I’m Going to Talk About the Police

First of all, I’m talking about this stuff because it is topical, and because I’m not gonna like myself if I don’t say something.  I have been on many different sides of the police in this country and in others, so I’m not coming at this with armchair opinions or a list of statistics.  I’m going to tell some of my own stories about my own experiences and relationships with the police, and how that has formed my opinions about them.  This is really just the Cliff’s Notes version, but I will talk more about some of these things in the future.

  • I was in D.A.R.E.

The first encounters I remember with police officers were in Drug Abuse Resistance Education.  This should have been called “Drug Abuse Receptivity Education” because it just made the kids who were already likely to do drugs more knowledgable and enthusiastic about them.  This gave me an early impression of the police as conscientious and well-intentioned, but misguided in their efforts, out of touch.

  • I was family friends with a policeman

One of my kid brother’s best friends had a father who was a police officer.  He was a really nice guy and a family man, but there were elements of his personality that were ugly that I’m sure were reinforced by the job.  I noticed he was never particularly discriminatory to individuals, but he would say racist things that came from his experiences on the job.  There was also an edge of thuggish machismo when talking about work.  I felt like this was what was meant by, “power corrupts”.

  • I was a teenage runaway

I ran away from home when I was 14 over some conflicts with my parents.  I’d had a rough childhood and was headed in a pretty bad direction.  I ended up hanging out on the streets in downtown Portland with a bunch of punk rockers and street kids.  One day, a group of about a dozen police came across the street to bust us up on the pretense that we were taking up too much sidewalk space.  I was beaten up badly by a group of police officers who threw me against a wrought-iron fence with spikes on the top, and kicked me on the ground repeatedly.  They were throwing me around with my arms bound behind my back, so you know you can’t brace your fall with your arms that way and you get pretty hurt.  I remember a hippy kid gathering signatures for some petition, and when he saw what was happening to me he busted out a polaroid and started shouting, “you pay their salaries and this is what they do to your kids!”

  • I was a protestor

After that, I decided to get involved with police brutality protests.  These happened every October or November in Seattle, if I remember correctly.  This is where I learned some of the stories of other people like me who had been victims of excessive force, and I met families who had lost loved ones needlessly to police violence.  I learned that people were dying from this, because I met their survivors face-to-face and heard their stories.  Put a personal face on a problem and it is much different than a statistic or a new article that gets your hackles up.  This is real and it sticks with you.

  • I was a thug & a criminal

I developed my ideas about protest into a thirst for riots and revolutions, and from that into outright street violence.  I learned every word to NWA’s “F**k the Police!” and the 4Skins’ “All Coppers Are Bastards”.  I got in a lot of street fights, at first justifying this as I was only beating up neo-nazis and white power guys, but later just fighting anyone who I didn’t like or who looked at me funny.  I stole stuff, I trespassed, I defaced property, I hurt people.  During this period of my young adulthood, I was picked up by the police and put into jail several times.  I saw how the culture of city police and rural police was different.  When my former D.A.R.E. officer arrested me in my home town, he remembered my name and was pretty nice about it.  When I was arrested in the city, police roughed me up and threw my wallet in the mud.  I was once chased by police for 5 blocks and tackled to the ground with a gun barrel jammed into the back of my head.  I was strip-searched on the street in NYC during stop-and-frisk just because they didn’t like the way I looked.  I also noticed how easy it was to get away with most crime if you’re not being totally stupid.  It seemed like city police weren’t actually preventing, investigating, or creating solutions to crime, they were merely intervening in the few edge cases when they got a timely call, and retaliating whenever they had the opportunity.

