Education has always been important to me. During my nearly three-decade career as a member of the Philadelphia Police Department, I was able to attend college, obtaining both an Associates Degree at the Community College of Philadelphia and a Bachelor’s Degree from Saint Joseph’s University.
That dedication to education extended to my career. I have always maintained and continue to feel that continuing and advanced education is important for police officers. My last decade as an active officer was spent as a teacher with the PPD’s Advanced Training Unit.
I have been honored to serve on the Scholarship Committee for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 for all three years since the program was first instituted. The four-person committee met earlier this week to select the seven scholarship winners for this year.
Each year, the FOP awards $10,000 spread across seven college scholarships, two in the amount of $2,500 and five in the amount of $1,000 each.
These scholarships go to high school students who will be entering college in the fall. The applicants all have FOP Lodge #5 relatives either active, retired, or deceased.
The quality of the applicants was strong in Year One back in 2016, and the selection process was difficult. The number of applicants has risen each year since, growing from about a dozen and a half in that first year to two dozen last year, and then this year with more than 40 applying. The quality of those applicants has not dropped off.
Needless to say, it was not an easy task to whittle down these tremendous students. But that is the job, and I take that job seriously. It is my opinion from sitting in on the selection meeting that the other members of the committee take it seriously as well.
When we go through the application packages, we have little clue as to the race, or the religious or ethnic background of those applicants. Our only hint as to sex is usually their first name. These things are never a consideration in the evaluation process.
The applicants were all asked to supply an application form with some basic information. They were also advised to include high school grade transcripts, extra-curricular activities (both school and other), college acceptance letters, and recommendations from teachers and other influencers.
They are also asked to write a brief essay describing themselves, what they hope to get out of their college experience, and how they hope to help their community in the future.
The vast majority of the applicants have great transcripts. They are mostly ‘A’ students with a history of academic success that has continued to the present.
That successful academic profile often becomes the first step in separating the applicants for me. The discipline that it takes for a young person to succeed in their school work when faced with so many distractions in today’s modern world is impressive when found.
Unfortunately, some applicants provide nothing more than the basic application. That is unfortunate, as an incomplete or “lesser” overall package is going to likely be a separator as well.
The best applicants for me, those who make it down to my final grouping, have it all: strong academic transcripts, community/activity involvement, adult recommendations, and an interesting essay.
Even then, I still went to the committee selection meeting having a dozen kids who I had difficulty separating from one another. I had gotten my personal selections down to a ‘top group’ of four, and then a secondary group made up of another eight students.
That is where the committee discussion process comes in to play. We all begin to compare our names and notes, and start to kick around some of the “positives” that we found raised some of those applicants above the others.
It is fairly amazing to me, at least over these first three years, how the committee members have frequently found many of the same names rising to the top of our individual lists. Getting to the seven overall scholarship winners is pretty much a process of finding those kids who stood out to all of us.
The discussion of which kids will receive the two higher valued $2,500 awards is usually a bit more detailed. We frequently will explore and discuss their essays and adult recommendations, looking for interesting experiences that touched us in some way.
In addition to seeing the quality of the kids, these first three years on the Scholarship Committee have been highlighted for me by the cooperation among the committee members. There have been no arguments or other controversies in our meetings or discussions.
Another important point: the FOP itself has no input whatsoever into who will receive a scholarship. No one from the FOP Lodge #5, not President John McNesby or any other officer, has ever approached me to make a “recommendation” or to try and influence the selection process in any way. It is my opinion, based on our meetings and discussions, that no one else on the committee has ever been so influenced.
I am not naming the 2018 scholarship award winners here at this time. That is not my place, as the FOP will make those announcements public at a time that they feel is most appropriate. The scholarship selectees will be honored as part of an FOP awards ceremony in late May.
Note that I called them “selectees” and not “winners” – that was intentional. It’s not that they aren’t winners, these kids most certainly can be described in that way. But the fact is that every single applicant is a winner as far as I am concerned. The same can be said for the parents who are raising these talented and impressive young people.
Applications for the 2019 FOP Lodge #5 scholarships are scheduled to open in September or October. Those applications will be accepted until a deadline, which usually comes the following February. Pay attention to the website, the Peace Officer magazine, and other notices.
