Featured, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

There’s No Such Thing As “Good Police”

In the reality-adjacent Baltimore-centered ecosystem of The Wire, “good police” stood as the single highest honor a character could receive. It was reserved for those who possessed the inherent qualities making someone a naturally gifted police officer and also performed those duties with integrity and verve. You had to be born good police, but you also needed to earn it.

For the years during and directly following the series, my man Brian and I incorporated that bestowing into our lexicon as a tongue-in-cheek way of describing any and every one who surpassed any type of expectation. It even spread to acts and inanimate objects. If the lettuce on your Jimmy John’s sub was crispier than usual, both the sandwich artist and the lettuce could be “good police.” We were annoying as fuck.

It’s been almost a decade since The Wire‘s final season. And while the policing of Black communities has never not been a relevant and deadly pertinent issue, the nine years since The Wire’s finale has seen an unprecedented national focus on it; a phenomenon undoubtedly due to the dozens of high profile and often fatal encounters between law enforcement and Black citizens that have been captured on camera. In this context, the concept of “good police” would seem to be an especially cruel anachronism, as American law enforcement has proven to be too tribal and consistently antagonistic to be effective, let alone good. But perhaps the most brilliant part of The Wire is that even while “good police” stood as its standard, it did this while making a five-season-long case that institutions — including law enforcement — are inherently flawed, and these flaws can make them weaponized devices of evil. “Good police” doesn’t and can’t exist.

It’s a concept I’ve thought about each time another dashcam or cell phone or audio recording of an unarmed person of color attacked, maimed, and sometimes even killed by police becomes public; an act often immediately followed by some sort of laud of the officer’s professionalism and repudiation of the victim’s character. Sometimes, before the footage is released, both the police department and the officer(s) involved will make some sort of statement about what actually transpired. And sometimes, when the footage is released, they will be proven to be lying. And sometimes the police department gets ahead of the public, and immediately suspends and charges the officer(s) involved, painting them as bad apples unworthy of the uniform.

I thought about it again yesterday, when reading that the initial account of what led to the killing of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards — that he was in a car that was backing up towards the police in an aggressive manner — was false.

I should probably clarify what “thinking about it” means in this context. I am not having any sort of internal debate or struggle about whether good police exist or not. I am pondering nothing. Instead, I’m reminding myself of what I already believe to be true. “Good police” is an inherent oxymoron. American law enforcement is such a foundational and institutional (and, arguably, intentional) clusterfuck that in order for good police to exist we’d have to collectively redefine what “good” means. What we understand “good” to be just cannot exist attached to a description of a police officer.

There are, of course, good people who happen to be cops. Who find a way to be good and decent despite the inherent occupational pressure to be amoral. But these are not good cops, because they can not be. They’re good people in blue uniforms.

I hope that, if you happen to interact with a police officer in the future, you encounter one of these good and decent people. Jordan Edwards, unfortunately, did not. He also was not killed by a bad apple. Just an apple.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • Strong.

    • I don’t see the flaw in the logic at all.

      • I’ve stated the following here and other places:

        I compare law enforcement to growing up in the country around snakes. I’m not afraid of them but I would prefer to not be around them due to the unpredictable nature of the creatures. That unpredictability means injury or death.

        • Spicy Kas

          Same and my dad and uncle were cops.

  • Holiday Heart fka Sweet T

    I am absolutely heartbroken by Jordan’s case. Especially the need to constantly reassure people that Jordan was a “good kid.” Indeed he was, but why does that have to be proven for people to be outraged about someone’s child being murdered in the street?

    Secondly, this is timely given your choice of topics today.

    http://www.theroot.com/former-s-c-cop-to-plead-guilty-to-federal-charges-in-f-1794836942

    Killer cop cops a plea. Whatever sentence he gets, it’s not going to be for murder. And I seriously doubt a federal judge will give him life. Can’t find out what the mandatory minimum is yet.

