|Let's smash some [N-words]! Y'know what I mean, Jefferson. You're one of the good ones.|
WHAT DO YOU SEE when you picture a “safe” America? I envision infants born into a loving, nurturing world — to women whose reproductive rights are protected by law. I see children and teens who exhibit consideration for themselves and others. I see citizens who question, challenge, and disagree with one another — nonviolently.
I was 20, freshly married, working as a kennelman at the National City Pet Hospital. My 18-year-old bride and I lived in an apartment on the grounds. Dottie wasn’t overjoyed with the arrangement — the barking dogs, the yowling cats, the odors. And the pet owners rapping on our bedroom window in the middle of the night: a woman to inform me that Mitzi’s nose was warm, that she “just doesn’t seem herself lately,” the owner of a kitten wondering if Tangerine needed her rabies shot before traveling to Mexico, a party animal demanding to know why his new puppy, bloated and comatose, wouldn’t wake up after being fed a bowl of Bud. It was time for a new home, a new job.
I passed each phase of San Diego’s civil service testing, which took a couple of months. At the end of the process I was scheduled to meet with the chief of police himself.
I walked down the long, terracotta-tiled corridor of the old police headquarters on West Market to the “corner pocket.” The police chief, a white-haired, wrinkled man, squinted at me through rheumy eyes and thick horn-rimmed glasses. “Tell me, son, why do you want to be a policeman?” I’d been practicing for this all morning, I was ready.
“To help people and prevent crime and—and mayhem.” The word, which a lieutenant had scolded me for misusing during my civil service interview (think not chaos and disorder but split lips and slit ears), was lodged there in my brain, like a song you can’t shake. The chief shook his head.
“That’s what they all say. ‘I want to help people.’ Tell me the real reason you want to be a policeman.”
“Really, sir. I’ve thought about it a lot. I really do want to help people. Like when they get robbed and so forth.”
“Do you know what a robbery is?”
“Sure. It’s when somebody, like, breaks into your apartment and steals your things.”
“That’s a burglary son. A robbery is a little more — personal. But you’ll have plenty of time for all that in the academy...if I decide to hire you. Tell me, why should I hire you?”
“Because I’m a hard worker? Because I care about people? Because...”
“Are you asking me these things, or telling me?”
“Telling you, sir.” I tried to be emphatic but my voice cracked in the middle of “telling.” The assistant chief, a large man with a crew cut who’d been sitting in silence off to the side, laughed, explosively. I blushed. And fumed. I didn’t need this shit. I could become a fireman. Or, God forbid, go back to working with Dad on his construction sites, something I’d done every summer from age eight to sixteen.
“Well, you’ve made it this far,” said the chief. “I guess I’ll go ahead and take a chance on you. But you remember this.” He crooked a finger at me. “You’re on probation for a year. That means I can fire you just as quick as I’ve hired you. You understand?”
“Yes, sir.” My voice cracked again and the assistant chief laughed again, a little softer this time.
“Well, welcome aboard, son.” The chief stood up, wincing. Maybe he had a trick knee too; mine was from football. I’d lied about it on the application. The chief hobbled out from behind a prison-industries desk the size of a jury box and smiled at me as we shook on it. He seemed like a really nice guy.
Although I was thrilled, I honestly didn’t get it: Why in the world would Chief Wes Sharp hire me? Later I learned that SDPD was hard up for cops at the time. It’s a cyclical thing, police hiring. Three months later, the budget closing in on him, the city manager demanding “economies” for the rest of the fiscal year, Sharp never would have welcomed me aboard. But he was hurting for cops in the field.
I brought my new identity home from Albert’s Uniforms in two brown paper shopping bags. As soon as Dottie left for work I tried it all on. I was jolted by the image in the full-length mirror on the back of our bedroom door. But I would be a different kind of cop, I told myself. Sensitive and compassionate, responsive and responsible. I would catch people who stole from or hurt other people. I would not write chickenshit tickets. I would never use the “N” word, or act unprofessionally.
I practiced a few quick-draws with my imaginary six-shooter and then pulled on my new raingear: rubber boots, a yellow coat, a yellow rain cap with a floppy visor. I looked like a 170-pound canary.
The police academy was a catalytic, values-jarring, life-changing experience. The staff and most of the instructors, cops all, were charismatic and sarcastic, comical and irreverent. I aspired to be just like them. And bowed enthusiastically to their authority.
What about all those accumulated grievances, all that fear and loathing of cops? They evaporated overnight. My top priority, my only priority, was to please or at least not piss off these cool new people in my life. To that end, I spent hours studying the academy manual and spit-shining my new regulation plain-toed black shoes.
