My cousin is married to a cop who worked out in the ‘burbs. He’s a rock solid, salt of the earth kind of guy, straight out of central casting for a Scorsese cop flick: Irish, Catholic, served in Afghanistan. In other words, he doesn’t spend a lot of time reading the Huffington Post.
In the wee hours of family gatherings, he’d share war stories about life on the beat in the mean streets of the Main Line: mostly a lot of pet-triggered false alarms, endless paper work, double shifts and back alley catnaps in his cruiser. Everybody did it. Had to.
Every now and then, he’d have to pull his gun out, but not often. Bottom line, he said, they did things by the book. “But Philly cops?” he’d say, “They don’t give a shit, they’ll just beat the living fuck out of you and dump you on the sidewalk.”
That always stuck with me, having been filed away in the memory cabinet marked USEFUL INFORMATION. While I’ve never had occasion or cause for an unpleasant encounter with the Philadelphia Police Department, his words echo in my mind every time I see Philly PD beating the snot out of some perp on TV or YouTube, usually at the end of a car chase.
Best I can tell, there’s some unspoken cop rule that says at the end of every car chase everyone gets a chance to kick and/or punch the perp, preferably when he’s down. I’m sure this is both a satisfying and effective way of working off all the adrenaline that builds up during one of those high-speed-squealing-tires-white-knuckle car chases. Plus, it sends a very clear message to everyone who’s not a cop: You run, you will get beat.
Respect must be paid.
Now, before we go any further, let me be clear: I don’t hate cops. They’re family. I know firsthand how relentlessly overworked and grossly underpaid they are. I have nothing but respect for the awful burden they have shoulder. It ain’t all shootouts and car chases and beatdowns, either. It’s mostly a lot of cleaning up society’s messes: drunks, fuck-ups, assorted jackasses and, more often than not, seriously dangerous people.
For this, I am eternally grateful. We all are. Give ’em a raise, I say.
However, wearing a badge and carrying a gun grants you awesome power in this or any society. And with great power comes great responsibility. Cops are paid to be better than the assholes they deal with every day. When that covenant is breached, there is a terrible price to be paid. Depending on the size of the breach, that price can range from a chewing out to a suspension to a dismissal or jail time. That’s the way the system is supposed to work. And when it does it sends a very clear message: It is morally impossible to be above the law while simultaneously upholding it and you will be brought low for even trying.
So when a hulking cop lands a killshot haymaker upside the skull of a woman a third his size with enough force to knock her flat on her back, on a crowded city street, in broad daylight, ON VIDEO, and it goes viral, so the D.A. has no choice but to bring him up on assault charges, and the whole thing ends with a judge ruling him not guilty of punching a woman in the face despite the videotape of him punching a woman in the face, to the deafening cheers of his brother cops that have packed the courtroom—well, it feels like the system failed us. Like we are through the looking glass, people.
Like we have entered some brave new world. A world where nothing that happens on video is true. A world where all those hidden-camera traffic tickets that come in the mail are null and void, and all fines levied shall be reimbursed in full, plus interest.
A world where anybody doing time for a crime captured on security cameras—bank robberies, ATM muggings, convenience store stick-ups, parking garage rapes, playground shootings and worse—is immediately released from prison with an apology and a cash settlement for false arrest.
If that sounds weird and dangerous and patently absurd, it’s only because it is. Because when we can no longer believe our own eyes, when nothing is true and everything is permitted, when the good guys get away with doing bad things, we have entered … The Twilight Zone.