By James Rotten (October 12, 2018)
I met S. at the Alamo Drafthouse to have lunch and see Monsters & Men, which centers around a murder by cop. When it ended, she left and I stayed to pay our bill. There was just one other person in the theater, sitting next to me, with one empty seat between us.
I’ve been trying to get better at low-key agitating in my daily life, so I asked him what he thought of the film. We started to get into it, then he said, “It’s complicated for me because I’m a law enforcement officer.” “Holy shit, you gotta be kidding me.” I considered making a swift exit, but figured it could get interesting and it did.
He said he was a Nevada Highway Patrol cop, just visiting Denver. He works four ten-hour shifts and often travels on his three-day weekends. He was Puerto Rican, about 30, ex-military intelligence.
He was very candid about his experience as a cop. He claimed to be one of the good ones, of course: “Most guys look for an excuse to get violent, but I’ve never had to in my three years.”
The blue wall of silence was addressed in the film and he said it was very real. “You can’t say nothing, they’ll Serpico your ass,” referring to the cop who exposed police corruption and was threatened and harassed by his fellow cops. “They might kill you. But I’m not afraid to die. I ain’t got a family or nothin.” Was he saying he was gonna flip? Sure seemed like it, but he remained vague.
He expressed fear of his fellow cops. “I’ve got no problem with criminals, I come from a family of criminals. If anything ever happens to me, it’ll be from another law enforcement officer.”
He said Nevada is almost majority-Latino and admitted to his own prejudice against Latinos. “I feel like they’re all Sureños” (Mexican gangsters). “But if half the state is Latino, a tiny percentage are in a gang.” “Naw, you’re right. They (cop bosses) just push that narrative so hard. They teach us that we can be ambushed at any moment. I know it’s not true, but they try to tell us that it happens all the time.”
I told him I was an activist and a socialist, that I had been assaulted by cops multiple times, framed once, and that I fucking hated cops. He didn’t flinch—he nodded his head in fact, like “I get it.” I told him about how cops killed a comrade of mine, as well as my friend’s cousin, and how I’ve become friends with several other people who have lost loved ones to cops. He apologized.
I know it’s a fool’s errand to try to convince cops of anything and I have no hope that anything will come of this, but dude really did seem to be teetering on the edge. I asked him if he was trying to get out. He said he’s thought about trying to become a lawyer, but it’s hard to leave a career path and a job that pays well already. He also applied to Las Vegas PD, which he says pays the best in the country compared to the low cost of living there. “My rent is $300 a month! That’s why I can travel.” Apparently he lied on his application, claiming he read fewer books each year than he actually does.
He talked about getting hassled by cops and TSA for being Latino. He talked about the racist shit constantly spouted by his fellow officers. This led into me talking about the difference and interaction between individual racism among cops and the racist, structural role of police in society. I went deep for a minute, giving an overview of the Marxist view of police as enforcers of class rule. He nodded knowingly about cops’ origins as slave-catchers and strike-breakers.
I told him he was fooling himself if he thought he was a “good cop”. “Good cops provide political cover for bad cops. And lie or look the other way for them.” “You’re not going to make a bit of difference. You should quit.” And dude was taking it all in, it was a trip!
He mentioned getting shunned for his positive views of bodycams, which I awarded zero points for—“yeah, but they’re pointed at us, not y’all. And you can turn them off whenever you want, delete the footage, mute them, bury them in court.” He said he was one of the few men cops that was pro-women cops because they are better at deescalating.
We left the theater after sitting there for maybe half an hour. As we parted ways, he shook my hand, which I was uncomfortable with tbh. I told him, “I hope you get out.” Fuck every cop!