Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Hello and welcome.
I’d like to share that I just returned from a really high, spiritual experience, a retreat that I led in upstate New York.
It’s 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 I’ll try to capture some of that magic on air. It was really special, bonding with intelligent people—searchers as well as skeptics—and 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, “Transition, Immanence, and Transcendence”: three steps that the Kabbalistic masters teach that in any type of growth there’s always a transitionary stage where you leave one world to enter another, and then there’s immanence, filling yourself up with that new journey, or assuming the new experiences that you have traveled into, and then finally there’s transcendence, where you’re 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 that’s the biggest challenge in our lives. If we were able to do that, then we’d 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 I’m not here to defend any type of violent act on anyone’s 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 that’s 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 quite obvious.
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 v’shotrim titen lecha b’chol shaarecha,” 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 don’t hurt or kill each other.
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 can’t 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, they’re going into a threatening situation and it’s to be expected that their adrenaline is heightened, and that in general they’re 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 determine that?
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 appropriate.
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 there’s 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 enforcer?
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 it’s an important point that on a long-term basis, ultimately, when someone is violent and hurts a potential criminal and abuses that person’s 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 “v’shoftu ha’eida v’hatzilu ha’eida,” which means “You shall judge the community and you shall protect (or rescue, preserve) them.”
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 better 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 that’s not the Torah’s approach. You don’t want people who are using law enforcement as a mask for their own aggression, for their own insecurities—and 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 that’s 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 that’s one point I want to make. I’m not trying to be naïve about it because I know it’s 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 you’re threatened? Sometimes the parents will justify it by saying that the child behaved in a way that was atrocious: “I was provoked,” or whatever it may be.
I’m 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 exists.
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: It’s true. And as a matter fact I’m sure you’ll have extreme arguments about Mayor Guiliani. On the one hand, there’s 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 in Russia.
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 don’t even think his name should ever be mentioned unless it’s necessary. He’s a nobody. In fact, a lot of black people it seems are finally beginning to realize that he’s using them, he’s manipulating them.
Jacobson: Okay, that’s true. And this show’s not about him so forget about him. My point is, do you think there’s some type of conspiracy or some reason why we should not trust the police department overall, that we need this citizen accountability that you’re 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 crimes.
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 it’s 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 “murderous court.” 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 that’s 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 brutality.
Let’s go to Samuel on the phone.
Caller: Hi, how’re 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 don’t know what’s happening. You have to be in the community and in the area where people live in order to know what goes down. That’s why a lot of people say, “Oh no, that doesn’t happen.”
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 don’t think that’s right. That is absolutely wrong. If you’re looking for respect, then you have to give respect. Now there’s 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, “Get the hell outta here.”
And if you say something to them, “Officer, why?” they say, “You’d better get outta here before I lock you up.”
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.
I’ve been stopped and I hardly look suspicious, but who knows. But I’ve 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 they’re doing it more because they believe that it’s 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 people’s 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.
Let’s go to Andrew on the line.
Caller: I’ve been listening to people complain about police brutality and I’ve 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 it’s become in fashion to condemn the police. And I think that’s 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 what’s been happening now despite the occasional and rare events of police brutality.
Jacobson: That’s very well put, Andrew. Do you have any experience yourself with the police?
Caller: I’m a security guard and as you can tell, I’m 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. I’ve been pulled over for speeding when I wasn’t speeding, and I’ve gotten a ticket or two that I probably didn’t deserve, but overall, you know, do you remember how it used to be—2300 people getting killed annually a few years ago? Despite that, I’ve met policemen who were bad, but the overall picture is, I’m just one man compared to a city of 6 million people.
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 you’re saying, Andrew, is very reasonable. So, coming from your way of thinking, would you suggest anything that could help? I’m not talking about bashing the cops, I agree with you about that, that’s 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 abuse?
Caller: Well, I’ve seen a program where black policemen go to neighbors and meetings, and tell people, “Look, when a policeman pulls you over, that is not a time to complain, it’s not the time to make great racial statements and it’s not a time to fight. When a policeman tells you to stop, you stop. Don’t go into your wallet. Don’t say ‘This is racist.’ Whatever complaints you have, take it to the complaint review board. But when you’re pulled over by a policeman, that is not the time to make some grand statement. You know, when a policeman pulls you over, freeze, don’t move.” 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 don’t.
Jacobson: Well, that’s very prudent. I do that when they pull me over.
Caller: There’s an actual program of black policemen who go into black neighborhoods and they hold meetings in church basements and schools and they say “This is how you behave when a policeman pulls you over.”
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 can’t tell them anything. The school teachers don’t tell them anything. They grow up. They don’t go to church. They have no strong male role models, and unfortunately, the only guy they ever meet who can tell them “no” 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.
Let’s 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 presently.
You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org 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 isn’t running again, but I appreciate your call, Paul, and I think there are many factors—prosperity among them—so thank you for that.
Let’s go to Yanna.
Caller: How’re doin’ brother? I just wanted to say something. I listened to this joker that you had on the air, I guess that’s what he is to me because I’m an officer myself. There’s 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 right now.
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 well.
Jacobson: You’re a police officer?
Caller: Yes I am. And I’m not speaking from the gut of it, because I got 20 years on the job and I’m 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 I’m 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 Island…
Jacobson: So, Yanna, you’ve 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. You’re either going to conform to what’s around you and ignore it and go on about your business and then go home hopefully to somebody who’s 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: I’m looking to leave here sometime in the fall of this year. I’ve got my last child that I’m paying…
Jacobson: Maybe you’ll be a new Serpico and really…
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, I’ll put it like this. If I could change it, I would try my best to change it, but I just can’t do it by myself because you’re 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 don’t mean you changing it yourself. What suggestions would you make overall that could be implemented?
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 for them.
Jacobson: So you don’t have hope, basically.
Caller: I don’t 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 is—a 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 house… 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 can’t get it from both parents then they end up getting it from somebody who’s 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 they’re crazy. There’s a different generation out there: everyone’s going to go through what they’re going to go through.
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.
Let’s go to Norman on the line.
Caller: Hi Rabbi. I’m glad you had a good weekend. I’d like to comment on the subject here. There is a program in place with the NYPD in which the last program was titled “Verbal Judo.” 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.
I’d 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, that’s 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.
We’re talking here about police brutality. This show is supported by your contributions so please, there’s someone standing by and we’d appreciate your calling us with your pledge to 1-800-3MEANING (1-800-363-2646) to be able to support us.
I do want to thank the sponsors of this show, and many of the shows made possible in the name of all the listeners and all the people that really appreciate the show, I want to thank Ivan Stux, Sharon Gans, Fred Mindel, James Altucher, James Garfinkel, and the other supporters who really stand behind us both in spirit and financially to really make this show possible and bring it to the largest amount of listeners possible. I welcome and invite all of you to participate in this type of support, both to let others know about the show and to listen in every Sunday from 6-7pm, 1050AM on the dial.
We’ve been talking about police brutality, which for me is a topic that is much broader than just the narrow issue of the police. It’s an issue in general of human sensitivity, of accountability that people and authority have, the trust that is required, but at the same time it’s the appreciation of people in that position who are putting their lives at risk. It’s 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.