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Crybaby Cops

December 21, 2014

The murder of 2 NYPD officers is unfortunate, but the reaction of police chief Ray Kelly is deplorable. Kelly blames mayor Bill DeBlasio for the officers’ deaths. It may be that the shooter, who was apparently insane, was slightly encouraged by criticism of police. Apparently Kelly thinks that we must never criticize him and his fellow officers, no matter what they do.

I’m not going to attempt to prove in this posting that American police are out of control. Not to think so probably requires one to think that there is a media conspiracy to ruin the reputation of police. Maybe I’ll tackle that in another post, but I think that it is fair to say that American police officers have scored a lot of bad karma.

Here I want to consider the way in which police have succeeded in presenting themselves as heroes and deconstruct that presentation.
First of all, police work is not very dangerous. I remember that in the early 1970s factory work was more dangerous than police work. I won’t document that because it’s old news.

On the other hand, police work doesn’t even rank among the 10 most dangerous occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2013 “National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.” The census included, from most to less dangerous jobs, logger, fisherman, pilot, roofer, refuse collectors (I think that they in particular should parade in pretty uniforms and play “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes when one of them is buried), miners, truck drivers, farmers/ranchers, electric power line workers, and construction workers. I couldn’t find police officers in the report.

Police officers profit from the fact that people love violence and revere those who wield it in a good cause. A look at popular entertainments should clue us in about that. Chris Hedges has written War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. The invasion of Iraq shows how easy it to get people to approve violence.

Although police have the task of dealing with violent people, police are well prepared to protect themselves. They have weapons, training, a legal system which is reluctant to punish them, and the reflex of people to idealize them. That they complain about being hurt on the job belies their image as heroes. Harry Truman had it right: “If you don’t like the heat, get out of the kitchen.”  If they ignore that advice, cops like Ray Kelly are just crybabies.

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