Police Brutality: The
Responsibility of Authority
Toward a Meaningful Life Radio Show with Simon
Transcript - March 12, 2000
Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Hello and welcome.
Iíd like to share that I just
returned from a really high, spiritual experience, a retreat that I led in
upstate New York.
Itís hard to land and get
grounded to get on radio here, but I wanted to share the enthusiasm from my own
heart with you. Those of you listeners who were there will know what I mean,
and Iíll try to capture some of that magic on air. It was really special,
bonding with intelligent peopleósearchers as well as skepticsóand people who
sincerely are looking for deeper meaning in their lives. What we did was take a
Sabbath experience, which for many is seen as a mechanical or very distant
experience from a spiritual perspective, and really personalized it, made it
into an intimate exercise in personal growth and introspection.
We titled the weekend, ďTransition,
Immanence, and TranscendenceĒ: three steps that the Kabbalistic masters teach
that in any type of growth thereís always a transitionary stage where you leave
one world to enter another, and then thereís immanence, filling yourself up
with that new journey, or assuming the new experiences that you have traveled
into, and then finally thereís transcendence, where youíre able to transcend
time and space, and problems and difficulties.
Frankly, what was missing was a
fourth stage, which is how do you bring it back, how do you reimmerse, which is
where I’m at now. Integrating experiences like this into our daily lives is
always the difficulty. It’s one thing to get inspired, and one thing to have a
really special experience. I think the greater challenge is how to integrate it
into the daily grind of life. You get back into the pits, or whatever it is
that we’re into, the rat race or the merry-go-round, and the question is how to
take inspiration and bring it into that type of reality.
For most of us thatís the
biggest challenge in our lives. If we were able to do that, then weíd have that
type of seamless flow where you can go to mountain, come back to the valley,
and return the dance of life itself.
So coming back from this
retreat, I decided to discuss a topic that definitely brings things down to
earth in the most profound way.
I was hearing about the verdict
passed on the police brutality trials, where the four white police officers
were acquitted and cleared in the Diallo case and on the other hand, the
conviction of police brutality in the Louima case.
Of course police brutality
isn’t exclusively an issue regarding whites and blacks, but you find it also in
the recent case of mentally deranged fellow, the Jewish man in Borough Park who was also killed by police. That was also considered by some as excessive
violence and many feel that it was covered up.
So I felt that in order to
bring transcendence into reality, it would help to address a topic like this,
police brutality. I don’t know if it’s even a fair way of titling it, because
PR is PR, and it immediately puts the police department on the defensive, so I
really don’t want to just join the crowd that’s condemning the police
department, because I think that an intelligent person really has to look at
this from different perspectives.
Now, what would I have to say
on this topic? I’m no expert on the legal system here in New York, and I don’t
want to discuss the obvious and predictable here. I do want to address it from
a deeper perspective: the fact is that we do live in an environment and world
where there is crime, and for that purpose we need law enforcers. What are
their responsibilities and obligations, how do you deal with excessive
violence, what kind of accountability should they have, and what are the pros
and cons each way?
I invite and welcome your
calls, so before I get into the meat of the topic, let me give you the number
here in the studio: 212-244-1050. I’m sure this is a topic that many of you may
have many different opinions on, but I’d like to keep the caliber of the calls
beyond the obvious and predictable outrage that any one of us has when you hear
about any innocent person being hurt, we clearly all agree about that.
So Iím not here to defend any
type of violent act on anyoneís part. No human being has the right to hurt
another person, whether he or she is in a position of authority, or not in a
position of authority; particularly people in a position of authority who yield
weapons definitely do not have that right.
So thatís an obvious thing. The
question that goes farther than that is, what do you do about the situation,
and what is going on? And do statistics show that police brutality is growing
in the last few years? Has the insensitivity of law enforcers heightened? Is
there insensitivity to particular minorities, and so on.
What comes to mind, and I do
speak from a spiritual or Torah perspective, a Jewish mystical perspective—you
may wonder what connection that has to police brutality—but the connection is
Any spiritual system cannot be
divorced of, separated, or compartmentalized from the real realities of life.
The fact is that we live in a world where there is crime. And since there is
crime we need law enforcers. So the Torah clearly says, “Shoftim víshotrim
titen lecha bíchol shaarecha,Ē You shall appoint judges and law enforcers
in all your municipalities. People who will hold up the court verdicts in order
to keep people accountable and responsible that we donít hurt or kill each
Now the question really is,
what responsibility does that law enforcer have? I should pose the question and
put it into a scenario where really there are two sides to the coin. We have to
remember, to speak in defense of the police department, that when you’re
dealing with a situation where you have to defend the public from criminal
activity, you’re dealing with an element that’s very unpredictable.
