A cop sees the seamier side of human nature, so for this blog I read a book by one (his name is Michael Middleton). It did surprise me. For one thing, not all arrests are clean and orderly where a policeman simply pulls out his gun, tells the perpetrator to put his hands behind his head, and puts on the handcuffs.
An example where having a gun is no guarantee of safety: Michael knew a robber was about to emerge from a stairwell in a garage, and so decided to pretend he was a driver in the garage, fumbling for his keys. He turned his back to the door, and his partner, Frank, hid nearby.
“I heard the door open, and footsteps behind me. As I turned, Frank flew from his position, tackling the suspect with his left arm while holding his gun in his right hand. He yelled, “Drop the knife, or your fuckin’ brains are in the lot!” Above the man’s head, arm extended, was a knife he was preparing to sink into my back.”
It had happened very quickly, and Frank’s quick action saved Michael. But Michael could have been seriously hurt, or worse.
Cops don’t always get killed by guns and knives. Michael tells of a car that hit a police car with an impact speed of eighty-five miles per hour. The drivers were fleeing a drug transaction that had gone wrong, and they survived, but the two police did not, despite the efforts of a weeping passerby, who happened also to try and fight with one of the criminals, though nobody else would help him.
Cops today are told to wear cameras, and there is a widespread but mistaken belief that they bully minorities, especially after the incident in Ferguson Missouri, where a policeman, Darren Wilson, shot an unarmed black youth. That story is interesting in itself, because witnesses say that Wilson did act in self defense, and these witnesses were afraid because they were threatened by individuals from the Ferguson community for holding contrary testimonies to the prevailing story that Michael Brown was shot in cold blood. One witness said ‘crowds of people had begun to gather, wrongly claiming the police shot Brown for no reason and that he had his hands up in surrender. Two black women approached Witness 102, mobile phones set to record, asking him to recount what he had witnessed. Witness 102 responded that they would not like what he had to say. The women responded with racial slurs, calling him names like “white motherfucker”. Witness 103, a 58 year old black male, testified that he saw from his parked truck ‘Brown punching Wilson at least three times in the facial area, through the open driver’s window of the SUV… Wilson and Brown [had] hold of each other’s shirts, but Brown was “getting in a couple of blows [on Wilson]”. Wilson was leaning back toward the passenger seat with his forearm up, in an effort to block the blows. Then Witness 103 heard a gunshot and Brown took off running. Wilson exited the SUV, appeared to be using his shoulder microphone to call into his radio, and chased Brown with his gun held low…
[Witness 104] saw Brown run from the SUV, followed by Wilson, who “hopped” out of the SUV and ran after him while yelling “stop, stop, stop”. Wilson did not fire his gun as Brown ran from him. Brown then turned around and “for a second” began to raise his hands as though he may have considered surrendering, but then quickly “balled up in fists” in a running position and “charged” at Wilson. Witness 104 described it as a “tackle run”, explaining that Brown “wasn’t going to stop”. Wilson fired his gun only as Brown charged at him, backing up as Brown came toward him.”
So valid self-defense was confused with racism, but an interesting lesson from this book is that in the late sixties and early seventies, there were plenty of racist police, and they didn’t mind who knew it.
It wasn’t everybody. Racism was not tolerated in the Police Academy:
In class, Middleton and his fellow students had been told: “When you stop a suspect and he’s got a gun, I don’t give a shit what color you are or what color he is. He’ll blow you out of the fuckin’ water for one reason–you’re wearing blue.”
But Middleton would hear from other cops that accompanied him in his car statements such as “You can’t teach those fucking niggers a thing. Remember, it’s us against them.”
In one situation, a car crash, one of the cars involved contained a couple where the driver (who was not at fault) was black, and his wife was white. At one point she told the cops to hurry, and Michael’s partner looked her in the eye and asked her sarcastically: “Ma’am, exactly how long have you been a nigger?” She was shocked.
At another traffic stop (this time it was the driver’s fault), the black driver said “There’s only one reason you stopped me.”
“My partner responded in a voice dripping with sarcasm “Oh? And what reason might that be?”
“You only stopped me because I’m black.”
The partner did not respond immediately, but began to write the traffic citation. After finishing the first few lines, he told the suspect “No sir, you’re wrong. We stopped you because you are a fucking nigger.”
I (the blogger) read this and my jaw drops. In the year 2015, its astonishing to read of policemen ever talking this way.