    • blueevey

      From what I heard, the cop is pleading guilty to excessive use of force and max is life. . .

      • Holiday Heart fka Sweet T

        Yes. They’re dismissing murder charges in favor of this plea to excessive force in violating Scott’s Constitutional rights. But even the deal states this charge is much less severe.

        I want to know IF there is a minimum number of years he has to serve (i.e.10?) or if that’s completely up to the judge? Because we all know he won’t be getting life.

        • Cheech

          Up to the judge. No statutory minimum, and any guidelines minimum is nonmandatory.

    • Cheech

      There’s no mandatory minimum. The sentencing guideline for the civil rights violation says you substitute the guideline for the underlying crime established by the facts. We havent seen the plea agreement ywt to see if they agreed on the guideline to use, or agreed to fight about it and let the judge decide. Either way, the fed guidelines are non-mandatory, the judge can go up or down.

      If they based it on first or second degree murder the guideline would be life. If they base it on voluntary manslaughter, the guideline would be 12.5 to 16.5 years, plus or minus (they can fight about whether he should get extra for obstruction of justice, or leniency for accepting responsibility).

      • Brown Rose

        Well that means he can probably walk out of jail in 5 years–pending good behavior.

        • Cheech

          It’s fed, so good time is only 15%. No other reductions. (Halfway reentry for last 6 mos.)

    • D-Nice

      It’s all such bullshit. They quickly trotted out the “feared for my safety,” suspect was “aggressive” line of justification. I’m not an expert, but I’d argue that this wasn’t a situation involving enough fear or enough aggression to justify killing the kid. Fear and confronting aggression are part of any police officer’s job and, IMO, the standard for how much fear and how much aggression would justify killing any person, much less a 15-year old kid with no known violent tendencies, should be very, very high. This isn’t close. I don’t even want to contemplate, but obviously have to acknowledge, that some of these instances don’t even involve cops who genuinely fear for their safety or are facing any sort of out of the ordinary aggression. They’re simply angry about being under the public’s microscope in recent years, pissed that they no longer have the feeling of having free reign to do anything they want, pissed that they have to answer for anything.

  • DCFem

    it’s still infuriating that they haven’t relased the officers name. We’ve learned a lot about the late Mr. Edwards and it’s great that there has been no character assassination of him. However I’m sure that’s only because the usual suspects looked for ways to call him a thug and couldn’t find any, and couldn’t blame his “missing” father since he lived in the same house with his dad, and couldn’t blame his “violent” community since he lived in the suburbs. May Jordan Edwards rest in peace and may the cop (who they still refuse to name) end up like the finally convicted Michael Slager.

    • DB. Just DB ™

      Yep. You know they went through the entire blame the victim flow chart before coming to dangit I guess he really was a good kid.

  • How the fuck do yo back a car up at someone so aggressively it justifies legal force?

    • Alessandro De Medici

      Honestly, I think it’s pretty clear they made that story up…just common sense.

      If cops felt they were gonna be ran over, after everything that went down, they’d have arrested them, just on cya grounds.

  • When I heard “backed up aggressively” as an excuse I knew some BS went down. Of course, today, I log on to find out backing up aggressively meant they were going forward. Every one in that car will never be OK again. A freshman is dead. Parents will be broken hearted and White folks will rush to defend this murderer. It would be too much to think about if it didn’t happen every two months.

    • TheUnsungStoryteller

      Not to mention “aggressively” is highly subjective.

      • Alessandro De Medici

        90% of laws relating to police officers has some type of appeal to authority fallacy attached to them.

        • Because we swallowed the ‘good cop’ myth.

          • Alessandro De Medici

            Culture wars also played a major role.

            Police always have a lot of power, but even in much more homogeneous societies like Sweden, cops aren’t viewed as saviors and heroes of civilization.