The fact is, when a cop goes
into a situation where he’s responding to a call, there’s always the risk of a
life and death situation. So though there’s no question that each of us has
heightened defenses when we’re in a place like that, it’s not just like walking
down the street, you don’t know what’s coming, as if you’re in a battle zone.
And we know that in all civilized countries, when it comes to war, war has its
own rules and laws.
Now I canít say that the police
department is literally comprised of soldiers who are in the middle of World
War II or Vietnam, but nevertheless, in that particular situation, theyíre
going into a threatening situation and itís to be expected that their
adrenaline is heightened, and that in general theyíre very tense and anxious.
And human beings are human
beings. So some of the worst of a human being will come out in times like that,
because oftentimes there will be an innocent person whom they are accosting and
encountering, like in this case, it may look like a gun but it’s really a
wallet. And in an act of self-defense, they may kill the person.
But now the issue is, is this
cop also be a racist? It may very well be that if it were a white person, or
another situation, he may not have pulled his gun that quickly. So how do you
Now any intelligent person
knows that there will be situations where a mistake will be made by a law
enforcer, so I wanted to present it in the context that we can’t just dismiss
it and say, “Hey, a cop has been violent—kill all the cops.” You have to
understand that there is a situation that each of us would deal with perhaps in
the same way.
The real problem is when it
snowballs into a situation where the person is a racist coupled with a
situation that’s legitimately one of fear.
Another issue that I think
should be brought up is the loyalty that police have to one another. If you
have a partner who has saved your life, and you know you’re depending on him to
cover your back, and then that partner, for some reason, abuses his power, you
know clearly that they’ve gone too far in a fit of violence and abused the
power of a policeman, are you responsible to turn that person in?
So of course speaking from the
ivory tower, you would say, “Of course you should turn that person in.”
Ethically, the cop went too far. But you have to remember that you both work
together. You may be partners who have been on the beat for five or ten years,
and there is a loyalty that’s created when people are soldiers who stand side
by side—they will protect each other, even at times when it doesn’t seem
Should we enforce and create a
climate of panic where any cop knows that his partner may inform on him?
Wouldn’t that also undermine the ability to have that loyalty? Without trust,
police can’t really work with each other. And again, this is in no way
condoning any type of violence, it’s just trying to make it into a real human
issue where we see there’s a problem here because there’s going to be loyalty,
and there will inevitably be cover-ups.
So how do we deal with all of
this? Some cynics say, if you’re going to beat the guy up, just make sure you
don’t get caught so then we don’t have the PR mess.
Now is that a solution, to make
sure that you don’t get caught? Like: everyone’s doing it (like they said about
Nixon), he just got caught… too bad.
Now what are the answers to
some of these questions? As always, there are short-term solutions and
long-term solutions. I think on a short-term level, obviously, any type of
violence, particularly from a person of authority (whether from police officers
or a teacher in school or a parent), that person has greater responsibility
because he or she was given power and the ability to hurt another, so they are
even more responsible than just a regular citizen.
So thereís no question that
violence has to be condemned to the fullest, and every possible measure of
discipline within the police department has to be enforced in order to create a
climate of sensitive leaders.
You see recently that the cops
are doing pretty good PR—they have this thing on the police cars: “integrity”
and this and that. So the image that they’re trying to create is that the
police are becoming more cordial. I guess that’s the trend lately. The IRS is
now “helping us” instead of being our enemy—it’s like a new political trend. I
don’t know if it’s having an impact or not, but at least it looks pretty good
when you see it in the street.
But the thought that comes to
mind immediately, from a Torah perspective, how did the Torah cultivate sensitive
law enforcers, and what kind of criteria does the Torah put forth for a law
Does a law enforcer go through
a screening process? What about people who have a lot of rage in them? Do you
allow them to become a cop? I’m sure in the CIA or highly sensitive positions
in the United States, or in any government, people are screened for these jobs.
You don’t allow certain personality types into a certain environment† because
in case of crisis or danger, their emotional structure will be such that it
will undermine their ability to fulfill the role.
So in Judaism, interestingly,
there are very clear criteria of the rigorous process that a law enforcer or a
judge has to go through before becoming that person. Now of course the argument
goes that we don’t have much time to train law enforcers. I don’t how many
years it takes someone to become a cop from a completely neutral citizen, but
clearly it’s not the same amount of time, for instance, that it takes for
someone to become a doctor.
And one of the elements of
going through medical school, for example, is that there’s a screening process
that ultimately, although it’s not guaranteed, creates a situation where
someone who really and sincerely wants to be a doctor, and sees it through the
system (you trust that they’ve gone through the education and residency and all
the rigorous trials) has been screened. That in itself filters out a lot of the
quacks so to speak.
