Kap, Cops and Confederate Statues: a Better World Without Double Standards

Art by Evan McCarthy | CC BY 2.0

I am a former NYC Narcotics Police Detective who exposed citywide endemic police corruption during my 12-year police career, from 1959 to 1972. After testifying before a grand jury about my observations of police corruption, I was shot in the line of duty while investigating a narcotics operation. As I lay bleeding from a bullet wound to the head, my police backup failed to call a signal 1013 (officer down) nor did they transport me in their readily available vehicle to an emergency room. The Police officials would later falsify the records as to what really happened that night.

This past August I received a call from NYPD Sgt. Edwin Raymond, one of the NYPD 12 suing the New York City Police Department. The officers had been ordered to violate their oath of office by engaging in a quota system targeting minorities and people of color. Former NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton went on record to ceremoniously state on national television that the officers’ charges were “bullshit” repeating the epithet twice for the benefit of those who could not believe his eloquence.

The problem is that the public is so conditioned that they would readily take the word of a white police commissioner over that of a black patrolman; at least he had hoped so. Fortunately, these black officers, tired of the rhetoric and abuse, had the wisdom to take advantage of our modern technology and recorded the words of their commanding officers ordering them to violate the law and abuse the very people that law was intended to protect. Their recordings thus exposed the police commissioner as the one treading in the cattle pasture.

Edwin asked me if I would join him and roughly another 100 black officers at a rally supporting NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s objections to police abuse and inequality. The Constitution in this great nation entitles all to freedom of speech and peaceful protest. In my opinion, it takes courage to speak out at a time when nation wide the eyes of fans are on you as you are about to participate in one of America’s favorite pass times. Are these fans oblivious to the opportunity of the moment and the plight of minorities worldwide?

Frank Serpico

Kaepernick would, of course, be the immediate recipient of a myriad of accusations, attempting to discredit him to the world as something other than your average patriotic American. Praise and support for his courage in speaking out and putting his career and well-being in jeopardy, would be minimal. Personally, I am not a football fan but I am an advocate of justice, freedom and equality. I gladly agreed to participate in the event.

Kaepernick would, of course, be the immediate recipient of a myriad of accusations, attempting to discredit him to the world as something other than your average patriotic American. Praise and support for his courage in speaking out and putting his career and well-being in jeopardy, would be minimal. Personally, I am not a football fan but I am an advocate of justice, freedom and equality. I gladly agreed to participate in the event.

I arrived at Edwin’s Brooklyn apartment the night before the rally. I was cordially greeted as he was graciously preparing an evening snack, sandwiches made from whole grain bread, sliced avocado, tomato, onions and slices of vegetarian cold cuts, all organic, delicious and nutritious. I was impressed. Edwin had learned at a very early age, after losing his mother to cancer, that something was wrong with our food sources, especially for the poor and disenfranchised, who are the most vulnerable victims of junk food.

We talked into the early hours, like old buddies making up for lost time. Edwin confided in me that he was referred to as the Black Serpico, and that he believed that we had a lot in common besides police work. I soon found this to be true. Edwin is educated, well read and informed on world history, nutrition, inequality and the failure of the FDA and other government agencies that not only fail to protect and serve our best interests, but are actually complicit in allowing major corporations to profit by supplying the masses with tainted food supplies that can actually harm rather nourish us. Edwin informed me that he had a copy of Sidney Lumet’s movie Serpico. Whenever he felt discouraged, which was often, he would watch it and be encouraged to endure and pursue his goal of becoming a police lieutenant. He had been passed over for promotion several times.

When he asked me how I felt about the film after all these years, I answered half-jokingly that I guess Pacino did a good enough job to make it all worthwhile. Edwin, in my opinion, is a credit to the NYC Police Department. The question in my mind is: are they ready for him?

