Hatred of the (Philadelphia) police

Tom Condit tomcondit at igc.apc.org
Tue Jun 6 18:11:13 MDT 1995

Lenni Brenner once remarked that there are two kinds of people in
this world: Those who when they see a policeman think "Oh, good,
he*lp is near at hand should I need it!" and those who think "Am I

Along with a very high percentage of poor people the world
around, and probably the majority of poor young men, I've
belonged to the latter category much of my life, although grey
hair and a higher income have now elevated me to the ranks of the
former (maybe).  At the same time, I'm aware that although the
reason the capitalist state spends as much money as it does on
cops is the preservation of property and order, that isn't how
the average rank-and-file cop sees it.  Most of them are simply
time-servers, anxious to get through the years necessary for
retirement with as little work as possible.  You can commit petty
crimes (at least victimless ones) right in front of them with
impunity if they have something else on their mind.  They hate
being bothered with the paperwork involved in arresting somebody.
They like being respected.

Within this mass of slothful civil servants are two minorities.
One is the actual, real-live do-gooders, just like on TV.  They
want to set the world to rights, protect the innocent, punish the
guilty, counsel the confused, etc., etc.  The second, even
smaller,* is the loony power-freaks and sadists, who are
constantly challenging the world and those they deem to be
criminal elements.  (The two categories aren't mutually
exclusive, of course.)  In times of social peace, the do-gooders
set the tone of police departments the world around, although not
much good gets done.  In times of social crisis, the needs of
bourgeois order push the thugs to the fore.

But the culture of police work is corrupting.  There is the
constant pressure to make your reports clean and tidy by making
up any facts necessary to tie up the loose ends.  There is the
necessity of maintaining solidarity by not exposing your goof-
off, brutal or even criminal colleagues.  There is constant
pressure from district attorneys, who see their job as "coach" of
the police "team" and are constantly battling to get the
testimony necessary to gain convictions and to keep the judges
from throwing out the illegally obtained evidence and perjured
testimony on which those convictions depend.  And, of course, if
you just want to put in your twenty years and retire, there is
the growing obsession with order, which sooner or later puts the
bulk of officers into at least silent complicity with the vicious
minority in their ranks who maintain that order (to coin a
phrase) "by any means necessary."

People who live in poor communities are the victims of both the
officially-designated criminals and the police.  Your basic low-
level criminal no more resembles a Hollywood jewel thief than
Hollywood cops resemble real cops.  He preys on the poor, the
weak and the elderly not only because they don't have elaborate
security systems or the power to fight back, but also because he
knows the police aren't likely to do anything about it if he
stays within certain bounds, and that his victims are in many
cases as afraid of the police as they are of him.  If you live in
a poor neighborhood and you call the police to report say, a
burglary, you have to wait around a long time for them to come.
Then they take some notes.  Then they go away and you never hear
from them again.  At best, you've wasted your time.  Until
recently, a woman who reported a rape in most jurisdictions could
expect to run a gantlet of abuse from the police.

Knowing this was the case, someone commissioned the Gallup
organization to do a survey some thirty years ago in an attempt
to find out what the real crime rate was in U.S. cities, as
opposed to the official statistics.  As expected, far more people
had been the victims of crimes than had reported them.  What was
truly surprising, however, was the incredible gap in the city of
Philadelphia, far higher than anywhere else in the U.S., even
such centers of working-class cynicism about the authorities as
New York and Chicago.  Follow-up questioning revealed that most
working-class Philadelphians, white and black, assumed that if
you called the police to report a burglary they'd simply come and
steal anything the original thieves had missed!

The head of this department which enjoyed such widespread popular
trust was one Frank Rizzo, first chief of police and later mayor
of Philly.  As the '60s heated up, Rizzo and his cops became more
and more violent and authoritarian, without becoming one bit more
honest.  One incident which became infamous was a police raid on
a communal household which was the headquarters of the
Philadelphia branch of the National Caucus of Labor Committees,
then a left wing group.  Rizzo himself led the raid, and brought
along TV news cameras.  After charging into the house, the police
assembled in the kitchen where, backs to the camera, they opened
the refrigerator door, then turned around triumphantly displaying
a bundle of dynamite.  This comic-opera frame was too crudely
constructed even for the Philadelphia courts, but no one was ever
punished for attempting it.

I'm aware this is an ad hominem argument, but evidence coming
from the Philadelphia police and convictions coming from the
Philadelphia courts are at least twice as suspect as those from
elsewhere in this great land of justice and equity.

(P.S. Arlen Spector used to be district attorney in Philly.  He's
the "moderate" face of the Republican party.)

* I've seen the figure somewhere that over 90% of all police
brutality and misconduct cases are generated by less than 3% of


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