Thursday, June 13, 2013

Storm's coming,

but not yet.

Soon enough, though. The wind's rising and the sky's getting quite dark.

Just a bit ago, I was walking up the hill on 17th, getting to Jackson. To my right, there was a cop on a motorcycle, cruising slowly up to a stop sign. The vibe I got was pretty relaxed. Still, a cop.

Since the time I first sat in front of a TV watching thugs with guns and badges beat civil rights marchers, and ever since I got caught up on the losing side in a police riot in Chicago in 1968, and all the times since that I got myself thrown to the ground and handcuffed, when I see a cop my first response is to assess possible risks.

But at the Dayton Voice in the 1990s, I had a very different, and somewhat sustained, experience of a cop who was always getting himself in trouble with other cops, particularly chain of command-type trouble--Lt. David Sherrer. Constantly in conflict with his superiors during his career with the Dayton police department, Sherrer came to the Voice in '97 or '98 with a story about how the department was persecuting him for criticizing other cops who didn't follow procedure, and brutalizing people on the street. Sherrer was also detailed in his criticisms of the way the department dealt with African-American officers in general.

Early in our collaboration, I told Sherrer that I didn't trust police very much and had my doubts about him. Suck it up, he responded. After all, he observed, he was in a postion where he had to trust a white newspaper publisher.

David was pretty much always angry. There didn't seem to be much happiness in his life. He's gone now; here's his obituary, which tells quite a lot about his difficulties with his employer and the troubles in his life generally.

So, there was the cop on the bike. He looked around at the stop sign and rolled through. He looked at me and nodded. I waved a hand and laughed. He was still a cop, and he looked  pleased to be one, but it didn't look like he was so full of the power of his position. He just looked like he felt pretty good on a warm day, looked as though something like joy pulsed through him. A feeling that David Sherer didn't have very often.

All of that is probably beside the point that needs to be made, which is this: Cops are the shock troops for maintaining the status quo in communities where the status quo is generally a painful thing. That's not going to change, not until the status quo stops hurting so much, stops being a matter of unemployment and dim prospects, a matter of exclusion from social benefits, a matter of brutal policing and false arrests and wrongful convictions. David Sherrer knew this, I think, and in his small way waged a difficult fight to change it. Sherrer died too young and the struggle that laid heavy on his mind and heart was one of the reasons for it.


  1. Our duplicitous perception of cops and the potential atmospheric changes in the order of things that their sheer presence represents: so much is your description of David Sherer and the cop on the bike. My father was a cop, a sergeant in Chicago; so your blog strikes an all too familiar cord with me. Images of 1968, of Marquette Park, Rainbow Beach, Detroit and Watts are (sadly) never far removed from my conciousness. But, the way you describe the cop on the bike, the underlying hope (could it be?) in your tone, makes me think--if only for a moment--that the species will survive afterall.

  2. Hey, Lucille, we need to talk sometime about your dad. I'd love to hear what he said about the situation on the streets after Dr. King was killed, during the Democratic convention, the deaths of Mark Clark and Fred Hampton, etc.

    My 14-year old got jumped on the street the other day and two D.C. detectives have been by our house twice since then, once to show Brendan photos of possible suspects. It was a little disappointing when he couldn't ID anybody, but the detectives were great.

    We've got solar panels on our roof and so does one of the two cops, so we had a great conversation about alternative energy. And they seem quite determined to track down the guys who robbed Brendan. He's all right BTW, they took his cell phone and threw him to the ground, but a day later he seems pretty unaffected. A little wiser, maybe.

    As for the species, there really are a lot of reasons for faith in our collective future, even though it's obvious that we will be pursuing justice in the future on a globe made more difficult by unwise policies and practices.