The next morning at the rally, as the active and retired black officers began to arrive, each one greeted me with hugs and handshakes, like a family member not seen in years. The majority of them I had never met before nor were they even born at the time of my exploits in the NYPD. In the full assembly, I stood out like a solitary dandelion puff on a newly manicured lawn. An old white friend later asked me how it felt being the only cracker in the crowd. What could I say, other than I didn’t really notice, it felt like I was home with family.

Years ago, as a young white cop, working undercover in Harlem, I looked pretty scruffy; another white face in the vicinity was hard to come by. One day while passing, practically brushing shoulders with a black man on the street, I heard him greet me with, “Yo, bro!” A chill went down my spine. He’d called me bro. Me, a total white stranger.

Meanwhile, on more than one occasion I would be harassed or beaten by my own police merely on account of my looks and their wrongful assessment of another human being they had power over. On one occasion I was able to identify myself without blowing my cover. One of the officers replied; “Wow, I’m glad you’re working for us.” I wanted to say, “And who are you working for?” but didn’t. Later I wondered who is the real bad guy beating on, in my case a seemingly helpless derelict?

Before we can move forward as a nation we have to face the painful truth that we are a people divided by double standards. Without truth there can be no justice, without justice there can be no peace.

Kaepernick was not disrespecting the flag or our vets. I believe that Kaepernick was protesting a corrupt system of justice that allows some police to use excessive force, even the taking of innocent life, without consequences. In 2017 to date, police have killed a total of 151 individuals with mental illness.  A clear indication that our mental health services are inadequate, and that the police require further non-lethal training in order to appropriately restrain such persons. Ironically, some of our veterans did not die in combat but on the very streets where they lived, killed by police. 

Paul Butler, a former prosecutor, states that when officers commit a crime, they don’t have to follow the same rules as the citizens he serves and protects. He’s not alone. Seventy-two percent of police believe that cops who use excessive force are not held accountable for their deeds.

The Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights makes that double standard the law in 14 states. If a civilian kills someone he is interrogated within twenty-four hours of committing the crime. If a cop commits a similar crime, he is given ten days to concoct a story and in many cases, just by saying he feared for his life, a sympathetic judge or juror will find grounds to dismiss. Butler goes on to say; “It’s strange that a law that thwarts transparency and accountability is called a ‘bill of rights.’ The Law Enforcement Bill of Rights has the same relationship to a real bill of rights that the Patriot Act has to a real patriot. The Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution actually limits the power of government, including the police.” He ends with; “In a democracy an accused ‘thug’ should not get more rights just because he wears a badge and a gun.

Another irony I see today is the furor being made over confederate statues being taken down by mobs and city officials. The reasoning is the statues represent the support of slavery in the south decades ago, yet today we are engaging in institutionalized slavery in correctional facilities nationwide. Our prisons are filled with people of color for mostly non-violent offenses, including individuals unjustly accused and convicted of crimes they did not commit.

There is hope for salvaging our current criminal justice system and our beloved country and setting an example for the rest of the world. We must expose and rid the system of corrupt judges, prosecutors, illegal police practices and officials that allow and perpetuate them. We need an independent agency, with subpoena power capable of investigating our criminal justice system and ridding it of its rotten apples that are tainting the whole barrel.

We cannot continue to support the unjust practice of punishing the messenger. Men and women of conscience who put their careers and lives on the line by shining the light on injustice and corruption, whether it be in the military, police, athletics, industry or any other profession should be treated with dignity and respect instead of objects of ridicule. Lies were once something we tried to hide as shameful, today they are becoming a way of life. If there is to be any hope for mankind and future generations, lies must be exposed and corrected and those that expose them honored for their commitment and contribution to humanity.

A better world is possible.

Frank Serpico is a retired NYC Police detective who in the 1970s exposed widespread corruption in the NYC Police department. A best-selling book by Peter Maas entitled SERPICO chronicled his police exploits resulting in a movie by the same name starring Al Pacino. He is animal and civil rights activist and the recipient of the 2001 Jolene Marion Memorial Award for the advancement of animal law and the NYPD’s Medal of Honor.