When it comes to police, it
could be that a criminal or someone who’s not necessarily fit, decides to
become a policeman, a person who doesn’t have the required sensitivity or is
not completely acceptable.
But the argument is, we need
cops so what are you going to do? Make a ten-year screening process until we
have cops? We’d have a terrible situation dealing with crime.
So itís an important point that
on a long-term basis, ultimately, when someone is violent and hurts a potential
criminal and abuses that personís rights, it comes down to what kind of people
are able to do that?
There are people who are
sensitive human beings, and one of the things that the Torah says when it talks
about law enforcement is that even when you judge criminals, remember that your
objective is not to hurt anyone, but rather that even punishment is part of
healing. The expression in the bible is “víshoftu haíeida víhatzilu haíeida,Ē
which means ďYou shall judge the community and you shall protect (or rescue,
Now, the fact is, if a person
is guilty, why would the Torah call it rescuing that person? If a person has to
punished, then they should be incarcerated or whatever other punishment is due.
So why is it called rescuing? Because the attitude of a law enforcer is such
that he or she is not just here to enforce the law, but to actually make people
Part of that requires the fear
of punishment, of retribution, the fear of law and order, but the cultivation
of that type of law enforcer has to come from a sensitive place.
There have been systems where
the best police officers were the most brutal ones. And they prevented most
crime because people were simply terrified—for example, they didn’t want to get
into the hands of the Gestapo. So should we hire police that are of that
personality, because that’s definitely going to be the most crime preventive.
So thatís not the Torahís
approach. You donít want people who are using law enforcement as a mask for
their own aggression, for their own insecuritiesóand who take it out on
potential criminals or on actual criminals. You want to create sensitivity. I
think that in any healthy civilized community, including the New York police
department or wherever it may be, there has to be a much more rigorous
educational process of the requirements of a police officer. The truth is, it
really goes back to education in general, of educating people to be sensitive
human beings, because thatís what it comes down to.
The fact is, the difference
between two cops who are both in a life-threatening situation, and who both
have heightened defenses and they both behave somewhat excessively; the fact
is, the difference between the two is that one may be a sensitive creature and
one is not, and that will be expressed in different outcomes.
So they both may make a mistake
which everyone is capable of, but if you know that the person is a sensitive
person in general and values life, whether it’s a black life or a white life,
or Jewish or non-Jewish, or whatever it may be, and they know that their
position as a law enforcer is to enhance the quality of life and not just to
weed out the criminal elements, then a person like that can be trusted in more
cases than the other. Yes, there will be mistakes, but in a way you will
forgive certain mistakes.
So thatís one point I want to
make. Iím not trying to be naÔve about it because I know itís not going to be
solved overnight, but I think we have to look at ourselves and how we deal with
it. Look at parents. There are parents who are in positions of authority and
they also hurt their children. So ultimately it comes down to, what kind of
person are you, and how do you deal with situations when youíre threatened?
Sometimes the parents will justify it by saying that the child behaved in a way
that was atrocious: ďI was provoked,Ē or whatever it may be.
Iím not comparing that to a
cop, but the idea is that it all comes down to how you come into it and what
kind of person you are.
So those are my initial opening
remarks. We’re here on Toward a Meaningful Life with yours truly, Simon
Jacobson, on WEVD 1050 AM and we’re talking about police brutality. We have
Jerome on the line.
Caller: The basic defect
with the police department is that it isn’t under the control of the people,
and as long as that’s the case we can’t expect anything much better than what
Jacobson: What would you
suggest? That we have a people’s court that cops are accountable to? You’d
undermine the whole system in all those situations. Every cop would be accused
of being excessive in the way he or she arrested someone, and you’d just have a
new bottleneck of red tape. I’m just playing devil’s advocate.
Caller: Well, what could
happen is that anyone who wants to, could become a policeman. Now there are
about 40,000 policemen. Supposed there were 100,000 who wanted to be policemen?
Now naturally it probably wouldn’t be necessary to have that many, but anybody
could become a policeman, and the police, meaning that anyone who wants to,
would have the ability to elect the commissioners.
Right now the commissioner is
appointed by the mayor, who is not accountable to anyone, really.
Jacobson: Itís true. And
as a matter fact Iím sure youíll have extreme arguments about Mayor Guiliani.
On the one hand, thereís no question that the crime rate has fallen
dramatically in New York City, and many attribute that directly to Guiliani,
perhaps because he was a DA, a prosecutor, and he has some of those tactics
that are quite aggressive. The fact is, most New Yorkers are quite satisfied
with that element of his behavior.
