Sunday, September 06, 2020

The Fraternal Order Of Police: America's Killer-Ape Alternate Reality/Legality

vanityfair |  This is a brotherhood. It abides no law but its own. It scorns the personhood of all but its own brethren. It derides all creatures outside its own clan. And for that reason, the brotherhood is not only a hurdle impeding reform. It is the architecture of an alternate reality, one that seethes and bubbles just beneath the surface of our own. And it’s a reality in which none of us are human.
In May, the Chicago chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police elected John Catanzara as president. According to a 2017 report by the United States Department of Justice, the police department in Chicago “engages in a pattern or practice of using force that is in violation of the Constitution,” where “officers’ force practices unnecessarily endanger themselves,” “a pattern...[which] results from systemic deficiencies in training and accountability.”

And yet, even given the city’s abysmal standard of police conduct, in his 25 years on the force Catanzara has managed to distinguish himself from his peers by being especially awful. According to the Citizens Police Data Project (a database of police misconduct records made public after a lawsuit and Freedom of Information Act requests), Catanzara has been the subject of 50 complaints, putting him in the 96th percentile for allegations. At the time he was elected to lead the FOP, Catanzara was assigned to administrative duty; according to the Chicago Sun-Times, he is the first president to take on the role while stripped of his official police powers.

In June, when asked about the killing of George Floyd, Catanzara referred to Officer Derek Chauvin’s actions as an “improper police tactic.” “Explain to me how race had anything to do with it,” he went on. “There’s no proof or evidence that race had anything to do with it.” Catanzara has said that any lodge members showing support for protesters could face disciplinary action from the FOP, and perhaps expulsion.

Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police is a local chapter of the larger national organization of the same name. The national FOP boasts more than 2,100 such lodges, representing more than 330,000 members, which makes it, according to its website, “the world’s largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers.”

When Chicago police officer Robert Rialmo killed Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones—a young man having a mental health episode and his neighbor, who answered the door—Rialmo was fired. The vice president of the Chicago FOP called the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which recommended the firing, “a political witch hunt on police officers. The investigations are unfair and politically motivated.”

When Jason Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder for the death of Laquan McDonald, the FOP defended him. When four of the officers accused of aiding in the cover-up were fired, a different FOP vice president used the decision as an occasion to impress upon police board members that they should not “fall to the pressure of the media or the radical police haters.”

These men were sworn officers of the law. But they did not look at Van Dyke as a convicted murderer who had broken that law. They did not look at him and see police—a social category, a profession, a uniform one puts on and can take off. They looked at him and saw their brother. They saw a different type of being, bound by an oath that transcends civilian understanding. And by virtue of Van Dyke’s being, in their eyes, he could do no wrong.

The same logic underlies the phrase “blue lives matter,” which semantically equates the color of a uniform with the nonnegotiable, unshakable fact of Blackness. It’s a phenomenon not unlike the transfiguration that took place behind the eyes of Darren Wilson. “It looks like a demon,” he told the grand jury in describing Michael Brown. Michael Brown: not man, but beast. Jason Van Dyke: not man, but kin. A brother in the pantheon. A demigod among demigods, his actions deemed necessary and virtuous because they were wrought by his hand, and his hand was necessary and virtuous.

Of course, as Catanzara’s comment about support for protesters demonstrates, it’s not that it’s impossible to be cast out from the brotherhood. The unforgivable sin within the brotherhood is to cast aspersions against the only people whom the brotherhood recognizes as human—its own kind. Shoot a boy in the back, and you can still be in the brotherhood. Side with the people who are asking questions, or raise a fist with them, or kneel before them, or talk to them, and you are out.

Maya Angelou had a thing she used to say—When people show you who they are, believe them the first time. Perhaps it’s time for America to heed Angelou’s advice. The Fraternal Order of Police has told us candidly what they are—that they are not a union, but a fraternity. A brotherhood. We ought to believe them.


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