#BlackLivesMatter: We Need More Serpicos To Help End Corrupt Police Culture

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Frank Serpico

[Speaking Truth To Power]

In late 1971, Detective Frank Serpico tried to change the corrupt cop culture of the New York Police Department (NYPD) when he testified before the Knapp Commission under judge Whitman Knapp.

Unfortunately, Detective Serpico's truth-telling was seen as a betrayal—instead of an act showing his deep respect for a profession he assumed was largely an honorable one based on high morals and integrity that was being tarnished by corrupt cops, Serpico found out the hard way his impression of the NYPD as a noble institution was just a myth.

This honest cop was labeled as a "snitch" who violated the Blue Wall of Silence that is erected to protect cops—even those who engage in the very criminality they supposedly took an oath to fight. For over 40 years, Serpico has been ostracized by New York’s “finest.” As he said, in an article in Politico last year, “I am still persona non grata in the NYPD.”

One of the principal points, in the Serpico saga, showing the level of corruption within the police, is the fact that when this NYPD detective was shot on Feb. 3, 1971, he says, his “brother” officers did not respond to his calls for aid, even though at least two other officers stood just a few feet away. In fact, according to Serpico, after he was shot in the face the person who gave him aid was a Hispanic civilian man who told him “Don’t worry, you be all right.”

His fellow officers were nowhere around—and had, presumably, left him there to die. If cops treat another cop that way, because they were unhappy that he was exposing wrongdoing inside the NYPD, why should we expect integrity from police, especially when it involves the epidemic killing of Black people by their colleagues?

All these years later, especially as police continue to kill Black people -- as well as well documented cases of killing their wives, girlfriends and family members-- we need to ask ourselves why police “leaders,” and politicians, continue to condone corruption and cover-up for the criminal elements within their midst?

Instead, of empty excuses—and shameless slander jobs, as was done by the bully-mouth New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who accused Black Lives Matter activists of calling for the murder of cops, political officials must be forced to address the problems of police violence.

To confront violent brutal police officers who shouldn't be in the force is not to repudiate entire police departments.

When Detective Serpico testified before the Knapp Commission, it was the culmination of his efforts to spark change in an NYPD he characterized as being filled with corruption.

As Serpico put it last year  “I tried to be an honest cop in a force full of bribe-takers. But as I found out the hard way, police departments are useless at investigating themselves—and that’s exactly the problem facing ordinary people across the country —including perhaps, Ferguson, Missouri, which has been a lightning rod for discontent.

A major part of the problem today with police is it's virtually impossible for an officer to be honest when the Blue Wall encourages officers to conceal the crimes of criminal cops. This corrupt cop culture is, no doubt, leading to the high rates of suicides among cops—as well as the high rate of domestic abuse among officers, including the killing of their wives and loved ones. The violence of police officers in relation to their family and the communities they police—especially, the killing of African-Americans, the primary victims of police homicide—should make all of America cringe.

The police killing of unarmed Black people continued this week with the killing in Minneapolis of 24-year-old Jamar Clark, who died on Monday, after he was shot Sunday—according to some witnesses while he was restrained in handcuffs. Clark died from a shot to the head. Reportedly, there is a video of the altercation between Clark and the police but authorities have refused to release that video.

The ubiquity of video technology is a major reason why the issue of police killing of Black people is currently in the spotlight. Chillingly, the killings still continue.

At the same time, politicians still refuse to act to spur change in police departments. How much more evidence, video and otherwise, do politicians need to see before they start seriously engaging in corrective action?

How can the public be expected to respect the police when they protect lawbreakers in uniform, especially knowing that, eventually, the crimes of some of these will be revealed? Where are the Serpicos of today?

A few weeks ago, it was discovered that an officer from the Fox Lake, Illinois, police department, whose death sparked an intense manhunt, had in fact staged his own death to cover-up his crime of stealing money from a program he oversaw within the police department.

Lt. Charles Joseph “GI Joe” Gliniewicz's death is now known to be the result of a “carefully staged suicide.” But when he died on Sept. 1, law enforcement officials were sent scampering around to find those supposedly responsible for his death. Moreover, conservative commentators took the opportunity of his death to slander the Black Lives Matter Movement, by blaming them for creating an environment that promoted the killing of cops—a specious charge that certain Republicans, are making.

As if people appalled by what police officers did to victims like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, and many other victims should just remain quiet.

Lt. Gliniewicz’s deception is now acknowledged, but how many more are there like him wearing the badge? Are we to believe that none of his fellow officers knew of his criminality? Why was he not exposed? Any investigation must address this.

In the same way, we should know there had to be high officials who knew that the police and courts, in Ferguson, were targeting Black residents for tickets and summons to balance the city budget—as is no doubt being done elsewhere in America.

Politicians and police would have us think misconduct in police departments are exceedingly rare. But that is obviously not the case. And the weight of the evidence tells us denials by police apologists cannot continue in the light of everything that we know presently. Denialists aren't interested in solutions--they want political currency instead.

Unfortunately, police officials and politicians continue to tell us blatant falsehoods—and continue to blame everyone when they need to be looking into the mirror.  Currently, their tactic is to advance the false claim that police are somehow under attack from activists protesting police abuse.

Some have decided to target the Black Lives Matter Movement because of the success they’ve had in forcing politicians to speak, even cautiously, on the issue. But police deaths are down, not up. This is akin to how the early whistleblowers who attempted tp expose pedophilia in the Catholic church were demonized. How dare they attack the pristine Catholic church. Well, the church has come a long way with even Pope Francis acknowledging the problem.

Where are courageous police officers -like Serpico-- and commanders who will admit the truth?

And where are the statistics showing that violence against the police is increasing? The politicians who are now mendaciously claiming police are under physical attack should spend some time asking why there is such a high rate of suicide among police if they really care. Police officers kill themselves at a rate that is approximately 53% higher than that of the general population. Domestic abuse among police is also a serious problem. This reality begs for further examination, since police are expected to be people of strong emotional character.

Is it possible that a major part of the answer lies in the very culture of the police itself?

Here again, the experience of Detective Frank Serpico is instructive when he tells us that “The police make up a peculiar subculture. More often than not they have their own moral code of behavior, and us against them attitude, enforced by a Blue Wall of Silence. It’s their version of the Mafia’s omerta. Speak out, and you’re no longer one of us. You’re one of them.”

That attitude tells us why police can’t be trusted to police themselves.

As long as politicians are either unwilling or afraid to bring the police in check for killing Black people and committing other abuses protest movements like Black Lives Matter will grow.

 

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