Importantly, if your student intends to apply next year, please guide them through the process. Make sure that they turn in more than a simple application form, and that their package stands out.
Get those transcripts together, especially including their most recent grades. Get a few recommendations from teachers and adults running the businesses and programs they have been participating with as a volunteer or activity participant. Make sure they understand that their essay reflects their education, but also their passion and maturity.
Good luck to anyone who chooses to participate in the program into the future. This is a program that I believe is important, and one that I hope and believe will grow in both the amount and number of scholarships offered. Congratulations to those who will be honored next month, and who have been honored in the previous two years as well.
This past Friday, January 19, was my last official day on the payroll of the Philadelphia Police Department. After nearly three decades, I hung up my badge and gun, riding off into the sunset of retirement.
I come from a Philly Cop family. My brother, Mike, remains on the job as a Sergeant with the Central Detective Division. For a few years way back in the early 1990’s we were partners working a police wagon.
Our father, Matthew Veasey Jr (I’m the third), had been a Philly Cop himself for three decades from 1960 through 1989. He passed away back in August knowing that my retirement was coming up. If you combine his and my own service, the calendar year of 2019 will be the first in a half-century without a Matthew Veasey serving in uniform.
We also have a pair of cousins on the job. John Bernard is a Detective and Bob Veasey is a police officer. So even though I’m now out, the family influence remains within the Philly law enforcement ranks.
Trying to write about all of the experiences that I had, all of the people who made a difference, in one piece would be an exercise in futility. There were so many, I could write a book. Maybe some day I will do just that. I certainly understand how so many cops have written books and scripts in the past. There are that many amazing, wild, and touching stories.
But I will take a few paragraphs to glance back at my career as both a general reminder, and as a sample of where a career in the police profession can take you.
I started out by taking the written exam in December 1989. I had just turned 28 years old, and had been working in the banking profession for the previous decade since my graduation from high school.
This wasn’t my first time taking the police test. I took it previously way back in 1980 as an 18-year old. At that time, I passed the written test as well as all of the subsequent exams and checks.
Unfortunately, for one of the few times in history, not only was the PPD not hiring, they were actually laying off officers. I remained on a hiring list for two years while that layoff and city hiring slowdown continued. My list eventually expired, and by that point I was settled in to my job with First Pennsylvania Bank.
By the time that 1989 testing opportunity came around, I had moved over to Fidelity Bank. Though I was making better money in a more responsible position, I still wasn’t seeing much of an interesting future for myself in the banking profession.
In those days, the city actually gave you a booklet to study for the written test. I studied hard, and it paid off. When the results came out, I had finished high. By the end of January 1990, I was attending the orientation session at the old Academy facility on State Road.
Over the next few months there were numerous tests: psychological, psychiatric, lie detector. There was a background check in which neighbors and family members were contacted about my conduct and character.
I passed everything with flying colors, and entered the Philadelphia Police Academy as a member of Class 289 on April 23, 1990. The next five months were like being back in high school. Classroom work, homework, and studying. There was regular physical training that got me into the best shape of my life.
In mid-September of 1990 our class graduated. I was assigned to the 6th District, the same place as my brother, who had graduated the previous year. The 6th served an extremely diverse area in those days, stretching from Broad Street down to the Delaware River, and from South Street up to Poplar Street.
While there are districts with far worse violent crime situations, few could rival the 6th District for the variety of assignments and citizen interactions. You went from a job in the drug-infested Richard Allen Homes projects on one call to the wealthy inhabitants of Society Hill for the next.
There was a thriving gay community, the burgeoning club scene along Delaware Avenue, and the boardwalk atmosphere of South Street. The entire downtown area was a hodgepodge of residents, visitors, workers, and transients. It was a great place to learn how to interact with people from all walks of life, and from all socio-economic backgrounds.
We had great cops in my squad, many of whom stayed together for much of the more than six years that I was in the district. One of those cops was my brother, Mike. He and I would spend much of the early 1990’s as partners working a patrol wagon together.
