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Sunday, January 24, 2010


On a warm June day back in 2002, I started my first day as a Police Officer Candidate at a local municipal police academy. I arrived in my freshly-pressed black trousers, crisp, firmly-tucked white shirt, and black necktie. I had even gone to my old barber that weekend and got a shorter haircut than is customary for me, hoping I would fit in a little better with the jarheads and baldies I was sure to encounter at the academy.

We gathered together, 64 of us in total, in a huge gymnasium where we were taught to stand at attention when the commander or basically anyone except for the janitor walked into the room, and then to relax at parade rest. There were young guys and a few old guys. Lots of white guys, a couple black guys. There were two women, one was very short and the other was tall and thin, like me. Most of my classmates, although similarly attired, looked like they had just rolled out of bed, or some, a dumpster. I can remember being amazed, on my first day in the police academy, that there were so many people who could wear a shirt and tie, and still look like complete slobs.

As I scanned the room while practicing attention and parade rest, receiving instructions about how not to lock your knees, my eyes scanned the room, pouring over the faces of my classmates the people with whom, had I not dropped out two days later, I would have been throwing to the ground, subduing, pepper-spraying, mock-arresting, mock-backing up, and probably being mock-friendly to for a period of six months. In my brief time there, I only really got to know one person, one of the only black men, whose name was "Flax." Flax was considerably older than the average bear in the academy, and he had the highest level of education of anyone in the room, including the commander of the academy-- he held a Master's degree as well as a Ph.D. in Divinity, if I remember correctly. He came up to me on day 2 and and we quietly shot the shit for around twenty or so minutes. Gently, he asked me what I was doing here. I laughed.

"I might ask you the same question. In fact, I will-- what are you doing here?"

He told me that he wanted a life change. His idea was to graduate from the academy, work uniformed patrol for a few years and then move into the federal arena-- possibly the FBI or even the Secret Service. He advised that I do likewise. I shook my head and told him that I would want to work uniform for the rest of my life.

"You're crazy," he announced, as others have. "Why?"

And I gave him my insane rant about wanting to alter the public's perception of the police by conducting my affairs and contacts with the community in a respectful, courteous, eloquent manner, by instilling that forgotten professionalism and dedication that officers of a bygone era were credited with establishing. He smiled at me.

"I like you," he said, "but you're going to have a tough motherfucking time in this world."

Years later, I heard that Flax graduated from the academy and was doing a local community proud, serving faithfully as a police officer. And that made me feel better about washing the fuck out during the barbell portion of the physical agility test.

I can remember, though, being in that gym, looking at everyone, and thinking to myself: who are these people going to be? Who's going to go work for the city? Who's going to have a quiet life as a sheriff's deputy, standing guard in some courtroom somewhere for the rest of his life, his belly slowly growing with each passing year? Who will be the hero? Who will rise through the ranks, to become a captain or a commander, with stars on his shoulders? Who will get killed for no reason at all? Who will treat the public right, and who will take out his aggressions and his anger and his hatred on the suspects he comes across in dark alleyways, when no supervisor or video camera is there to watch?

I don't believe that many people go into law enforcement because they want to kick the shit out of people mercilessly, or because they have some sort of societal grudge, or because they're homicidal or brutalistic. I believe that, like corruption, is something that tends to happen along the way and, of course, neither brutality or corruption happen to everyone. But, when it happens, it happens big-- and it hurts far more than just the person who gets brutalized.

It hurts every cop who dons a uniform and pins on a badge and goes out to do an honest day's or night's work-- because the public does not differentiate between a corrupt, brutal piece of shit, and a decent, hardworking man or woman. Hence: uniform.

With little fanfare or brouhaha, a trial recently began in New York City. Three police officers are on trial, and it's their word against the word of a man named Michael Mineo. One day, over a year ago, a trio of police officers in an unmarked vehicle spotted Mr. Mineo smoking pot. Big deal, right? Like the NYPD doesn't have bigger things do worry about. However, these three young, energized, overzealous cops gave chase when Mineo ran, down to the Prospect Park subway station. They tackled Mineo on that platform and, when he did not readily submit, one of the officers, Richard Kern, shoved his retractable baton inside Mr. Mineo's anus. And Kern didn't just do it once, he did it several times. Just so we're all clear on this-- jamming a baton up someone's ass is not an accepted, authorized police procedure or practice.

Mineo, bloodied from the attack, was told by Kern that if he breathed a word of the attack to anyone, or sought medical treatment, that he would be slapped with a felony charge. Mineo did go to the hospital, though, with a torn rectum which later became infected and abscessed.

The NYPD brass stripped Kern and the other two officers of their weapons. Kern, only 25 when this went down, already had two complaints of excessive force on him, and has been charged in this case with aggravated sexual abuse. The other two shitheads were charged with hindering an investigation and official misconduct for covering it up. There are witnesses and, most damningly, there is DNA from Mr. Mineo on Officer Kern's baton.

Whoops. How'd that get there?

An article in the New York Times pointed out that, although there were massive protests and unrest and immense public and media interest and attention during other NYPD brutality cases, such as the Amadou Diallo shooting, and the infamous plunger-rape of Abner Louima-- there are no protests in the street over Michael Mineo. There's no hub-bub, no Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton giving virulent pulpit speeches and preaches. There's no angry people yelling into megaphones outside the courthouse, giving the finger to the rings of officers standing guard outside. In fact, there are no rings of officers standing guard outside, because there's nobody to stand guard against-- there's just the steady thrum of NYC cabbie traffic and people hustling from one place to the next, their heads down, thumbing their way through their Blackberries and iPoding their lives away, while a man with a torn rectum takes on three of the baddest apples in the NYPD.

And I hope he brings them down.

I hope he brings them down hard. Because these three men shouldn't be permitted to wear the uniform of a goddamn toilet attendant, let alone that of a New York City patrolman. Because these three men are the worst kind of coward: a coward with authority. Because these three men have no business nodding to baristas at Starbucks who give them drinks for free or at a discount because of the peace and order that they represent.

Because, on a personal level, these three men make me ashamed that I ever wanted to be a cop.


  1. It's a damn shame is what it is. When the admittedly disgusting collection of singular moments ruins the reputation and credibility of the police force overall. Being optimistic, I'd say for every Kern there are probably, what, 20 completely honest and unflinchingly selfless cops? But unless you're in a small community, no-one remembers the good ones. The ones that just do their duty without show-boating or fuss, the ones that make a difference and then just go home to their families.

  2. Well don't come to Superior, WI. Every single one of them is useless. I've been calling for almost 5 years about the drugs in my neighborhood and could not figure out why nobody ever came. Well, why would they bust their own dealers? That would make no sense apparently. If you actually need help, nobody ever comes. If they do it's days later and then they accuse you of lying and slap you with a fine. It's just sad. But I have to think that it's some kind of mental malady that does this to people. It's got to be psychological.

  3. Unbelievable. I don't understand some people. But, I do understand you. Thank you for the post.

  4. I remember when this incident occurred last year. It's truly horrifying. There are so many brave, heroic police officers out there, especially in my hometown, Philadelphia, where cops are hunted and killed for sport. Unfortunately, there are bad apples in just about every profession. I trust the Ofc. Kern will gets his just desserts in court.


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