A few weeks into the academy I began to feel the rumblings of something I’d never felt before: self-confidence.
There was no greater confidence-builder than overcoming my fear of firearms. I’d performed dismally at the range, and had failed to qualify in our first “shoot.” The rangemaster, Sergeant A. B. Davis, who sounded a bit like Sean Connery but looked nothing like him, ordered me to take my six-inch .38 Smith and Wesson revolver home and “dry-fire” it, over and over. “An schqueeze that trigger, Schtamper. Schtop jerking it. Itch not your goddamn dick.”
I got home that evening and unloaded the pistol (counting the six bullets in my hand at least half a dozen times). I picked a tiny smudge on the living room wall of our new apartment, took aim at it, and started dry-firing. Click-click-click.
My right hand was cramped, bruised, and cracked, but I went on to qualify. In fact, by graduation day I was the number-one shooter among SDPD recruits. (I would have been first overall but for an El Cajon cop who later got busted for pulling burglaries on his beat, on duty. I’ve always prided myself on being the number-one, non-felon marksman in the Forty-Ninth San Diego Police Academy Class.)
After twelve weeks at the academy I was out on the streets on my own, at last. I loved it. Chasing calls, writing tickets, wrestling drunks, pinching the occasional burglar or stickup man. And letting the bad guy know who was boss. Our instructors had drilled it into us: it was us against them, good guys versus bad guys. I knew which one I was, and set out to prove it.
I taught at the police academy, and at San Diego State University, the University of California at San Diego, and the University of Washington. I wrote a dissertation, later published, on the “professed values versus the observed behavior” of American big-city police chiefs.* I came to Seattle in 1994 as a police chief with a Ph.D. in leadership and human behavior.
- *We dealt in pukes and assholes in those days. A puke was a longhaired youth who flipped you off, called you a pig, or simply had that “anti-establishment” look about him. An asshole, on the other hand, was a doctor, a lawyer, or a clean-cut blue-collar worker who gave you lip as you wrote him a ticket–or who disagreed with your informed take on current events. The world was conveniently divided into “good people” vs. pukes and assholes. There were, of course, regional, as well as generational, differences in the vocabulary of the cop culture. In the eighties, for example, Hill Street Blues Detective Mick Belker’s, “Sit, hairball!” or “Freeze, dogbreath!” was drawn directly from the streets of New York (and widely copied in PDs throughout the country).
- *Removing Managerial Barriers to Effective Police Leadership. Police Executive Research Forum, 1992.
On April 26, 2003, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame shot and killed his estranged wife, then turned the gun on himself. His eight-year-old daughter and five-year-old son witnessed the event.
What was it like just before you did it, inside that cocoon you’d spun around your brain? Had you convinced yourself it was a private matter, nobody else’s business? Were you at peace? I want to understand, David, I really do, as one ex–police chief to another. One ex-spouse abuser to another.
You were angry, I get that. Crystal had filed for divorce. It made headlines. You saw your name attached not to the talented, visionary police chief you imagined yourself to be, but to the portrait of a monster. Unlike thousands of other abusive men in high places and/or respected positions, you got outed. Until that Saturday afternoon your public persona had been that of a sophisticated, well-mannered civic leader.
The murder-suicide was hardly private, as you would have known all too well. It shook your city to the core, David. Women’s groups are demanding answers and sweeping reforms. The mayor and city council are scrambling to cover their tails. The guy who made you chief, the city manager? He’s been fired. Crystal’s family is suing the city for $75 million.
Tacoma’s insurance company is threatening not to pay. (Remember, Chief, those premiums don’t buy coverage for the criminal actions of our employees). The FBI is investigating charges of impropriety in your hiring, as well as your ascension to the chief’s office. Your beloved hometown is reeling, people are saying it’ll take years to recover. Of course, you don’t have to worry about the “collateral damage” you caused.
All your chiefly chatter about “valuing diversity,” treating citizens and your employees with dignity and respect—that wasn’t the real you, was it? I mean you raped a woman, for crying out loud. Someone you dated back in 1988. True, you got off on some bogus “he said/she said” internal affairs finding (and the inexplicable failure of your boss to submit the case to the prosecutor) — but you confessed to the crime. I heard that you broke down in a face-to-face meeting with your victim, sobbed to her that you were a “born-again Christian,” that you were “very truly, terribly sorry” and would “never, ever do that again.”