On the other hand, some people
just hate him because of his type of enforcement. So you can’t win. If Guiliani
were to be accountable to the people, maybe the crime rate wouldn’t have gone
down. In time of war, for instance, a general is not answerable to the people.
He has a Commander-in-Chief called the President of the United States who intentionally is not an army man, who is a citizen living in a peaceful
environment. However, you really have to weigh the two, and on a practical
level, I’m not sure what suggestion you’re making here. We’d really have to
think that through.
Caller: The whole thing
is this. The society we live in, whether capitalism or communism, especially
under capitalism, encourages crime because of the poverty, etc. The thing is
that the whole governmental structure is not under the control of the people.
The politicians are bought and paid for by the capitalist class, and of course
under communism, it’s just a legalized Mafia, so to speak. So the point is that
in either case, the people are not in control. You’ve got the ruling class,
whether capitalist or communist, as the ones in control.
If you look at Russia today, for example, crime is rampant. Before they had capitalism, they had communism
which was legalized crime—legalized crime by the ruling class, the bureaucrats
Jacobson: So would you
agree with Al Sharpton who says that the Louima convictions are a breakthrough
in the conspiracy of the blue wall of silence?
Caller: Well, if Al
Sharpton said that today was Sunday I wouldn’t believe him. I have no use for
him. The guy is just an obvious opportunist. He’s still accusing Steve Pagonas
of raping Tawana Brawley and he has no evidence whatsoever and he’s getting
away with it.
So frankly I donít even think
his name should ever be mentioned unless itís necessary. Heís a nobody. In
fact, a lot of black people it seems are finally beginning to realize that heís
using them, heís manipulating them.
Jacobson: Okay, thatís
true. And this showís not about him so forget about him. My point is, do you
think thereís some type of conspiracy or some reason why we should not trust
the police department overall, that we need this citizen accountability that
youíre referring to?
Caller: Well, if there
were a genuine police department in the whole country, a federal police
department, to begin with, that was really interested—after all, narcotics
couldn’t exist without corruption and bribery, and that goes for so many
You take industrial crimes,
where pollution is taking place, or automobile production. It’s over a century
now. They can’t build automobiles that don’t have basic problems. Well, I guess
the first 100 years are the hardest.
Jacobson: Okay, Jerome,
thank you for the call. It’s a good point and I think accountability is
extremely important. It’s the number one thing that keeps people in line,
including police. And just like police are here to have citizens be accountable
and not be criminals, police themselves have to be accountable so that they
should not be criminal in their behavior. So thank you for the call.
In Torah law, at least in the
times when there was the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish court that had
control and jurisdiction, so capital punishment was an option, an option in
extreme situations of first-degree murder and so on with witnesses. There were
many strong conditions.
But itís interesting that the
Talmud says that when a court of law convicted someone of murder or anything
else that warranted the death penalty, the court of law that put someone to
death was stigmatized and was labeled, according to the Talmud, a ďmurderous
court.Ē I always found that very fascinating, because why would you call a
court that legitimately found the accused guilty (no one was suggesting that
they were corrupt and no one was suggesting that they were too aggressive).
They listened to both arguments and they came to a very legitimate democratic
decision, by a majority of judges who were objective. As I said, no one
suggested that they were not objective or in any way a kangaroo court or some
other set-up. They came to a conclusion that a person had committed a crime
with the proper witnesses and all thatís necessary to convict someone, and that
person was put to death.
Why would you label them
forever a murderous court? The answer is, that any court of law, even when they
put someone to death, would be the first to shed tears for that person. That
the sensitivity of a person in a position of authority is fundamental and
crucial even in the most extreme situation. So of course they had compassion
for the victims, and that’s why the guilty party was put to death, because
ultimately, he or she was a danger to society. But still the Torah calls them
"murderous" in order to make a loud statement for posterity of the
importance of sensitivity necessary, so that we’d know forever, as a legacy in
history and as a testimony to the fact of the sensitivities that were necessary
of people in that position.
So even when capital punishment
was legitimate and necessary, we see the emphasis on the sensitivity necessary
of law enforcement. It just reinforces the point I was making about how we have
to deal with the police department. I think there are many messages and lessons
that we have to learn, even in our own secular society, from the sensitivity of
the courts of law of old that were divinely inspired and based on divine law.
The fact is that the
Constitution of the United States and much of its ethics is based on the Ten
Commandments and on Noachide laws, timeless laws that go back in time, that go
back to the beginning of society. And there’s much to learn from the mysteries
of what kept communities together at that point. There’s much to learn about
those ethics, and those ethics can be applied even to a situation of police
Letís go to Samuel on the
Caller: Hi, howíre you
doing? Listen, first of all, I would like to say that you would have to be in
it to win it. And what I mean by that is, people have a tendency of having amnesia
when they really donít know whatís happening. You have to be in the community
and in the area where people live in order to know what goes down. Thatís why a
lot of people say, ďOh no, that doesnít happen.Ē
Well, let me tell you sir. I
have seen these crime units get out of the car, right there on First Avenue,
and pull people over and slam them up against the car, and if they don’t have
nothing, then the cops say, “Get the hell out of here.”