            • Hugh Akston

              that’s why i don’t mind living in certain places

              the cops can be a pain everyone knows that

              street justice is also a thing in many of those places…and if there are ever any issues…a few bucks will take care of the problem

              but in the US if you try to bring out your wallet, after being ordered to do so…a few bullets might end up in your body

              • Alessandro De Medici

                Yeah, you generally fear that a police officer can mess up your day, even under the worse of circumstances. However, in America, police can beat and kill you on a routine stop, or just because you stared at them too long.

                • Hugh Akston

                  when you look at the numbers its a scary thought really to encounter a cop in the us

                  especially us…but what i was confused about is how the rest of the country rationalize this?

                  i had an argument with someone on a conservative blog about the rodney king video…the person really believed rodney king was resisting…npr had a segment last night…and some guy said the same thing about some folks he knew at the time and who also thought he was resisting…he tried to get up but kept falling…and the circle of cops took turns beating him…and yet people still believe he was resisting…how do you account for this view?

                  • Alessandro De Medici

                    Once again…culture war!

                    if we let black people, hipsters and communists resists police, then they can take out laws on liberty and freedom for granted and overthrow the government!

                    Understanding how things would play out in the “imagined” culture war, in the U.S. explains pretty much every irrational political view or debate we have in our political system, which is why we don’t engage in actual politics.

                    • And we all know what the casualities of such a government overthrow. We’d have large numbers of White people living in ghettoes, and not just in Appalachia and the Rust Belt. The White rich would have to deal with the people they’ve been pawning off for years and come to some sort of an agreement on how to address wealth disparities.

                      Or as a certain notable Rutgers alum has said…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjA0fawHFOE

                  • I_AmU

                    You don’t.

                • blueevey

                  “Stared at them too long”

                  I lol ed at the accuracy of this statement. 2 was ago the bf and I went to tj/Ensenada for his bday. Border patrol has apparently started doing checks on outgoing cars. Ol military white guy stopped me asked where I was going (ensenada). Asked where I was coming from (san diego, like duh, I’m at the border) asked how much money I had (60bucks. We poor ) and then said it’s okay to take 10k out (and in) as long as u declare it. I said I know. And bam. Got pulled over to the side.

                  Ol boy got butt hurt with my truthful slightly sassy answers. Like how can you not handle sass?!

                  • Diego Duarte

                    They wanted to “aggressively encourage you” to donate 10k to their police department, by means of civil forfeiture. That’s why he got angry.

      • Brass Tacks

        The subjective piece should factor into all police paperwork.

        But it doesn’t.

      • POC are always aggressive. Even when we’re sleeping or dead.

      • CheGueverraWitBlingOn

        If there was a comprehensive report on all of the false or questionable police accounts that have been discovered to date and how certain (barely) coded worded are used to justified the shooting or brutality “Aggressively” would certainly be in the top five.

    • Diego Duarte

      The chief already contradicted that version as well. These children were not warned, nor did they back up at any moment, they were already leaving the scene. This was blatant murder, plain and simple.

      • Monica Harris

        It’s useless to ask, but I just want know why. Why did this happen? I often ask that in these situations. It’s so pointless.

        • Diego Duarte

          As in why did it have to happen to this child? Why did the policeman act this way? Or why is this a societal issue that keeps on happening over and over?

          Regardless, all of these questions have similar answers, which you are all too aware of already:

          It happened because White supremacy is a norm in almost every western society. It happened because White supremacy views minorities, and especially Blacks, as inferior and more prone to criminality than Whites. It happened because Police Departments train cops to treat minority neighborhoods like war zones, and minorities as enemy combatants.

          It happened because these people have internalized the world view that Blacks are thugs by default and, no matter how good or compliant they are as an individual, there will always be a legitimate reason to shoot you. It happened because they sincerely believe that, despite all your efforts to overcome the “criminal traits” that these people believe to be inherent to Blacks, you’ll still be viewed as trustworthy as a tamed lion that might snap and go wild at any moment.

          It happened because challenging and changing this mentality directly implies that White supremacists must first admit that they were wrong, and everything they accuse Blacks of being is nothing more than projection. That they are the “villains”, that they are the criminals, that they are the rapists. And that is not a happy thought they willingly accept anytime soon.