In late 1995, I took the exam for Detective, finishing at 103 out of hundreds on the list. In January of 1996 the department promoted 89 people to the rank, going through 96 names on our list to get them. This left me just seven slots away, but now I had to wait. That wait lasted most of the year.
That promotion to Detective finally came in November 1996 when I received the gold shield and began my investigative career with the East Detective Division. In more than four years at EDD it became obvious to me that cops who worked the “Badlands” of the 25th District saw more violent crime in a year than I had in six years at the 6th District.
It was so consistently violent in East Division that we had a phenomenon known as the “Nine O’clock Shooting” – there was a shooting nearly every night on the 4×12 shift somewhere around that time.
The Detectives, supervisors, and cops who I met during my time at East were some of the best that the profession has to offer. A number of the Detectives from our division would eventually move on to assignments at Homicide, basically the investigative elite.
Just after Christmas in 1999, I transferred to the Northeast Detective Division. This was mostly just a move to get a closer commute from my home, as my family had moved up to the Somerton section of Far Northeast Philly earlier that year.
Any thoughts that it might be quieter at NEDD than it had been at EDD went out the window on my very first night. Working a 4×12 shift, I got more jobs that night than I had in a typical night at East. And not only that, but I got a shooting that night. Yep, the old “Nine O’clock Shooting” followed me.
Just how bad the crime situation had gotten in the 15th District of Northeast Philly was a bit of an eye-opener. It would turn out that Northeast Division, while not as consistently violent as East, was every bit as busy from a policing and investigative perspective.
What I gradually found during the two and a half years that I worked at NEDD was that I was missing the streets. This was something that was a bit of a surprise to me. When I made Detective, became a member of the Gold Badge Club, and got to wear business clothes every day, I thought that I would never put on a uniform again.
But the cop bug began to bite again, and I took the test for Sergeant in the spring of 2002. I thought that I did well, but you never really know with those things until the results come out.
In early August, my wife and I were preparing to go away on a vacation to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The day before we left, my phone rang. It was my Sergeant at the time, Mark Burgmann, who said just one word: “Ten.”
I knew his voice, but was in vacation mode and just wasn’t getting the context. “Ten what?” was my response. “You came out number ten on the Sergeant list.” I thought for sure that he was messing with me. I figured that I must have done well, but that he was bumping me up a bit. Turns out he wasn’t.
What that meant was, as long as the city actually hired off the list, I was getting promoted again. It was just a matter of time. Turns out, it was a lot of time.
There were no promotions off that list into 2003. Finally that spring, some seven months after the test results were announced, I was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.
Following the promotional ceremony at Temple University, all of the promotees went to a downstairs area. There we were to turn in our old badges, and receive our new ones, along with our new assignments.
As I waited in line for my turn to get my new badge and assignment, a friend of mine, Brian McBride, was in line in front of me. Brian was also making Sergeant. When he got close enough to see the list, he turned to me and said “18th.”
In my head I thought “18th?” Honestly, I couldn’t even have told you where the 18th District was at that time. All I knew was that it was somewhere out in West Philly, a section of the city where I had never worked, lived, or traveled.
The 18th District headquarters is located at 55th and Pine Streets. When I tell you that there is no easy or quick way to get there from my home at the far end of the 7th District in Northeast Philly, well, that is an understatement.
During the year that I spent out in the 18th, there were two days where, coming home on daywork do to severe traffic problems, it took me two hours to make the drive – without ever leaving the city of Philadelphia.
The 18th turned out to be a great learning experience, including that I got to know a section of the city that was unfamiliar to me. Approximately one-third of the district was taken up by the University of Pennsylvania, which afforded a number of opportunities to work with and around some great events such as the Penn Relays and Big Five games at the Palestra.
Two of the best medical facilities in the country, the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) are in the 18th. Working with their E/R staffs was a great experience as well.
But it was just too far to travel every day, and the first opportunity that I got, I put in a transfer looking to move somewhere closer to home again. It took about a year, but in March of 2004 that transfer came through sending me up to the 8th District in Northeast Philly.