Now I donít think thatís right.
That is absolutely wrong. If youíre looking for respect, then you have to give
respect. Now thereís another thing I would like to say.
Community police. If you have
police patrolling the community, the people in the community will get to know
the officers that are patrolling the community. Then they can help the officers
if there’s something that goes wrong in the neighborhood, they can always let
the officers know so they wouldn’t be putting themselves in whatever you want
to call it—so-called danger. Work with the community and the community will
work with you. You don’t have to go in no private car in no private clothes.
Work with your community and you’ll find out the respect and courtesy that you
will get from your community providing that you give them the respect that
they’re looking for from you.
Jacobson: Samuel, I
think your points are very well taken and I’m the last to suggest and minimize
the amount of brutality that may exist. But let me ask you this question—you
seem to be very logical and rational—what would be reasonable cause in your
mind for a search or for stopping a citizen?
Caller: Well, let me put
it this way. If someone is acting suspicious, what I mean, let’s say the police
are walking or driving through and someone is walking and looking all around,
watching, whatever, maybe that’s a reason to stop that person and shake him
down and do whatever. But just to stop people, I’m mean, come on, stop people
right there on First Avenue, make them get out of the car, I don’t understand
that. And then when they don’t have nothing, ďGet the hell outta here.Ē
And if you say something to
them, “Officer, why?” they say, “You’d better get outta here before I lock you
I say it right there, my man,
on First Avenue where I live. And I think that’s wrong.
Jacobson: First and what?
Caller: First bordering
115th and 112th and 116th. I saw them do it.
Jacobson: Well, listen,
Samuel, I appreciate your call, and I’m very happy that I have a platform here
for you to be able to make a statement like that, because the fact is, I’m sure
that there’s often undue and excessive shaking down, as you put it. I mean, I
do have my own dilemma about this, because the fact is that there are certain
situations in which that you would allow the police department to just randomly
stop cars sometimes.
Iíve been stopped and I hardly
look suspicious, but who knows. But Iíve been stopped and of course ticketed
for no seat belt or whatever it is, but no one has ever shaken me down, so I
guess definitely in certain areas of the city theyíre doing it more because
they believe that itís a more crime-ridden area. But I definitely think,
Samuel, to go back to my initial point here, that any police officer has to be
driven by one important thing: the dignity of human beings. And I must say this
even though it may sound too over-idealistic is that ultimately it comes down
to spiritual sensitivity; recognizing that human beings have souls and have a
dignity, and the best we do as law enforcers is to help that dignity emerge and
protect peopleís dignity from those who want to abuse it.
Any type of excess violence is
really inappropriate. I think it really comes down to an education with an
emphasis on the highest standards that the head of the police department and
the mayor himself should ask of police officers in their training, that every
part of their training should be infused with this type of sensitivity.
There will be situations where
cops will often overreact, and I will be the last to condone a violent act;
however, you have to also be aware of the ramifications of preventive
measures. If you tie cops’ hands to the extent that they can’t really do what
they need to do, you’ll ultimately be destroying a certain element of the
immune system, so to speak, that stops so much of our crime.
Letís go to Andrew on the line.
Caller: Iíve been
listening to people complain about police brutality and Iíve noticed that it
often accompanies a sort of fond remembrance of how the old days used to be.
People sort of glorify how Times Square used to be. I think that this is part
of what people in the late 60s said about Leonard Bernstein, how he would have
these fundraisers for the Black Panthers and how it was radical chic. For a lot
of people now itís become in fashion to condemn the police. And I think thatís
the prime reason for all the complaining because we had a low crime rate for
the past couple of years so now people feel, well, we can now ease up and go
back to bashing the police. I think that when Guiliani leaves office and Mike
Green takes over and Al Sharpton and his tribe have full control of the city, I
think people will look back at this era and really miss whatís been happening
now despite the occasional and rare events of police brutality.
Jacobson: Thatís very
well put, Andrew. Do you have any experience yourself with the police?
Caller: Iím a security
guard and as you can tell, Iím an immigrant from the Caribbean. In my building
sometimes police come in and check the various officers, and they look at me
and they try to bait me, you know, they sort of look down at me, sometimes. I
never take it personally. Iíve been pulled over for speeding when I wasnít
speeding, and Iíve gotten a ticket or two that I probably didnít deserve, but
overall, you know, do you remember how it used to beó2300 people getting killed
annually a few years ago? Despite that, Iíve met policemen who were bad, but
the overall picture is, Iím just one man compared to a city of 6 million
Jacobson: How long have
you been living in New York?
