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The cops have gotten more aggressive since Giuliani took over as Mayor. Related Gully Stories:

NYPD Cops: Drilling Deep
An overview of NYC police brutality.

NYPD: The Picture is Bleak
An interview with Norman Siegel of the NYCLU advocating federal intervention.

Cops' Murderous Fear
The fear defense in the Diallo shooting.


Confessions of a Cop-Hater

by Kelly Cogswell

JULY 6, 2000. My first impulse, and my second, too, is to hate cops. The reflex started the time when I was ten or so and the police pulled over my oldest sister and her longhaired cigarette-smoking boyfriend and all the rest of us.

We'd been cruising around our Louisville neighborhood in a tattered looking Chevy with the Kiss cassette turned up and the windows down. I hadn't had any dealings with cops before. They made us all get out, frisking everybody, but me. And when they finally let us go, I heard the words "fucking pigs" for the first time.

After that came years of being followed by cops and mall security guards when I was alone. They considered criminal my cheap clothes, solitary girlness and obvious awkwardness at being a person without money in a place dedicated to spending it.

Looking back, my suspicious discomfort was compounded by my budding dykeness. It made the mall rituals of straight courting teenagers seem bizarre: the flirting and the feints and the nonsense where everything was straight but not straightforward.

The Dyke and the Cops
I didn't realize I was a dyke until I was 23 and in New York City, where I leapt quickly into the world of lesbian and gay activism and became subject to cops' petty harassments at demos. Like when you have your hands cuffed behind your back, and they give you a shove, letting you break your fall with your nose, or on somebody's shoe.

There was the time almost a decade ago when the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization demonstrated behind police barricades along the sidelines of the Saint Patrick's Day parade. While we were trapped there squad after squad of police and firemen gave us the finger, and shouted curses that translate daily into active harassment of queer people, dismissal of complaints, inattention to violence and murder.

The cops have gotten steadily more aggressive since Giuliani took over as Mayor. The worst I myself experienced was their handling of the 1998 Matthew Shepard march. Thousands of gay and more than a few straight marchers of all ages and races were mourning the death of the young Wyoming man who was beaten, tied to a fence, and left for dead because he was gay. Marchers felt a double grief and double anger because it was about the same time as the horrible murder of James Byrd, the man who was dragged to death behind a Texas pickup truck because he was black.

Most mourners were content to walk lawfully on the sidewalks, though some wanted to claim a lane of traffic on the street. Even those were orderly. But battalions of cops charged us in riot gear, trapping demonstrators on sidewalks, slamming against them with their heavy plastic shields. The cavalry arrived, trampling more than one person. A cowboy cop instructed his gigantic, 2-ton horse to crush me against a car like a worm.

Another division of cavalry formed a line across the street ready to charge into a red rover line of demonstrators daring them to come over.

Police and Police State
That seems to be the scenario these days, rapid over-response to peaceful if un-permitted protest marches, and the cavalry charging in to rout even a couple dozen Hispanic soccer fans celebrating on the streets of Jackson Heights. Those naive enough to petition for march permits are arbitrarily denied. All around there is stupidity on the part of the brass, and obedience by the rank-and-file, closing ranks around the killers of Diallo, or Dorismond, or the torturers of Louima.

I've been thinking a lot about them lately, the rank and file. How to reconcile my impulse towards hatred with the fact that most of them do their difficult, often boring work, with a reasonable amount of competence and honor. Don't they, as they are quick to remind us, deserve our respect?

What I would like to say to all cops everywhere from New York to L.A. to Louisville, is that it's not so simple. You're not an anonymous janitor doing a thankless job in your blue uniform and expecting a nice bonus at Christmas. By tucking a shield into your pocket and strapping on a gun, you become the Law in the flesh.

Even law-abiding people are a little afraid of you. You have guns and horses and jails at your disposal and we don't. Every misstep any of you takes makes us reconsider the wisdom of allowing ourselves to be policed at all. Even in a democracy, the line between the police and a police state is not invincible.

When we submit to your authority in the end, it is because it seems more rational to have professional police, however imperfect, than letting everyone tote their own pistol. That is, until the next civilian death is called an "accident" and explained away by the cops' fear.

There is no defense more frightening than 'fear' to those of us often targeted by racism, homophobia, or classism, fancy words for garden-variety fear and its offspring, hate. It means we are vulnerable and no one is accountable, even though carrying a gun and policing while bigoted is like driving under the influence. Judgment is impaired and you're dangerous.

It's not entirely your fault. This is the United States of America. No matter what your skin color, you suck in hate and fear with your first drop of milk.

The only inoculation against it is familiarity, and training. A few brief months of cop school aren't enough to prepare you for stressful, life-like situations: immigrants reaching for wallets, the mentally ill with kitchen knives, irritated targets of buy-and-bust stings.

Your best option is this. Live with us, in our own neighborhoods. Become one of us instead of one of them. Become advocates of change. Avoid even the appearance of cover-ups. Demand to be better trained. It's in all our interests.

Then, in the awful situation in which it is you on the stand for killing an unarmed man, you can honestly say, "there was nothing else I could have done" and even the skeptics among us will be inclined to agree.

For Complete Coverage New York City

In Depth

nypd patch Police violence and brutality in NYC. Includes an overview of NYPD problems, and possible solutions.

Color and Cash
race and classThe Gully's complete coverage of race and class, two intertwined pillars of American society.

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