The transfer to the 8th was a godsend as far as travel goes, but it came with a qualification. I had to accept a “Last Out” assignment for the first time in my career. While at East Detectives, the department had briefly switched to a schedule that saw us work “around the clock” shifts for about a year. But this would be the first time that I had to work the overnight “graveyard shift” on a daily basis.
For nearly four years, the 8th District was my home. It was very close to my actual family home, about a 10 minute drive. And it turns out that I was able to adapt to working overnight fairly easily. I did switch to a “regular” squad schedule of daywork and 4×12 for a year, but found that I actually preferred overnights, and so switched back.
Then in the fall of 2007, almost on a whim, I put in a transfer request that would change my life. Ever since high school, I had always wanted to be a teacher. That desire had never left me, and that it had never happened became a regret as I moved through my banking and police years.
I had never attended college, not one class, when in the fall of 2003 while at the 18th District at age 41, I finally changed that situation. The PPD had a working arrangement with the Community College of Philadelphia which allowed officers a chance to take classes at the Police Academy in their spare time. I signed up for the program, and finally began to work towards a degree.
Taking classes year-round, which continued as I moved to the 8th District, I finally attained my Associates Degree in Criminal Justice from CCP in May of 2006. I then moved immediately on to Saint Joseph’s University to begin work towards a Bachelor’s Degree, which I would receive in 2009.
The school experience reignited my overall interest in education, and so in the fall of 2007 came that life-altering transfer request to the PPD Training Bureau. The transfer came through, and November 1 of that year began a decade-long run as an educator.
I was finally getting to do what I had really always wanted. It was a natural fit, standing in front of a classroom and presenting police professionals the information that would help them do a better job in serving the public while also staying safe.
That was where my journey ended this past Friday. It was a journey that allowed me front row and behind-the-scenes exposure to some of the great events in Philadelphia over these past three decades.
I worked the “Two Street” parade night celebration just once, about five years ago. And in both 2016 and 2017 got to work really fun assignments as a supervisor out on Broad Street, including right at City Hall a year ago.
In recent years there were multi-day details for the visit by Pope Francis in 2015, and the NFL Draft a year ago. While I didn’t have to work the Democratic Convention in the summer of 2016 thanks to a scheduled vacation, another political gathering was a career highlight.
In summer 2000 while I was still at East Detectives, the Republican National Convention came to Philadelphia. I was detailed to work for two weeks at the Dignitary Protection Unit, and was paired with a Philly cop named Billy Stuski, who was also from South Philly.
Billy and I were teamed up with a pair of cops from the District of Columbia Police Department as the security detail for U.S. Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma for the duration of the convention. Nickles was the Senate Majority Whip, one of the key spokespersons of the GOP at that time.
For two weeks we went everywhere that the Senator went. Sometimes we did “advance” work, scouting out the locations that he was to visit the day before his actual trip. Most of the time we accompanied him around the city.
This was both during formal convention-related events, usually in the evening, and also during social events, such as various dinners, lunches, concerts, and more. He was an avid golfer, which got me into a handful of prestigious locations such as Merion and Pine Hill, where he shot rounds during his stay.
When reading this, you’ll note that I didn’t “name names” very much, other than my family. There are just too many of them. Suffice it to say that nearly every person who I worked with and got to know thanks to this career was appreciated.
Also, I didn’t tell many specific stories. I’ll save those for future police-related pieces here. Or maybe for some future book or script. There are a million of them.
At my retirement party on Friday night, a nice crowd showed up from all across these last 28 years. I was honored with a plaque and some very nice words that summed up my career. And then I was handed the microphone, always a dangerous proposition when I’ve had a few beers.
I kept it fairly short. But one statement that I made summed it up. Of all things, it was a takeoff of a Priscilla Presley quote from “The Naked Gun” when she made the statement “I like cops!” because I do. Actually, I love cops. And I love teaching. For the last decade, I got to teach cops.
Short of managing the Phillies, I can’t think of a better job for myself. Also, it was the prototypical “square peg in a square hole” – a perfect job for my tastes and my talents.
Thank you to the Philadelphia Police Department for all of the various opportunities of the last three decades. And more importantly, thank you to all of the unforgettable people who wear the badges and carry the guns. The men and women who stand the wall and work hard to keep our city safe around the clock every single day.