But there were other women. Your own employees. One had begun making noises about your having sexually harassed her; it seems you promised her a promotion if she’d share the sheets with you. You pestered another female employee to join you and your protesting wife in a threesome. That would have been more recent, well after you’d pinned on your chief’s badge in January 2002.
Wife beating, rape, sexual harassment. You couldn’t live with it, could you? Being disgraced publicly. Most likely losing the job you’d politicked so hard to win. Possibly going to prison. You weren’t just angry, were you? You were scared — to death.
I’m curious, David. Where did you get your attitudes about women? About wives? Employees? Dates? Was it from your parents? Are you aware a therapist convinced a judge that your children shouldn’t be left in the care of their paternal grandparents? They’re afraid of your mother. They say she’s been violent with them. What do you make of that? Did Mom beat you when you were a kid? Not to get too psychological, but did she help turn you into a misogynist?
How about your dad? Did he mistreat you? If so, I can relate. My old man beat me often. Usually it was with his belt but sometimes it was his fists or his foot or the back of his meaty construction worker’s hand. I remember the worst beating as if it happened this morning. It left me bloodied and cowed. Not until my forties did I come to realize that my father was a criminal, his “discipline” a felony.
That’s my story, David. Not all of it, of course. (I haven’t told you how Mom would send my brothers and me out to the apricot tree to pick a switch when we’d been bad. It hurt like the devil, I can tell you that, against our bare backs and bare legs. And she’d have this absolutely ferocious look on her face when she lit into us. But I choose to believe she did it to protect us from Dad. It was like they’d cut this deal between them: If she did it during the day he wouldn’t be required to do it that night.) Anyway, like I said, that’s my story. I wish you could tell me yours.
I wish I knew whether, like so many of us, you were beaten as a boy. Was your dad, the Tacoma policeman, physically violent with your mom? With you? I know I’m dwelling on it here, but answers to these questions are of consequence, they really are.
Research over the past three decades supports the conventional wisdom: Witness your parents fighting? Statistically, you’re likely to grow into a batterer yourself. Beaten as a child? Odds are you’ll beat your own kids. If you’re both a witness to and a victim of family abuse, your chances of becoming a partner beater and a child abuser, unless you have some remarkable coping skills or some other adult to turn to for support, are off the charts.
And God forbid you should grow up in a household where violence is the norm — spousal assault, child abuse, an everyday vocabulary of violence (“Eat those peas or I’ll kick your ass,” “Wipe that smirk off your face or I’ll slap it off”) and, yes, megadoses of TV and video game violence.
If you come from that kind of home, the chances are slight that you’ll not settle differences with your fists or a hammer or a gun. (Either that, says the research, or you’ll turn out pathologically passive.)
So, those questions about your upbringing are important, David. But the answers, no matter how heart-wrenching, don’t let us off the hook. Not for how we behave as grown-ups. They’ll never excuse what you did to Crystal, even before April 2003. Let’s talk about your behavior first. Then we can compare notes.
The pushing, the threats to kill her, the choking (four episodes in the year before you murdered her), the angry display of your firearm—I hate to say it but that stuff’s not all that uncommon among male cops, or men in general. But you did some certifiably weird things, too. You sent her flowers with no card...so you could study her reaction. You timed her every trip from the house. You checked the odometer on her car. You accompanied her to the bathroom, and into her gynecological exams. You weighed her daily. You handled all the money, giving her a miserly allowance then accounting for it like a cross between Scrooge and Attila the Hun. I wonder, David, if you also:
The whole world knows the answer to the last two questions. But, how about the other stuff on that long, depressing list? You’re familiar with these behaviors, right? If not from your own home then from the annual domestic violence conferences we sponsored in Seattle? I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some conference handouts gathering dust in the filing system of your old office. It would credit people like Michael Paymar, and his book, Violent No More: Helping Men End Domestic Violence. Had you read Paymar’s book, David? Did you see yourself in those pages? I certainly did — I saw me in them.
I’ve been married and divorced, three times. I recall what it was like to be provoked, the rage that welled up inside when I felt jealous or possessive or disrespected or—insecure. I did things I regret, and since I’m not shy about judging you I’ll tell you what they are.
I screamed profanities at my wife — in front of the kids (two stepchildren from the second marriage, my own from the first); turned cold, gave her the silent treatment; slammed my fist into the wall; interrogated her when she returned home — surely she’d been sleeping, or at least flirting, with someone else; glared at her; drove at breakneck speeds with her in the car; lifted her and moved her when she refused to get out of a doorway so I could leave (a favorite tactic: get to the car, roll the windows down, and motor like a madman into the mountains or the desert). Which wife? Doesn’t matter. I behaved the same way with each, habitually.
