Honest Cops Don’t Exist

I know, because I tried to be one and the Chicago Police Department wouldn’t let me.

In 2013 I applied to be a police officer with the Chicago Police Department. After sitting for the written exam and passing it, I waited two years before my name was called to move ahead with the process. I thought things would pick up the pace after that point, and while they did (relatively speaking), the road to being a cop only got bumpier.

I have started to write a thorough account about my experience with the CPD application process several times, but have never completed one. Partly because it’s frustrating to rehash the winding, rollercoaster experience I had and partly just because it is so long, and started years ago.

The short version is that I applied to be a police officer, got very deep into the process (passing the physical exam, which I thought might actually be the end of my application!), only to be disqualified for being honest about smoking marijuana ONE TIME in the state of Washington where it was legal (which is why I smoked there, because I’m that square). I challenged my disqualification, got it overturned in front of the Board of Human Resources of the City of Chicago (by myself, without a lawyer, yes I shook like a leaf the whole time), only to have the police department APPEAL MY APPEAL. This whole process had already gone on for years, and when the CPD appealed my appeal, over one joint, I called it quits.

All this to say, police departments don’t want honest people to be cops. Why? Well, because they are honest. And honesty doesn’t work well when you’re covering up any of the number of terrible acts police commit daily.

I want to finally write a post about this, mainly for other white folks. I am white and grew up in an upper middle class suburb in Connecticut. I was raised admiring police officers. My neighbor across the street always had a cop car parked in front because they had a friend or relative who was a cop. I felt safe when that car was across the street. I was taught they were the good guys, they protected people, they were who you called when there was trouble or danger. In my adult years, I have learned that that is far from the truth for people of color.

This isn’t groundbreaking news. I’m writing this to contribute my voice to try and get other white people to open their eyes if they still have them squeezed shut. How many black men have to die by police hands, knees, and guns, while white militias occupy government buildings, before you realize that the institution is rigged? How many black people have to still be arrested at disproportionate rates over white people for marijuana possession, even though usage is about even between both races?

When I applied to be a police officer, I thought I could make a great one. I thought I would be one of the “actually good” cops, who cares about justice and protecting people. Equally, regardless of any race or class or identity. I was going to “infiltrate” the system and work within it. I had the best intentions, and knew I would be an honest cop. And yes, I know I had a glamorized idea of the job. Who doesn’t when they’re pursuing a “dream” position of theirs (and have been raised to believe cops are heroes, and seen them glorified on TV shows and in movies)?

Looking back, I think I might not have made it through the police academy. Police culture, even within their own ranks, is one of brutality towards anyone who’s not a white cis man. Looking back, I am grateful that CPD did not want me.

The current institution of policing is not one that has good cops and bad cops. The system originated from slave patrols, and is not something that can be “reformed”. Not when policing and the (in)justice system are so clearly racially biased and focused on imprisoning black people or just flat out eradicating them. Wearing a uniform, even if you think you are a good person and doing the right thing, means you are complicit with the actions of every police officer and the larger institution that protects and even encourages racism.

So I am begging my fellow white folks, do not look away from the riots in Minneapolis right now. Do not say “well not all cops are bad, I even know a good cop!”. Do not tell black folks how to react when another one of their siblings was murdered in cold blood by someone who claims to “serve and protect”. Instead, ask who the police are serving and protecting. Look at your white privilege and see how you benefit from it. It’s not going to feel good! Even if you are the most anti-racist white person, you are benefiting from your skin color. But you can also use it to help people of color.

Donate to the Minnesota Freedom Fund to help bail out black folks leading the protests over George Floyd’s murder. Speak up when your white friends or family say something racist or ignorant. I don’t know that we can overcome the juggernaut that is institutionalized racism. It feels overwhelming when I think about it. But I know it can’t be done alone. It starts with white people using our privilege and coming together to support people of color.

And if you feel the urge to post a Martin Luther King Jr. quote at any time, make sure it’s this one:

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;

Martin Luther King Jr