Black for Blue

Learning to Love Tha Police

Nothing will make you go John Ashcroft quicker than looking into the speaking end of some revolver. That is, except, if your girl is looking into it instead of you. One night in December, I was roused out of a half-slumber by a frantic ringing of the doorbell. It was my partner screaming that she'd just been robbed. Some punk stopped her outside our basement apartment, demanded her purse, and when she didn't oblige, put a handgun to her head. The shock of her being robbed was only matched by my shock at how quickly help arrived at our door. She was still on the phone with 911 when the cops of the 71st Precinct pulled up, scooped her in, and took her around our Lefferts Garden neighborhood trolling for the kid.

Needless to say, I was pretty pissed about her getting robbed. It wasn't so much the act as the fact that someone had shown so much disregard for her life and his own (armed robbery will earn you a trip upstate) that he would just pull out a gun. The guy didn't even get anything valuable. While I was waiting for her to come back, I thought about my dad and how, despite his own negative feelings toward the police, he strongly believed that people who endangered themselves and their communities should be removed. I always wondered how he reconciled animus toward police and strong belief in the necessity of jail, and then, at that moment, I understood.

They didn't catch the guy that night—though my partner later identified him in a photo lineup. If they'd relegated the case to File 19, I would have totally understood. After all, a holdup for a few bucks must rank as pretty small potatoes. But they didn't drop it. The officer in charge of the case calls every couple weeks to give updates on their progress. He's courteous, and in a city where there must be more serious crimes, I marvel at his tenacity for trying to close a case over a run-of-the-mill mugging. Frankly, I wouldn't want his job in a million years, but it's really hard to not appreciate him doing it.

If only they were all like Officer Friendly . . .
Photo: Cary Conover
If only they were all like Officer Friendly . . .

Feel free to note the obvious—I am indeed the last person in the world who should be falling in love with the cops. Like most black men my age, I'm a serial cop-hater, armed with an astonishing array of ill encounters with flatfoots. Young black male rule number 4,080—when you see Jake strolling down your side of the street, get your English proper and cross to the other side.

Lately they've begun lining up by the dozen on Flatbush, and when I see them a warm fuzzy feeling blooms in my bones. Suddenly a late-night stroll is, well, a slightly safer stroll. The honor guard is courtesy of Operation Impact, a program the city expanded last month in hopes of subduing the worst havens for crime. So far the results have been promising. New York itself is in the midst of an anti-crime wave unseen since 1968. According to the FBI, New York has the lowest crime rate of any city in the country with over a million people. In December, The New York Times reported that New York was roughly as safe as Ann Arbor, Michigan—population 100,000.

For black New Yorkers who endured the tyrannical insensitivity that was Rudy Giuliani, the stats have come at heavy personal cost, paid in harassment, anger, and fear. The city has been the scene of torture and killing provisioned by the badge—Amadou Diallo in a Bronx doorway, Abner Louima in a Brooklyn station house, Patrick Dorismand on the West Side, Anthony Baez outside his family home, Timothy Stansbury on a projects roof.

Bloomberg is no Giuliani. As opposed to polarizing the city, he has united it in hatred of him. A Quinnipiac University poll this month found that he has an approval rating of just 35 percent among African Americans and Latinos. And that was after he was praised by black leaders for saying cops were wrong to shoot Stansbury.

Neither the contrition of a mayor nor the headlines about a safer New York have done much to soften black people's hard feelings toward the cops. But for a newjack like me, who's passing out of his rebellious twenties and into his staid thirties, they've made all the difference in the world.

Just last week, suspect in hand, they brought my partner in to look at a lineup of possible perps. She’s supposed to try again this week. Maybe the cops actually care about us. More likely, they just want to get the guy.
photo: Cary Conover
Anybody who's spent five minutes listening to the average hip-hop record knows that cops and black males have a "special" relationship. More to the point, we hate cops and are convinced they hate us. For both visceral and logical reasons, cop-hatred is the default setting for brothers. All black folks have the sneaking suspicion that they were born under a bad sign; cops exist to make sure we stay under it. That cosmic calculus becomes evident fairly early. When you're a young city kid, cops harass you for nailing a crate to a telephone pole so you can play basketball, but don't harass the mayor for not putting a basketball court in your 'hood. Cops kick you out of shopping malls for looking like you're up to mischief, but ignore merchants who follow you through their stores. To the young black males whom life deals a bad hand, the sole purpose of cops seems to be enforcing dealer's rule.
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