          • Monica Harris

            *tears* True. True.

    • Cheech

      It seemed like there was a pause for the election ish. Maybe just a pause in coverage. Now the police are back to their regularly scheduled oppression. And summer’s coming. (And sessions is undoing consent decrees.)

      • Zuri Robinson

        Why is it always summer? Summer ’16 had me in tears… Alton Sterling and Philando Castile within two days… smh.

        • Cheech

          People are outside more, it’s light longer, temps and tensions higher, all leads to cops being more fearful ….
          (And more on their shyt ….)

    • Brown Rose

      How does one back up aggressively, that it deserves him being murdered. What is the gradation.

      • White people think we do everything aggressively. They weren’t even backing up so it’s a moot point anyway.

        • DB. Just DB ™

          We do all the things aggressively. Blink aggressively. Breath aggressively. Grow our hair aggressively. Age aggressively. Shed skin cells aggressively.

          • Aye Bee

            Us simply being alive is aggressive bc how dare we live after all we have been through. We were supposed to have given up by now.

  • BrothasKeeper

    And police reform is BEHIND the backburner with the appointment of CSA, I mean ATTORNEY General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. It’s time to get militant. This has gone on long enough. And I shudder to think of how these officers of the goddamn law are gonna attempt to soil the name of a 15-year-old straight-A student. They’re using RIFLES now, because I guess their sidearms weren’t phallic enough.

    RIP, Mr. Jordan Edwards.

    • Is it too late for militancy? Everyone is just so complacent at this point.

      • Alessandro De Medici
      • TheUnsungStoryteller

        Shhh…we’re just social media protesters now. They want us quiet, now we are.

        • We have been. White folks been doing this to our children since ever.

      • Brooklyn_Bruin

        Kneegrow Self Defense League. Why we’re so patient, is beyond me?

        • Zil Nabu

          Do you carry?

          • Brooklyn_Bruin

            Myself well in all occasions, but firearms are essentially illegal in my locale.

            When guns are outlawed…

      • CheGueverraWitBlingOn

        No. It’s never too late. As long as it’s organized and determined and well-funded. We need our own well-funded, well-traded, community watch, investigation and security organizations.

    • Monica Harris

      Militancy? You wanna start a civil war? What do you mean?

      • BrothasKeeper

        Not militancy to the extent of cap peeling twice a week, but an fiercer sense of urgency. I’m just beyond tired of seeing our brothers and sisters having their civil rights ripped from them by these subhumans who are allowed to operate with impunity under the guise of serving and protecting. A piece of me wants to scorch the earth, but an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.

  • Brooklyn_Bruin

    Repatriation or revolution.

    • Where?

      • Brooklyn_Bruin

        30+ million can’t all go to the same place. Call it diaspora 2, Racial Rendezvous

  • Dopamine

    Until these cops addresses are published and their homes are burned to the ground with their families locked inside, this will continue to happen. Power yields to money and violence. We have no money.

  • Ustadh

    He also was not killed by a bad apple. Just an apple. So much truth in this statement!

    The tree is rotten from the root, consequently all the apples are bad.

    • miss t-lee

      All of them.

    • CheGueverraWitBlingOn

      Facts akh. Even the one looking shiny and red on the outside.

  • Diego Duarte

    I’ve already seen the comments from the POS conservative brigade, attempting to pull up any piece of information available to try and paint this promising teen as a thug. The rest are deflecting and saying that the media ignores Black on White crime.

    It’s straight up time to call upon well organized militias. These people won’t understand until there are consequences to murdering innocent civilians.

    • Hugh Akston

      the largest gang in the us….is the police force

      • AKA The Sauce

        Noooo United States military but that’s another conversation for another day.

        • Hugh Akston

          around the world…sure

        • Alessandro De Medici

          The US military is WAY better than the US police force.