The worst thing I ever did, from where I sit, was to stand above the woman I loved and rain down madness upon her. I was carrying my seventh or eighth badge by then, each new professional milestone symbolizing, in my delusional mind, the parallel progress I’d been making in “personal growth,” in “enlightenment.” My partner was asleep at the time, on a futon on the floor.
She hadn’t returned my calls, wouldn’t commit to some office holiday function I’d felt professionally obligated to attend. She had ignored me. So, I towered some six feet above her in a darkened room and ROARED! Berating her, accusing her, intimidating her. All I lacked was the belt.
It’s tempting for me to minimize these behaviors, to slough them off as “nonviolent,” because nobody got a cut or a bruise—much less a bullet to the brain. But, make no mistake, David: Shouting, threatening, intimidating are all forms of violence. You know this as well as I do.
We both saw it throughout our careers as cops. Big men, loud men, scary men — looming over their women, making them quake in fear. I picture the difference in physical space you and Crystal take up in your respective coffins. You, a six-foot, 175-pound man. Your wife, five feet tall, all of a hundred pounds. Don’t tell me the way we “talked” to our respective spouses wasn’t violent.
Escalation of nonphysical abuse into physical attacks and physical injury is not automatic, but it happens often enough to be predictable and of deep concern to the women being raged against. And to the children who witness it, shrinking in the corner. And to a whole society overrun by violence.
I don’t want to be presumptuous, David, but I think I know where you and I parted company: You seemed to believe what you did was okay because you were in charge. The king of your castle. The patriarch in a dismally dysfunctional patriarchal society that licenses men to command rather than communicate.
Mary Nõmme Russell writes in Confronting Abusive Beliefs: Group Treatment for Abusive Men: “An abusive man’s belief in the centrality and separateness of the self precludes a definition of his behavior as abusive by disregarding effects of this behavior on his partner. His belief in the superiority of the self permits him to devalue his partner [as] well as to justify abusiveness as a necessary defense to his threatened superiority. An abusive man’s belief in deservedness of the self provides justification for abuse when his needs are not met.”
Wow. If you’ll pardon my saying so, David, that describes you to a T. Your total self-centeredness, your sense of superiority and entitlement.
Me? I’ll own the self-centeredness, the “centrality of self” that Nõmme Russell writes about — I was one self-absorbed, narcissistic sonofabitch (I see myself today as a recovering self-absorbed, narcissistic sonofabitch). But I never believed myself to be superior to my partner. Or that I was entitled to hit her. My actions may not have communicated it but I always felt, with each partner, that we were equals.
Alas, what you and I may have felt about our motives matters not a whit. It’s how we acted that matters.
There’s another major difference between us, my colleague: I got help, you didn’t. While I never entertained the thought of physically attacking my partner I knew it was in there, percolating: the potential for physically wounding violence. Psychotherapy was a great gift. It helped me understand and deal with the sources of my childhood wounds, and my adult insecurities. It informed me that my parents’ “discipline,” especially my father’s, was as unlawful as it was ineffective. It reinforced my fundamental belief in the moral (and liberating) value of true gender equality.
And it erased any excuse I may have had for my behavior: I was responsible, not Mommy, not Daddy, not God, not Twinkies, and certainly not my partner, for how I acted.
I wish for Crystal that she’d had a chance to know you as an equal, David. I wish that same thing for all partners in their relationships. Especially the wives of cops.
Your crimes triggered a feeding frenzy among the local media. Reporters started sniffing and snooping even before you and Crystal were in the ground (your wife lay in the hospital until they lowered you into your grave, and at that moment she died). The press was eager to learn how many other cops were abusing their partners. Yeah, I know, reporters are bottom feeders, but you can hardly blame them in this case. I mean, you were the top cop in town; if you were guilty of domestic violence, what did that say about other men in blue?
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a week-long series “exposing” the fact that cops are at least as likely as other men to commit domestic violence. (Next, they’ll be telling us there are racists in policing.) In fact, more recent research reveals that cops are far more likely than non-cops to be domestic abusers. Yet, police officers are far less likely to get busted for DV. Why? Because they’re trained to fight, to take charge, to manipulate. They know how to inflict excruciating pain that leaves no marks. And they have guns. Their wives aren’t stupid.
|How to fix U.S. police|
When you expose the corruption these officers exhibit it shines a bright light on them and their superiors and locale bringing attention they do NOT want. Right now, that's our only recourse. That or knowing someone high in power.