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How Do You Tell Your Kids About the Cops?

November 16th, 2011  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  5 Comments

For the past two months, I haven’t had much to say about Occupy Wall Street. I mean, I agreed in principle with the protesters’ arguments: the inequality of wealth in this country is staggering, and rich people and corporations essentially control politics. And one day I even toured Zuccotti Park with DadWagon’s own Theodore Ross; it was interesting to witness, but it didn’t bring about in me much of an emotional response. Perhaps it’s because I’m deathly allergic to drum circles, sloganeering, and the human microphone. At best, the whole thing depressed me, because despite the media attention (and widespread public support) OWS has attracted, I couldn’t see it changing much in this world. I may be on their side, but I had to watch from the other side of the barriers.

But as of yesterday morning, I’m more than depressed. I’m frustrated and angry and nearly totally disillusioned. Of course, it’s not like I expected Mayor Bloomberg to allow the protests to go on forever; he’s too much of a classical tyrant for that. It’s just that I’d hoped that the NYPD would go about clearing the demonstrators in an even-handed manner. That was obviously an unreasonable expectation, and I knew it at the time, but still, having watched the videos, scanned the photos, and read the eyewitness accounts, I’m appalled at the fury and glee with which the cops cleared the park, as if they truly enjoyed knocking hippies’ heads and sending these spoiled, whining kids to jail.

What makes this ever more frustrating is that my daughter, Sasha, is now almost 3 years old—an age at which she can spot policemen and police cars on the street, and so is probably old enough that I can start telling her that if there’s a big problem, if she’s lost or if someone’s hurt, she should go fetch a cop. Which is absolutely what she should do. It’s what I would do, too.

Except that I absolutely do not trust the police at all. It’s not just the clearing of Zuccotti Park. There’s the gun-running, the needless arrests, the planting of evidence on thousands of people, and the assholish culture of impunity that pervades the force. My lack of trust isn’t exactly new: As a teenager, I was a skateboarder, and skateboarders in the 1980s and 1990s quickly learned that guys with blue uniforms were to be avoided at all costs. They were jerks, and jerks at our expense.

Now, however, I’m ever more conflicted, because I live in a small corner of Brooklyn that needs more police presence. Things aren’t apocalyptic here—instead of rampant murders and violence, we have teenage vandalism, drug-dealing, and the occasional gunshot. But those are precisely the things that an increased police presence would help prevent, if the local precincts were willing to send more car and foot patrols around.

Some (particularly those in the Bloomberg administration) might argue that it’s partly because of protests like Occupy Wall Street that the NYPD is stretched so thin. Which is bullshit. I’m willing to accept that the protest needs some police oversight (there have been crimes like theft and sexual assault in the encampment), but the protests have been largely peaceful—i.e., not deserving of a massive police presence capped by a clearing-out by cops in riot gear. If the mayor is really interested in preserving public health and safety, he could, you know, start in my neighborhood.

Except that now it’s too late. Who trusts the NYPD anymore? Certainly not the kids in the housing projects that bookend my block. And now not us concerned, progressive New Yorkers. When If I see the cops circling my neighborhood, am I supposed to feel safer? Given what happened Monday night—and over the past several years—I have to say the answer is no. Would I still call 911 in an emergency? Of course—what choice do I have? But would I expect prompt, reliable, professional assistance? Not really. By its actions, the NYPD has eroded whatever sympathies it might have built up in this era of historically low crime.

And again, how do you explain this to your kids? How do you convey the necessity of trusting authorities that you—equally necessarily—cannot actually trust? At 3 years old, Sasha is still too young for such a complicated discussion, but I know exactly what I’m going to do when she’s the right age: I’m going to give her a skateboard, and let her find out for herself.


  1. Summer Kumar says:

    November 16th, 2011at 10:26 am(#)

    Just a note to say I too think about this a lot, all the more so now that I have a son as well as a daughter.

  2. Drew Wallner says:

    November 16th, 2011at 11:58 am(#)

    “A long time ago, all the mommies and daddies were worried about whether they could keep all the kids safe by themselves, so they created a new kind of job called police. Overall, it’s worked well, but over the years the police have started to have a culture all their own that isn’t entirely compatible with the way the rest of us might like to live our lives. Because police sometimes think differently than the way we do, you have to be careful about how you speak and behave around them, and think about the rules they live by. What’s good about having police around, though, is that if you’re ever in trouble or lost or scared and you see one, you can always go up to them and tell them your troubles and they’ll help you find your mom and dad wherever they are.”

    That’s my best first attempt. Thankfully I still have years to think about how I’m really going to say this.

  3. karen says:

    November 16th, 2011at 1:13 pm(#)

    Hey, I’ve been patiently waiting for this post. Much of what you said echoes over here too. I’ve been watching live footage on line (I love love love the human microphone) and also various coverage online.

    It makes me wonder who is watching me because of what I am reading (and who) online, and what that will mean for me in the near or distant future, if anything. I support OWS and the worldwide movement for lack of anything else, and because I have been advocating in my city for the democratic process to be, IDK, democratic? Rather than a vehicle for land developers to make tonnes of cash and fuck up our neighbourhoods royally. I am beyond frustrated with the lack of democracy FOR ALL, so I get why their needs to be no unified message, no demands. These things might make a more useful story for the media, but really, it was never what this occupy was about, was it?

    I have noticed that police everywhere are not acting all that differently from third world country police who decide someone is somewhere they “shouldn’t” be, because of their economic standing. We are heading toward the bottom of the slippery slope.

    And while I have your attention (hello? Hello?!).

    This thing whereby the parents (and others) of this generation pushing OWS are making this about the kids and their flaws (entitlement, laziness, camping for free … !!!) I have one statement: YOU RAISED THEM. Look inward for the message you @#*&$($#&*(. that is all.

    I always tell my kids to look for a mom with a kid or more in the stroller. Or even a dad if no moms present themselves. Much safer than the police. #justsaying.

  4. Matt says:

    November 16th, 2011at 1:39 pm(#)

    Don’t forget to add: “And then, maybe, if they think, mistakenly or not, that your mom or dad has done something wrong, they’ll put your parents in prison and make you go live at the orphanage.”

  5. Jason says:

    November 16th, 2011at 5:34 pm(#)

    Is there a Serpico board book?

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