I wouldn’t have been able to, either. Policing was my life and other cops were my family, my lovers, my counselors, my preachers, and the only people I needed. They were the only ones I gave a shit about. It was only us, the thin blue line, bravely risking our lives keeping people safe. Except we weren’t. We were much more dangerous than the worst criminal we arrested.
I quit after a little over 10 years, too, and changed careers.
I went to the media as a police and government reporter. Slowly I began to return to normal (for the most part). I was re-humanized and pretty sure I would never be part of it again. Then 15 years later I needed a job and found myself wearing a badge again. This time I wore it six years. It was worse than it was the first time I wore a badge. I realized the people I worked with were all alike, victims of capitalist “doublespeak” and trained to see everyone not wearing a badge as the enemy. Especially the non-whites, the homeless, and the poor. Lots of poor people do well to own an old car, and often they can’t afford the taxes, insurance, and license plate renewal. They were always good for a few tickets that would further complicate their lives, eventually lead to them being arrested, and give us brownie points for writing tickets. We were bastards. Heartless. Cruel. Compassion, if we had any, was suppressed and hidden most of the time.
I did 16 years in all. Then I just became too depressed, too sick of us, and too convinced that most of what we did was wrong. It was a power and ego trip fueled by too much authority, starting unfair fights, driving like maniacs, living on adrenaline rushes, and above all, the superior sense we got from being feared. Many of us were not well educated and some had trouble writing even a rudimentary narrative on a report. Man, we were something. They are something. Something that needs to go the way of rotary dial wall phones and fade into history.
Thank you so much for writing this. It hurts, I know. It’s hard to admit to being on the wrong side for so long. It was my identity, all I knew.
What you said has to be said again and again by those of us who know — despite it feeling sometimes like betrayal. The police are the tightest fraternity, the craziest cult, a vicious gang with war toys, and a system that breeds hate and contempt for anyone not behind a badge. It’s a closed circle. It will become, if it isn’t already, impenetrable.
We have to try to stop it.
Thanks for sharing your excellent essay even though it stirs up a lot of personal regret.