But there was another side to this. Michael Middleton also speaks of black cops who were liked and admired by other cops in his department. Michael also says that the white cops were seeing only five percent of the black population – and much the worst 5 percent. Plus society seemed to be disintegrating in the sixties and there was a “circle the wagons” mentality among many police.
The cameras that police are being told to wear nowadays will prevent situations where police can take the law into their own hands. Situations such as this one:
A husband, a PCP dealer, was angry when his wife, in her own fit of rage, flushed a bottle of the drug down the toilet. To punish her, the husband had brought each of their children out, and in front of their mother, ran a ten-inch bread knife across each of their throats. Michael saw the dying children. The girl was lying in a pool of blood – already dead, and the boy was dying in Michael’s arms.
Michael and his partner went out and found the killer. Michael drew his gun: “Keep your hands out where we can see them. Come here slowly, down the steps. Come on, keep your hands up.”
“You can kill me motha-fuck,’cause I ain’t going.”
“I reholstered my weapon and told the officers to cover me as I went up the steps after him. Reaching him, I grabbed the murderer and extended my left leg as he went past me. He tripped and fell face first down the steps…He tried to get to his feet to flee, and the fight was on. I seized him from behind and applied a chokehold harder than I have ever done. The absolute rage I felt blinded me…
“Sarge, let go of him. Let go of him!” yelled a detective…I thought it meant I’d choked the father to death, so I let go, but the detective wanted his turn. He stepped up and booted the man in the face harder than I have ever seen anyone kick.
Michael then choked the suspect into unconsciousness.
Michael says he had wanted to retaliate for the little children who couldn’t fight for themselves. He says it was too bad the father wasn’t seriously injured. He adds: “I don’t care what others think about what we did. They didn’t hold that little boy.”
The suspect’s wife later visited the husband in jail and calmly discussed the murder of their children. She said “It ain’t no thing. We can makes more babies.”
Back to the racism issue: police would risk their lives for both black and white citizens in their area. Michael describes two cops, Ray Castro and Joseph Doherty, who kept running into a burning building to rescue its inhabitants. One elderly rescued man said this “I knew there was a fire, and I knew I was dead. I was in bed because I can’t walk by myself….He (Castro) came to the door, and it was closed. I was afraid to open it because the fire was comin’. He banged on it, and I yelled back, ‘We’re in here!’ Bang! He kicked it right in. You know, he was like a knight when he stood in the doorway…He walked right out of that smoke…The fire was coming down the hall, and you could feel how hot it was.”
One woman witness told Michael – “When they (Castro and Doherty) went up the ladder, that room was on fire, and they still went in! They just disappeared into the smoke and flames!…I’ve never seen such courage…And I’ll tell you something else. There were a bunch of men just standing around, like they’re doing’ now. None of them helped your officers. No sir.”
Cops are not always appreciated.
Two officers saw some juveniles acting suspiciously near a housing project and decided to stop them to see what was going on. As soon as the officers got out of their car, one of the juveniles shot both officers, wounding them. Michael showed up and said “an angry crowd had gathered, taunting the officers.” The projects themselves had been built to make available low-cost housing that did not look like a slum, but there was a high crime rate, plenty of drugs, and obviously a very alienated population.
I live in a safe green and leafy suburb where I assume the local police don’t have much to do, at least compared with an inner-city cop. This will change, because under the Obama administration, we have a law that our safe upscale suburbs must build low-income housing and then settle it with people from the inner city, so that racial disparities in outcomes can be erased. If our future neighbors are like the inhabitants of those projects, our policemen will no longer be bored. Neither will we.
Michael has a final comment about crime: “Crime is theft of one sort or another. Whether it’s a television set, the life of a homeless person, or the self-respect of a rape victim, something’s been stolen. Police work is about crime; it’s about standing in the way of those who want something and don’t care how they get it or whom they hurt.”
I would expand Michael’s comment slightly, people victimize others for additional reasons such as ideology, revenge, jealousy, sadism and other motives. And this happens on all scales – from a drug dealer on a street corner to a ruler of a country that spans several time zones.
When Michael Middleton started his career, he would often see the charred remains of buildings from the black riots of the sixties. After he retired, in 1992, he saw Los Angeles again engulfed in flames, and writes “I began to wonder how much of a difference we really had made.”
“Maybe these weren’t new fires but simply the old ones rekindled…That was the problem with police work…You always seemed to be behind the times, only reacting to what was occurring, never getting ahead of the game. There was never time….Night after night you were plunged into this swirling mass. In a way it never changed, but in other ways it was always changing”.
Cop – A True Story: by Michael Middleton