This is a “stay in your place” memo for African-Americans who dare believe the equal rights and protection afforded under the law extend to them.
Mutchler ironically closes the letter with, “We challenge you to have the same integrity and dedication to serving the community that you say you seek in the police. We already have it. You need to get it.” Perhaps Mr. Mutchler should spend more time in his official capacity as President of the River City FOP learning the definition of the word integrity. Integrity wouldn’t allow you to issue a threat in black and white with racist implications. It wouldn’t urge you to attempt to strike fear in the hearts of those you’re charged to serve. It wouldn’t caress your ego into demanding absolute devotion from the public regardless of how you perform your job. This letter displays many characteristics, but integrity is not one.
Signed on behalf of members of the RCFOP (the officers of the Louisville PD), this letter exemplifies the inevitable consequences of law enforcement transitioning from career to brotherhood. Loyalty is first, most and always to the brothers rather than to the people the police are supposed to protect.