Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Expose of the Dark Side of American Policing, by Norm Stamper****

breakingrankDoes this look odd in my otherwise left-leaning collection? It ought to. I make no bones about the fact that I don’t like cops. I have seen it too often: the racism, the preference for protecting property over protecting human flesh and bone, the gratuitous violence. It is appalling.

Here in Seattle, the SPD has gotten so far out of control that the FBI, not exactly heroes or saints themselves, have been called in to reign them in, get the SPD to tone it down, for heaven’s sake. Don’t be so obvious about it. The recent shooting of an unarmed deaf American Indian who was plugged in the back for failing to stop-when-I-say-so, was the final straw where a lot of folks here were concerned. There was no call for anybody to shoot John Woodcarver. He was well known both among the homeless and the working crowd downtown, and one person after another testified that he was harmless. No history of any sort of violent crime; I can’t recall that he even had a record, though I can’t say I looked hard or cared. There’s never a call to shoot an unarmed man, and this was not an exceptional shooting. There’s been way too much. Furthermore, the FBI has grown frustrated with the local law’s intransigence. They mount dashcams; the cops turn them off, or point their cars facing away from the scene of action before they whip out the tasers and guns.

Just over a decade ago, Norm Stamper was the chief of police here. Prior to that, he was a cop in San Diego. During the WTO protests (World Trade Organization) in downtown Seattle, things got badly out of control. During the review that followed, Stamper’s was the head that rolled.

Rather than slink away with his tail between his legs looking for a quiet little hamlet to sheriff, he did the completely unexpected: he turned on his own. He wrote down all the dirty little secrets that he says are endemic not only here, but in pretty much every major metropolitan city in the USA. It’s endemic, he claims, and I believe.

Have you ever wondered why Black people are arrested at such a disproportionate rate? Some liberals may be inclined to write it off as a side affect of poverty and the lack of a solid foundation during childhood. (Michelle Alexander would later publish The New Jim Crow, which has all that data you need to put a stop to that lie.) Stamper says oh hell no. He has a special chapter, and it is for this chapter that the book receives my four of five stars rating, that is about why cops beat Black men. Brace yourself. He gives the code letters or names that are abbreviations for racist epithets you may have believed died in the ’60s. If so, you have led a sheltered life. Stamper proves it.

So if you can stand the heat, check out Stamper’s kitchen. It gives me joy to see one of these people come back to eat their young, and to shine a flashlight into all the dirty corners of urban police life.

A caveat from me, for those who have a beloved relative who’s in the biz: I don’t say every single cop in every city is corrupt, racist, and dirty. I only say there are too few good guys, at least those who stick around once they see what the job is really about, to make a significant difference. So relax about Uncle Tony or Grandpa Bob. If you say he is a gentleman and a hero, I believe you.

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