Reflections on Cops: A Chicano Perspective in 2020
When I was eighteen years old, a group of four Omaha, NE pigs kicked my ass at a gas station. I probably deserved to be ticketed for “disturbing the peace”—long story—but I did nothing to deserve the ass-kicking I received. At the time I was a skinny kid that weighed 110 pounds. The pigs broke my glasses and smashed my face into the cop car when they arrested me, bloodying my face and leaving me a scar I still have. They arrested me for disorderly conduct and interfering with police business. I went to jail and my mother, en paz descanse, had to bail me out. Although I couldn’t afford it, I hired a lawyer to defend me in court. I pleaded not guilty because I knew that when everyone told the truth about what happened, I would be acquitted.
Instead, in open court, the pigs lied their asses off. They said I was obviously drunk and under the influence of drugs that made me violent and that I called them, “motherfucking pigs.” None of this was true. I stood there in court with my mouth open in disbelief. Man, the cops on TV always told the truth. What was the judge going to do, belief four pigs or a young Mexican? The judge found me guilty of both counts and fined me.
I never forgot that shit. I’ve never felt comfortable around cops ever since and to me, they are pigs. Many years later, when I was the director of a community agency called the Chicano Awareness Center, I was approached by a small group of Chicano cops that wanted our organization’s help to challenge the anti-Mexican racism within the Omaha Police Department. I had mixed feelings but I helped them to organize a local chapter of the Latino Peace Officers Association. I remember we flew in a firme, righteous Chicano cop from San Jose, Ruben Diaz, to help us. We had several meetings with the chief of police and I saw up close the internal racism of the police department against its own Chicano officers. At the same time, being around these Chicano cops, I sometimes heard them talk casually about kicking people’s asses.
A little later, two young, unarmed African American men were killed by Omaha police officers. The community demanded change so the department agreed to do “cultural sensitivity” training for all officers in the department. The head of the University of Nebraska’s Black Studies Department, George Garrison, was hired to do the training. Dr. Garrison asked me to provide some training on the local Chicano community, its history, socioeconomic conditions, culture, etc. I agreed.
So we did ten three-hour trainings over a month or so. I did the same presentation ten times with a group of fifty different pigs, sitting there with their guns, mace, and batons. Man, they didn’t want to hear any of what we presented. The only cops that were listening and engaged was the small number of African American and Chicano cops, respectively. The worst ones were the leadership, the top of the cop hierarchy as it were, which we trained first. I believe they deliberately tried to disrupt our presentation with hostile questions and comments. At one point during the training, when Dr. Garrison tried to respond to an officer’s question about why the training was provided, the cop told Dr. Garrison, “Oh yeah, well fuck you then.” Man, we were just shocked. Imagine what this same pig would do if a Black man or Chicano talked back to him on the street.
When it was over, needless to say, I had even less respect for cops than before. Now, when I hear some dumb ass say that “Oh, I know most police officers are good people trying to do a good job,” it pisses me off. I heard former president Obama say that stupid shit and today I heard the same crap from Congresswoman Val Demings, who should definitely know better. Maybe it’s just Omaha, but I doubt it. My assumption is that the great majority of cops in this country are mean-spirited racists or colonized people of color that have no respect or consideration for most of the communities they are supposed to serve. Their culture is toxic and well-intentioned people of color that join a law enforcement agency, including the U.S. border patrol here in Southern California, hoping to create positive change have little choice but to go along with that culture and behavior. A typical police department may have some good officers—“good apples”—but there’s little positive they can do.
Has the police union in Minnesota spoke out against George Floyd’s murder? At least lawyers and doctors try to police their own by disbarring corrupt lawyers and revoking corrupt doctors’ license. Instead, police unions ALWAYS close ranks behind their own, even the murderers. Criminal Justice is not my professional field. I haven’t read the research so I don’t pretend to have the answers as to which specific policy changes are needed. But anyone can see that if we don’t honestly label the problem accurately, nothing will change. Cops are largely bad news, at least for working-class people of color, and we should stop blaming these murders on “a few bad apples.” People, including apolitical lackeys like Michael Jordan, can issue all the statements they want telling all of us that we should work together but until they call out the immediate need to disarm these cops and lock them up when they commit murder, there will be no substantive change.
I was in graduate school in the early 1990’s when the Rodney King verdict came down and generated a broad rebellion by oppressed people of color. I was taking a Sociology course called “Collective Behavior,” in which we analyzed revolutions, civil unrest, and similar group phenomena. Our professor, a pretty cool white dude (there’s a few) said that San Diego, CA is a police state. When a skeptical student asked what defines a police state, the professor answered that in a police state, the cops can do anything they want without consequences. Sounds pretty much like the entire United States to me, or as Cornell West recently called the U.S., “a failed social experiment.” I know that some people think justice has been enacted because the cop that murdered George Floyd has been arrested. Let’s wait to see if he walks or if indeed there are any real consequences for him. I’m waiting for Trump to offer him a job in the White House, which would be appropriate at this point.