Caller: Since 1989, and
I can still remember in 1989 how bad things were then. I think for the most
part it’s really an attempt by Ed Koch and David Dinkins to delegitimize what
Guiliani has done because they know that when the history of the city is
written, Koch and Dinkins will be seen as the people who helped push New York over the brink. So whatever they can do to make Rudy seem bad, they say, “He
reduced crime but it came at the expense of civil rights.” What they’re really
looking for is some sort of equivalence: They were bad, but Guiliani was just
as bad. And I think that’s why they’re jealous of him.
Jacobson: Well, what
youíre saying, Andrew, is very reasonable. So, coming from your way of
thinking, would you suggest anything that could help? Iím not talking about
bashing the cops, I agree with you about that, thatís just political pandering.
Would you suggest something that could help heighten the sensitivity of law
enforcers where it would minimize some of the abuse, even if there is some
Caller: Well, Iíve seen
a program where black policemen go to neighbors and meetings, and tell people,
ďLook, when a policeman pulls you over, that is not a time to complain, itís
not the time to make great racial statements and itís not a time to fight. When
a policeman tells you to stop, you stop. Donít go into your wallet. Donít say
ĎThis is racist.í Whatever complaints you have, take it to the complaint review
board. But when youíre pulled over by a policeman, that is not the time to make
some grand statement. You know, when a policeman pulls you over, freeze, donít
move.Ē And I think a lot of kids think they can talk to the police however they
want, but you know, I just think that when a policeman pulls you over, that is
the time that you do exactly what he says because he has the gun and you donít.
Jacobson: Well, thatís
very prudent. I do that when they pull me over.
Caller: Thereís an
actual program of black policemen who go into black neighborhoods and they hold
meetings in church basements and schools and they say ďThis is how you behave
when a policeman pulls you over.Ē
Jacobson: Well, what do
you do in a situation where you find a policeman who has abused that power? How
aggressive or how strong of a reaction should a police department have and
should we have to a show a clear violation of civil rights?
Caller: Well, I think
they should be fired and then prosecuted like everybody else. There are
complaint review boards and all that, but I used to be a security guard and I
dealt with 16 and 17-year-old teenagers and a lot of these kids are growing up
and the only authority they’ve ever dealt with are policemen. They don’t have
fathers, they don’t have mothers who are strong enough. What kind of mother can
tell a 17-year-old to stay home? I’ve seen some of these 17-year-olds as big as
me (I weigh 230). Unfortunately, a lot of these kids are growing up and the
only authority they ever deal with are policemen.
The principals canít tell them
anything. The school teachers donít tell them anything. They grow up. They
donít go to church. They have no strong male role models, and unfortunately,
the only guy they ever meet who can tell them ďnoĒ is a cop, and unfortunately
it sometimes comes with a bullet.
Jacobson: Well listen,
if all the cops were as sensible and as sensitive as you are, Andrew, I think
we’d have a much better situation. It comes down to this. Sometimes you meet a
cop or any other officer in the city, whether it’s the fire department or the
medical arena, and they really behave in ways that are extremely noble. It’s
very powerful because these are people who put their lives on the line, and I
completely agree that to bash, and to just overgeneralize and bash the entire
police department—to say, look what’s happening—is from my point of view a
complete PR move, a political one, and is highly inappropriate.
But what we have to do, since
we live in a democratic society, is to heighten the pressure. I definitely
think that when pressure is put on the leaders and the ones who run the show,
it has to trickle down into the way they hold their police officers
accountable. As in any type of business where there’s any type of abuse going
on, the buck stops at the top. If you put the pressure there, the mayor and the
head of the police department or the head of a particular police precinct
doesn’t want to be accused of allowing any abuse in his particular area.
Letís take a moment to identify
who we are here. This is the Toward a Meaningful Life radio show with
yours truly Simon Jacobson. We’re from the Meaningful Life Center which I have
the privilege to head, and we bring you this show as well as many other
programs and classes and activities that are essentially all focused on helping
people discover deeper meaning in their lives, whether it’s issues like police
brutality, how we can learn to be more sensitive human beings, how we can
affect our surroundings, even our authorities, or issues of how to deal with
our own psychological scars, personal issues, cosmic issues, or Kabbalistic
issues, and we try to weave it all together into some type of blueprint, a
paradigm for how life can be lived in a way that is better than how it is lived
You can contact us at email@example.com or www.meaningfullife.com or you can call
us at 1-800-363-2646 (1-800-3MEANING) or write to us at
Meaningful Life Center, Suite 303, 788 Eastern Parkway,
Brooklyn, NY 11213.