  • I was in a riot

One time, I was in downtown Seattle for the Mardi Gras parties, walking around with a video camera while people partied in the streets.  I saw how the scene got crowded, and then got worse when the police fringed the area and created pressure to compress the crowd towards the center.  I watched how a large street gathering gets turned into a riot.  I saw gangs come in and settle beefs with each other.  I watched a guy get stabbed by a dozen dudes.  Meanwhile, the police with riot shields and those on horseback were pushing the crowd closer and closer together, making it harder for people to escape.  Then they started lobbing tear gas into us.  People couldn’t escape.  I was jumped by a gang of guys who was trying to steal my video camera, then they got jumped by another gang who pulled me and my camera out and set me free.  Police were not helpful in any of this.  As I was trying to get away, I asked a mounted cop a question and he kicked me square in the head.  They did not disperse the crowd, but they did turn it into a riot, and that’s when opportunist vandals and looters showed up.  Seems familiar…

  • I was into CrossFit

So far, most of these experiences with the police have been negative, and I truly did not like police at this time.  I would never call them, no matter what happened.  That would be considered snitching.  Then I got into this thing called “CrossFit”.  Now I was working out with a lot of guys (& gals) who were in the military, law enforcement, fire, and competitive athletics. I made friends with some cops.  I started to hear their stories of on-the-job life and I understood that “thuggish machismo” thing a lot better.  Heck, I was completely a macho thug by this point myself!  I started to understand the human side of cops, and how they weren’t that much different than me. They were tough and disciplined and hard-working.  They believed in what they were doing, most of the time.  And, the every day challenges of the job changed them in ways they did not expect.  I helped a cop friend celebrate his 50th birthday and we bonded.  I started to think that there was a use for these people in society, that they served an important role.

  • I worked in film & TV

Working on TV commercials and Indie films, I had the experience of actually hiring police.  I saw how easy it was to put police onto your payroll officially (through their employer), and how that bought you a certain set of privileges you wouldn’t normally have.  On one side of the coin, we got the really friendly, happy side of police who were getting paid handsomely on their day off to just hang out and do non-dangerous stuff.  On the other side, we got to see the corruptibility of the institution.  I met a few corrupt cops tangentially during these years, learning that some cops make side money beating people up for night club owners or covering for people who use their businesses as fronts for drug-dealing and prostitution.  Badge, uniform, gun, these are the trappings of authority, and that authority can be bent to varying uses based on who is paying the bills.

  • I went to University

The biggest thing that changed my mind about police during University was an assignment for my Law class.  We were told to go spend a day at the courthouse observing trials.  I was instructed to look at the docket specifically for a case that sounded interesting and had some live testimony going on, not just to walk into any random courtroom.  The room I ended up in told one of the gnarliest stories I’d ever heard.  The man on trial was a biker gang leader, arms dealer, chop-shop owner, and drug smuggler.  The WA state patrolman whose testimony we heard that day detailed how they arrived with two SWAT teams at the front and back gates of the man’s compound, announced their arrival on loudspeakers, and received gunfire from inside the compound in return.  They battered down the gates and entered, fanning out inside the compound to flank the house and get to the gunmen.  Inside the compound, there was a large collection of stolen vehicles.  They found a shooting range with target-practice effigies of nuns and minorities, including black cops like the man testifying.  They entered a barn filled with drugs, including literal tons of marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines.  They found an armory with military-grade equipment, including rocket launchers.  After a prolonged shootout, they apprehended the suspect.  So, maybe we need some cops after all?

  • I traveled the world

After college, I traveled through Asia, Africa, and Europe on a 6-month backpacking adventure.  A couple months later, I was back in Africa for most of a year.  In the following years, I lived again in Africa, traveled to Jamaica, and lived in Thailand.  I’ve continued to make international trips about once a year.  I saw police who were scary, like the Cambodian border police who locked me in a room and hid their badges when they were asking for a bribe (these guys were former Khmer Rouge).  I saw police who were friendly, like the baton-wielding (no firearms) police in India who directed traffic and dispensed with helpful driving directions.  I saw police who were armed like the military, patrolling in armored vehicles as if they were in a war zone.  I saw other police in other countries who weren’t armed at all, but were more like a helpful neighborhood guide or security guard.  I rented a house from a quasi-fascist cop in Thailand.  I was stopped on the road and pressed for bribes countless times in Kenya.  I started to see the commonalities between all police (that they wield the threat of physical violence & represent the authority of the state), as well as the differences between police in different cultures (some are trained well and incentivized to serve their communities, while others are poorly-trained and are incentivized to only serve themselves).  Some police are motivated by ethics, morals, and values.  Some police only value their own power and personal gain.