          • AKA The Sauce

            To some degree…I’m sure many women wouldn’t feel the same.

            • Alessandro De Medici

              You can find militaries just as bad as the U.S. military; you can think of ISIS, Russian militaries etc. U.S. is bigger, more powerful, more deadly, but they still do what they do in the context of war. What the U.S. police does, sometimes confuses and frightens people who live under totalitarian regimes.

              • AKA The Sauce

                Again…another conversation for another day.

          • Diego Duarte

            I would say they’re the same. Blatant racists and xenophobes. You forget 3/4s of them voted for Trump, also the fact that these people practiced torture in Iraq.

            If they’re “better” it’s a small comfort considering what they’re being compared to.

            • AKA The Sauce

              The people I know in the military….lawd have mercy

          • Hugh Akston

            for americans living in the US…sure

            • Diego Duarte

              This.

              Americans never usually know, nor care what goes on outside their borders. To Alessandro’s credit though, he isn’t American-born from what I understand.

              • Alessandro De Medici

                Lol I am American born.

                I’ve just lived oversees for a good chunk of my life. I do know how America’s military does what it does, I just judge it on a different curve: war vs. policing. And American police compared to police in other countries, is far worse in conduct as opposed to police in other countries, and I grew up in a country where bribing police was a daily affair.

                • Painful facts. I’ve heard the stories and even see the shenanigans.

      • Diego Duarte

        These people will continue to murder. As FBI reports indicate there’s been a massive increase of infiltration among the police force by white supremacist groups. Also, the military is at least 3/4s die-hard conservative (read here blatantly racist).

        Throw in the current white supremacist agenda and the militancy of the Alt Right and it all comes to the same conclusion: minorities NEED to arm themselves at some fucking point in time.

        • Also that has to do with the knock-on effects of an all-volunteer military. Since Vietnam, a lot of left-leaning parts in the military just don’t flat out send many people to join. Throw in the effects of the economic draft, and you have a military that is dominated by working class Whites from the South, rural Midwest and the Mountain West. Even while people of color are disproportionately a part of the military, they tend to be members of the professional and administrative class as opposed to the people with the guns. This is a long term problem in the US, and no one (particularly those deep Blue parts of America that shirk the military) seems to really care.

        • cheddachasa

          How is it infiltration when white supremacists have been there since the beginning? I mean, they CREATED the police force!

          • Brooklyn_Bruin

            Right?!!? like a few snuck in, lol

          • Diego Duarte

            You have a point there. I’m referencing the fact that white supremacists groups, such as the KKK, began infiltrating police force with a defined agenda of white supremacy, according to a 2010 FBI report.

        • John Shannon

          As a Black U.S. Soldier, I agree with the 3/4s (meaning 2520s) voting for Agent Orange.

          The Military has a program to combat Rape & Sexual Assault called SHARP, and the Stats are definitely reflected in Society as a whole: 98% of Offenders are Male, 89% victims between the ages of 18-26, 78% of Offenders are in Leadership positions, etc

          The Bigotry (Racism, Sexism, Homo/Trans/Islamophobia) is raw and many times uncut from the Commanders (Coronels, Majors, Captains) to the Lieutenants, NCOs and down to the Specialists & Privates. It’s Fox News almost all day every day- even when Agent Orange is out here “praising” Hitler, Andrew Jackson, Kim Jown Un and doing everything to tick of Democrats, REAL News and so on

    • Ms.Moon

      This will not be a problem for non melanin having folks until it start shooting them up for no reason in their communities. Black people are the canaries in the coal mines they think it cannot happen to them, it will give it time.

    • CheGueverraWitBlingOn

      Thank you. I keep saying that at least all this video evidence will demonstrate to the more amicable of our numbers that it’s not about evidence, proof or right-and-wrong in the eyes of most of America. This is what the police are supposed to do and largely America is good with it. This is an acceptable status quo in America. This is about power and who has it, and to what degree it will be conceded for our lives.

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