Words of Anger and Frustration

My dad was involved in law enforcement for over 40 years. I remember listening to some of his partners, going back to the mid 1960s, talk about what they would do if they were told they had the "Big C" and weren't going to recover. Many of them said they had a list of names of the biggest, baddest and worst crooks in the city. When they got the word that they were terminal, they were going take out everyone on the list and clean up the city. It never happened.

As a Minneapolis cop from 1975 to 1999, I listened as some of the senior cops talked about who, specifically, they would take out when they got word that their time was going to be cut short. Never happened. I know that a lot of that talk was just cops channeling Jack Daniels or Johnny Walker. Their ability to stir the emotions, dull the mind, and stimulate the mouth are legendary. I am also sure that a number of those cops probably intended to carry out their criminal cleansing, given the chance, but nobody ever did.

Dealing with all the hateful things that people do to each other on a daily basis, it's easy to think of the world as a hateful place where violence is the norm, but it's not. And it feels like the ultimate act of retribution to think of all the good you could do by taking out the people that you know are murderous and hateful. But, when it really comes down to it; when we know our own time is near; we don't seek to kill, but to heal. We look to our friends and family and we look for love, not hate.

I brought up in one of my earlier columns that at least three times as many cops commit suicide as are killed in the line of duty, but I don't remember any news stories or even roll call myths about a cop going on a murderous rampage, other than with family members, just before taking their own life. We don't do it.

I think that a lot of that "final retribution" talk is our way of expressing our frustration with a criminal justice system that leaves murderers and child abusers on the streets. It's a way to cleanse our spirit and voice our feelings in a context and atmosphere that other cops will understand. Cops, especially guy cops, are often accused of not sharing their feelings. We're told that we don't like to talk about being depressed or frustrated. But that's not my experience. I've heard many cops open up and say "I'm going to kill every single one of those motherf****** before I go out," and other cops will support them, me included. How much more open than that can you be about your feelings. We just can't share those feelings with the public because most of the public, victims of violent crime excluded, would never understand our level of frustration.

As cops it's easy to cheer the idea of "criminal cleansing" while we know that we will never condone it. If fact, if we thought another cop was actually going on a criminal cleansing spree, we would probably be escorting them to the employee assistance person for a serious sit-down. So we don't condone mass murder, but all too often we condone acts of hateful violence and we share it with the public every time we let our anger and frustration take control of our actions.

Harrison County, Mississippi, has five ex-jailers that have admitted to a pattern of abuse that existed for at least five years. We're not talking about bad language here. We are talking about a prisoner that was beaten to death in the jail, and one ex-jailer who potentially faces the death penalty. Two former jailers testified before a grand jury in 1989 about abuses that were going at that time in the Harrison County Jail. No one was indicted and the jailers that testified about the abuses, Tony Lewis and Andrea Gibbs, were fired. Once again it was a case of "no good deed goes unpunished." 17 years later, we have a dead prisoner and a bunch of former deputies going to prison.

But Harrison County isn't the only place where frustration and anger is replacing reason. Dallas Police Officer Nick Novello, a 24-year police veteran, recently filed an internal complaint against three senior officers for false arrest and excessive force. That's a hard thing to do. I know what Officer Novello is facing, and I wonder what the Dallas Police Department is going to do to support him. I know the level of support I got in most cases after reporting serious police misconduct, and it wasn't good. I still get hate mail; the most recent was just last week.

I suppose that by sharing my thoughts, some cops will accuse me of maligning the good name of all officers. Nothing could be further from the truth. The vast majority of cops are good cops, especially Minneapolis cops. They work very hard, putting their lives on the line every time they put on that uniform, and I am proud to say I was one of them.

My message is and always has been this: There are a lot of things wrong with the system and there are cops that unleash their anger and hatred on the citizenry and we need to hold them strictly accountable. But for most of us, the ranting and raving is just that, ranting and raving. It may be a lousy way of communicating our feelings, so be it.

But don't let those feelings push you into acts that will result in the loss of your job, your honor, or your life. You wouldn't let a fellow officer go out and commit mass murder, even though you wouldn't deny him or her right to rant and rave about it. Rant and rave if you have to. Get it out of your system. Then be a peace officer. You owe it to your partner, you owe it to your family, and you owe it to yourself.