We go to Paul on the line.
Caller: Hello. Thank
you. Very good show and you give people time to let people make some very good
comments. I just want to answer one point that Andrew made. He insinuated that
Amadou Diallo did not stop for the police. There’s every indication that he did
exactly what the police asked him to do. And he was shot for that. I mean, they
claimed that he had a wallet and they even tried to change the story and say
that it was a wallet gun. First they thought that the wallet was a gun, then
they thought it was a wallet but a wallet-type gun.
So we have no reason to believe
that he didn’t do exactly what the police asked.
One more point. Crime is down
in every city in the country, and it’s nationwide, so it’s not unique to New York under Guiliani. I think he’s getting credit for what basically is a national
phenomenon with reduced crime and I think that’s due to the President as much
as anyone, because the economy’s been very good and when the economy is good,
crime is down. Also, New York City is in good shape because of the amount of
taxes that have been brought in through Wall St. There again, I think President
Clinton deserves credit for that. The President always gets either credit for
the economy or if the economy is bad, he’s blamed for that. So here we have a
situation where we do have an excellent national economy. Crime is down in the
country because of the national economy.
Jacobson: Okay, listen, Clinton isnít running again, but I appreciate your call, Paul, and I think there are many
factorsóprosperity among themóso thank you for that.
Letís go to Yanna.
Caller: Howíre doiní
brother? I just wanted to say something. I listened to this joker that you had
on the air, I guess thatís what he is to me because Iím an officer myself.
Thereís no way in hell that a street crime unit in the black community, which I
live amongst, are going to address themselves as who they are.
Because when you see white
people in the community that you know are not normally common among your own
people, automatically you’re going to suspect that they’re either law
enforcement or some kind of other authority that is working with a city agency.
Now this guy here has the gall
to sit up there and talk about what teenagers should be… I wanted to ask him,
if he’s still on the air, what do you do when you have white officers confront
black officers on the street? Because I had a friend of mine who has been
relieved of his duty, because he defended himself against three other white
officers that came up against him.
See, this whole thing that
we’re talking about going on here in New York City, and then you have this
other joker on the air talking about how great the economy is. If the economy
is so good, as he claimed, the gas prices would be a lot lower than what they
are now and people wouldn’t be going through the fringes of digging deep into
their pockets to pay for home heating fuel and other stuff that’s going on
But the issue of the police
department that a lot of people don’t know what’s going on inside there, and
that the Judicial system is totally biased against minorities and blacks as
Jacobson: Youíre a
Caller: Yes I am. And
Iím not speaking from the gut of it, because I got 20 years on the job and Iím
on my way out the door. My attitude to the whole situation with New York in general is that when I sell my house and get up and get out of here to go to Florida, they can kiss it. Because Iím sick and tired of all the nonsense that these people
in New York City try to procrastinate about saying how good this is and how
good that is, but yet, property values have gone up out in Long IslandÖ
Jacobson: So, Yanna,
youíve experienced racism on the force?
Caller: Sure. All you
have to do is come in there in the morning in just about any precinct and work
there for a while. You got some guys who’ve seen your face for five years. You
could say good morning to them and they’ll walk right past you with a cigarette
and a cup of coffee in their hand. It goes on even when I was in the military
in the early 70s, when I was in the Marine Corps.
Jacobson: And you just
tolerated it for these 20 years?
Caller: You had no
choice. You have no choice. Youíre either going to conform to whatís
around you and ignore it and go on about your business and then go home
hopefully to somebody whoís loving, and see the face of your kid and put it
behind you. And then the next day you say to yourself, oh well, I have to deal
with this again. But you know that you have to pay your bills.
Jacobson: When are you
getting off the force, Yanna?
Caller: Iím looking to
leave here sometime in the fall of this year. Iíve got my last child that Iím
Jacobson: Maybe youíll
be a new Serpico and reallyÖ
Caller: No, because no
matter how many Serpico’s come up, you got 100 men in black law enforcement
that are there talking about situations in there, and it’s not getting the
limelight, the media coverage that it should about what’s really going on in
there. You have women who work within the police department that are being
discriminated against and harassed by other fellow and superior officers, or
every now and then from fellows from different units, and then when they go to
make a complaint about it, it’s squashed.
Jacobson: Yanni, being
someone who knows the system from within, are there any suggestions you would
make, or have you just given up?
Caller: Well, Iíll put
it like this. If I could change it, I would try my best to change it, but I
just canít do it by myself because youíre talking about an army of individuals
that work within the department that have different ideas and viewpoints on
ways that they feel the department should run.