  • I trained LEOs for their PT tests

Then, I kind of accidentally got into the business of training law enforcement officers to pass their PT tests.  It actually started with training recruits for the military, then training people from my CrossFit classes who wanted to pass their upcoming military, fire, or LEO PT tests. Soon, the local police department was hitting me up every time they had a recruit who was on the fence, or a tenured officer who had failed their annual test.  I met a lot of guys who worked in a lot of different law enforcement jobs, or aspired to do so.  I did a lot of listening and learned about their values, their ambitions, and their challenges.  I saw how important it was that they be confident and well-prepared, both mentally and physically, as well as in their training.  Weak cops, dumb cops, or poorly-trained cops are dangerous.  Healthy cops–with stable home lives and routines, good physical preparation, and sharp minds–were more likely to de-escalate situations, make good choices, and keep people safe.  I tried my best to impart some mental toughness and moral reasoning into these guys, from my own life-lessons and stories, while also preparing them physically.  I like to think I made a positive impact on some people who went on to law enforcement careers, while I also helped some people realize that it wasn’t for them.

  • I lived across the street from a meth house

And then there was the time that I relied upon the police.  We’d spent a full year shopping for homes before finding something within our modest price range that we liked and were ready to move right into.  It’s a nice house, with a nice yard, and close to friends and family.  The only problem was the beaten-down trailer across the street.  This house was constant trouble for the entire neighborhood, with drug customers coming and going 24 hours a day like a McDonald’s drive-through.  There were frequent fights and yelling matches in the front yard, and police or Sherriff’s deputies stopping by a couple times a week with lights flashing.  They picked up stolen cars over there, arrested people for drugs and domestic violence.  It was a bad scene, and it was only 10 yards away from my front door.  I started asking some of the police I knew from the gym for help.  Actually, one of the guys I was training worked for the Sherriff’s task force that was responsible for that place.  It was a long saga, and the neighbors across the street did retaliatory attacks on me–such as yanking my mailbox out with a tow hitch–but eventually we got them out of there.  Now our home is a safe place to live and a safe place for our kids to play.  I also met some local cops who live in the area and whose kids go to school here.  These guys are accountable to their local community and they actually care about it being a nice place to live.

So, are cops good or bad?  It depends.  Do we need them or don’t we?  It’s complicated. I have learned that they are just people like the rest of us, and just as prone to corruption or fallibility.  It’s all about the institution and how we use it, about the culture of the society and the cultures of the law enforcement agencies themselves, about the training they receive and the roles they are asked to play.  I’ll tell you this for sure: we can definitely do better.

Published by nicnakis

Nicholas |nik-uh-luhs| n. a male given name: from Greek words meaning "victory of the people" John |jon| n. a male given name: from Hebrew Yohanan, derivative of Yehohanan "God has been gracious" Nakis |nah-kis| n. a Greek family name derived from the patronymic ending -akis (from Crete) Amha |am-hah| n. an Ethiopian given name meaning "gift", from Geez Selassie |suh-la-see| n. Ethiopian name meaning "trinity", from Geez

4 thoughts on “I’m Going to Talk About the Police

  1. This is great! You do have a well rounded set of experiences that gave you your insight. It’s amazing that you let yourself acknowledge that there can still be good after the bad. I hate all of this situation going on. But how do you fix it when it’s exactly as you said- not all cops are good or bad, sometimes they help and sometimes they don’t. With humans being imperfect how can we ever hope for peace? There will always be two sides and all they want to do is yell at each other! It’s hard not to feel hopeless sometimes.


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