Policing is Complicated: there are Good Cops and Bad Cops and sometimes they are the Same Cops

I have never fantasized about being a cop. Not even a little bit. Not when I was a boy, not when I grew older, not at any point in my life. It just doesn’t interest me at all.

If anything has been demonstrated in spades over the last few months, it’s that policing is complicated and there are good cops and there are bad cops, and sometimes they’re the same people.

On the Good Cops front

Recent examples of “good cops” include:

  • Eugene Goodman, the capitol police officer who led insurrectionists away from the Senate chamber and helped save Senatorial lives during the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol.
  • Brian Sicknick, the capitol police officer who died defending the Capitol complex during the January 6, 2021 insurrection.
  • Eric Tallie, the officer responding at the recent mass shooting at the King Soopers supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, who was shot when he charged into the supermarket.
  • Billy Evans, another capitol police officer, this time killed when a psychopath pinned him against the north barricade in an attempt to ram into the capitol complex on April 2, 2021.
  • Adam Wilson, who was injured in a school shooting at the Austin East High School in Knoxville TN on April 12, 2021.
  • The (unidentified) officers responding to the massacre at the Fedex plant in Indiana on April 15, 2021, and who were too late to rescue anyone.

On the Bad Cops front

Recent examples of “bad cops” include:

  • Officer Derek Chauvin, the Minnesota cop who killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for 9:29.
  • Officer Kim Goodman, the 26-year veteran officer in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, who killed 20 year old Duante Wright during a traffic stop.
  • Officer Joe Gutierrez, who pepper-sprayed army medic  Lt. Caron Nazario while he was in uniform, because he had temporary license plates on his new SUV.
  • Officer Eric Stillman, who killed 13-year old Adam Toledo after a foot chase in the Little Village neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago.

Derek Chauvin

When I first saw the video of George Floyd being kneeled on by Derek Chauvin, it was obvious to me that Derek Chauvin just didn’t give a shit whether Floyd lived or died. I don’t think he was intending to kill him. I think he was intending to send Floyd a message:

  • You don’t matter.
  • You’re nothing.
  • I don’t give a shit about you.

If you’ve followed the trial at all, you know that Floyd was being arrested for passing a counterfeit $20 bill; you know that it’s likely that Floyd didn’t even know the bill was counterfeit; you know that Floyd was compliant in every way until they tried to shove him into the back seat of the police cruiser, where his claustrophobia acted up; you know that Floyd was handcuffed and completely under control, and there was no need to kneel on his neck; and you know that many bystanders, including a trained firefighter, were begging Chauvin to get off of Floyd because they could see that he couldn’t breathe.

And if you look at the video of Floyd in Cup Foods, he doesn’t look like a person who is about to be dead. He looks like a goofy guy who is having fun, not someone who is overdosing or in the middle of committing a crime.

Derek Chauvin just didn’t consider him to be a real human being.

Chauvin must be convicted. He must be convicted, or another generation of black and brown people will conclude that there is no way that they can ever get justice where the police are involved.

Kim Goodman

Can an experienced officer really mistake a gun for a taser? Isn’t the taser bright yellow? Isn’t it carried on the left side of your belt if the gun is carried on the right side?

Goodman isn’t the first officer to make this claim, and she probably won’t be the last. But it is hard to believe.

Officer Goodman is the 26-year veteran (and former police union President) in Brooklyn Center Minnesota, who shot Duante Wright while trying to arrest him. At the time Goodman was training another cop. And Brooklyn  Center is literally 10 minutes from where the Derek Chauvin trial has been going on.

  • Yes, Wright had a warrant for his arrest, but it was for misdemeanor offenses where he hadn’t shown up in court.
  • Yes, Wright tried to escape, but weren’t there other ways that they could apprehend him? They had his license plate number and knew where he lived.

Many other people have asked the question whether it was necessary to tase Wright, and whether Goodman would have attempted than if Wright had been a white person.

Joe Gutierrez

This idiot pepper-sprayed an Army medic who was in uniform, because he had a temporary license plate on his new SUV. The medic — Lt. Caron Nazario — drove a couple of miles after seeing the blue lights, because he wanted to stop in a well-lit place, so he pulled over into a gas station. 

  • Caron turned the video on in his cell phone and told the officers, “I’m honestly afraid to get out of the car.”
  • “You should be,” was Officer Gutierrez’s response. 
  • And then he pepper-sprayed the Lieutenant.
  • Why? Just to show him who’s the boss?

The police officers did not arrest Lieutenant Nazario and have not filed charges.

At least they didn’t kill him.

But Lt. Nazario has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the officers and the town, so maybe he will actually have the last laugh.

Eric Stillman

This is the officer who shot 13 year old Adam Toledo after a lengthy foot chase. A lot has been made of the fact that the kid was only 13, and that at the moment that he was shot he actually had his hands up and appeared to be complying with commands. To be fair, Officer Stillman’s situation has many more extenuating circumstances than the others:

  • This was after a lengthy foot chase.
  • Shots had been fired.
  • It was 2:30 in the morning.
  • Toledo did, in fact, have a gun, which he dropped at the moment that the Officer asked him to put his hands up.
  • There was no way the officer could know the kid’s age at the time he shot him.
  • Stillman was visibly distraught after he shot the kid.

Did Officer Stillman make a serious mistake here? No question. But he was dealing with a kid who had a gun, and it’s possible that the sound of the gun hitting the ground made the cop believe that a shot had been fired. 

Who knows?

But this one, to me, is very different from the other three cases. It’s still problematic, but it is different, and those differences should, at least, be acknowledged, lest we paint all cops with the same brush.

Good Cops and Bad Cops can be the same people.

It should also be noted that sometimes good cops and bad cops are the same people. That was illustrated back in the 2004 movie “Crash,” where the fictional Officer “John Ryan” (played by Matt Dillon) both harasses a bad couple during a traffic stop, and then saves the woman from that couple from her exploding vehicle after a serious traffic accident.

Was Billy Evans, the capitol police officer who was recently killed by Noah Green at the north barricade a good officer? What did he do during the insurrection? Whose side was he on?

I have no idea.

He was at his post, where he was supposed to be, when he became another police victim, killed in the line of duty.

Is it the System or the Officers?

Is the problem that there are so many cops who are “bad apples,” or is the problem the system. Is it a small miracle that the police system produces as many “good apples” as it does?

It’s a legitimate question, I think.

The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah recently posited that question, and suggested that the problem is police culture. In a more academic vein, Georgetown law professor (and former federal prosecutor) Paul Butler  has made a similar set of suggestions, and emphasized how much “extraordinary” power police officers hold over black men and women at traffic stops.

One suggestion — which I completely agree with — is that police should, at a minimum, keep their weapons in their holsters during a routine traffic stop until or unless something happens, that requires a weapon to be unholstered.

About a1skeptic

A disturbed citizen and skeptic. I should stop reading the newspaper. Or watching TV. I should turn off NPR and disconnect from the Internet. We’d all be better off.
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