Jacobson: I donít mean
you changing it yourself. What suggestions would you make overall that could be
Caller: Well, I
recommend to anyone who’s going in there as a new recruit to keep your nose
clean. If you can avoid getting into any problems for yourself, climb through
the ranks, do your time, and get out of there. That’s the best thing I can say
Jacobson: So you donít
have hope, basically.
Caller: I donít have
hope in American society in general because they got a lot of procrastinators
out here. And I learned that a long time ago. When I started to see the way the
Judicial system isóa one-sided figure according to when you arrest a teenager
for something, and you get him into the family court system, and the fathers
are kicked out of the houseÖ they had actually destroyed in a minority
community the infra-power structure of the home where these kids are looking
for someone to rely on, and if they canít get it from both parents then they
end up getting it from somebody whoís either a good mentor of an older age, or
as far as older people like my grandmother, you can forget about the kids
listening to them because they think that theyíre crazy. Thereís a different
generation out there: everyoneís going to go through what theyíre going to go
I mean, I experienced police
brutality when I was coming up as a kid. Being popped in the head, like that,
and I’ve carried that on my shoulders through the years. But I didn’t let it
get to me to the point that it drove me sick.
Jacobson: Okay, Yanna. I
really appreciate your call. But I have to say, I’ve got more hope for the
human condition than you do and I really hope that (well, you’re from the
inside so you really know what the situation is) but things can change, I
really believe they can change and have to change, whether it’s here in New
York or wherever, and I wish you good luck wherever you go.
Letís go to Norman on the line.
Caller: Hi Rabbi. Iím
glad you had a good weekend. Iíd like to comment on the subject here. There is
a program in place with the NYPD in which the last program was titled ďVerbal
Judo.Ē And officers are taught that when a suspect who is being apprehended is
being verbally abusive, the officer lets him have the last word because the
officer has the last action.
I want to equate the rare
incidence of police accidents, where someone is killed (I’m not talking about
misconduct—although that’s rare too) with airplane travel. You can not make
every plane fly all the time without an accident. And according to the city
authorities, there’s a lower incidence of police drawing their guns
accidentally or otherwise, in the city of New York versus other cities. It is a
rarity. It should be zero, I agree.
Iíd also like to comment on two
different types of fear reaction that an officer has. When someone is
aggressive or disrespectful toward a minority simply because that person is
different, thatís a fear state.
Jacobson: Norman, because of the time factor, can you get to your point?
Caller: My point is that
it is a fear state when a person is against a person because of his minority
status. It’s a fear. And it’s also a fear of a different kind when he thinks
that a gun is being pointed at him or a gun is being pulled, that’s another
kind of fear. And everybody is responsible to lessen his fear.
But a policeman is sometimes in
a semi or a quasi or actual combat situation. However, there’s no excuse for
anybody to be disrespectful to a minority on the job or off the job because
he’s a black or a Jew or anything. That’s a sickness and I think that the
police department authorities should be highly pervasive in getting to that. I
don’t know what they could do, maybe they should bring chaplains in, chaplains
at large. How about you being a chaplain at large or others who would volunteer
for that? It would take a long time.
Jacobson: Being Jewish
they may discriminate against me. Listen, Norman, thank you for the call. It’s
a good call and your comments are well taken.
Weíre talking here about police
brutality. This show is supported by your contributions so please, thereís
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1-800-3MEANING (1-800-363-2646) to be able to support us.
I do want to thank the sponsors
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Sunday from 6-7pm, 1050AM on the dial.
Weíve been talking about police
brutality, which for me is a topic that is much broader than just the narrow
issue of the police. Itís an issue in general of human sensitivity, of
accountability that people and authority have, the trust that is required, but
at the same time itís the appreciation of people in that position who are
putting their lives at risk. Itís clearly a situation where all of us sometimes
will behave in an excessive way, and the key here is to allow the human dignity
that we have within ourselves and others to emerge so we behave and treat
people in the best way possible, the way we would like to be treated.
Hillel put it in the Talmud in
the best way possible, when he said, “The entire Torah is ‘Don’t do unto others
that which you don’t want done to yourself.’”
If a police officer had that in
mind every time he accosted or approached someone, even in a state of danger…
You know, every one of us has control over our faculties and our abilities.
Particularly if you have a weapon in your hand, you have to always remember
that you’re responsible, not just to authorities and superiors, but to G-d and
to the soul and dignity of human beings.
Now I also want to invite all of you to my Wednesday Night
Class which I give in the city every Wednesday night at
8:15PM at 509 5th Ave. between 42nd and 43rd Streets, where
we talk about topics like this and other topics. As always,
I thank you for listening in and I look forward to continuing
this show with interesting topics. I welcome your comments
and suggestions for future topics.
Thank you for listening.