For nearly three decades, I was honored to continue a family tradition. I was honored to stand as a member of the Thin Blue Line. After my promotion to Sergeant, I was told by a Detective that “once a member of the Gold Badge Club, you’re always a member.” Well, for the rest of my life, I’ll be happy to remain a member of the Blue Family.
|Working the 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia|
To say that the 2017 NFL Draft, held in my hometown of Philadelphia over the last three days, was a major success would be an understatement.
I got to experience this signature event of the National Football League up close and in person as a Sergeant with the Philadelphia Police Department. It was just the latest in a number of high profile events that I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy while on-duty during my career.
Assigned to take charge of a group of police officers, we spent both days on the south side of the 2400 block of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
It was a slight surprise to me when my group actually took that position and found that we were at the very front lines of the stage and seating arena area. It turned out to be an exciting and rewarding assignment.
The crowd was massive, but Philly-friendly and cooperative. As far as their interactions with myself and my officers, I couldn’t have asked for a more positive reception. Everyone was friendly to us and appreciative of our efforts, and quite a few let us know that fact.
One thing that none of us knew, from the top brass on down to rookie police officers, was exactly what kind of crowd we would be met with. It was the first time that the NFL had put on their annual Draft of college players in that big of a show.
Philly can be notorious at times for our fan reactions, especially where Eagles fans are concerned. You also had to add in the factor that this was a free event. Would the crowd turn surly at any point? Sometimes it only takes a few bad apples to spoil things for the whole bunch. If any officials held any concerns of a worst-case scenario, those never materialized. In fact, just the opposite.
Even when faced with moments involving the hated, rival Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, or Washington Redskins, the Philly faithful responded with spirited but controlled reactions.
The biggest target of the ‘Boo Birds’ over the first couple of days was easily the Commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell. Yet even with the Commish, I witnessed first-hand a somewhat different reaction from the crowds.
On Thursday, before the actual player selection process got underway, Goodell came out and greeted fans along the very front of the crowd at the sturdy barricades which separated the street from the arena section. As he emerged, there were boisterous boos.
Goodell approached and then walked down the entirety of that front line. He reached across the barricades to shake hands, fist-bump, and even take selfies with those in front, all of whom looked star-struck. The crowd returned his outreach with smiles and handshakes. There were no boos at that point.
As the Commissioner made his way back towards the actual arena, he walked straight at me and shook my hand. I took the opportunity to ask if he minded a quick photo, and in a friendly tone he responded: “For you? Absolutely!” He then thanked me for the work we were doing. Great stuff!
As all cops do, I’ve worked many of these high profile details over the years. I’ve been within interaction distance of numerous famous folks including U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and South African President Nelson Mandela. I certainly could have tried to insinuate myself with any of them at some point, but always held off.
I’ve gotten to shake hands and exchange quick pleasantries with folks such as Flyers legend Bernie Parent and numerous other musicians, athletes, politicians, and celebrities. Goodell was the first time that I asked for a photo. Strange choice, no?
As the time came for the Draft ceremonies to begin, the event was kicked off with a beautiful rendition of our National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner“, by Chloe and Hallie Bailey.
Standing at attention, facing the stage and flag, I threw up the customary respectful salute. As I held my salute through the anthem and the girls wound towards the end, two cameramen suddenly charged me. Next thing I knew, there I was, flashing a salute (1:39 into below video) on national television for the NFL Network audience.
As the Draft itself unfolded, the crowd grew massive at the front of the stage area. They roared with approval whenever a local favorite such as Ron ‘Jaws’ Jaworski appeared, and booed lustily when some rival legend showed up. The best was former Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson, whose boisterous pro-Dallas rant was met by an equally vibrant reaction from Birds’ fans.
Early on Thursday, prior to starting my work assignment, I had visited the 2100 block of the Parkway. There I got to view some of the other attractions which I would end up missing while working up at the arena area.
I also ran into my cousin, Philly police officer Bob Veasey, who was working the daywork shift in that 2100 block of the Parkway. Bob told me that he had a great day, even getting a picture with the Vince Lombardi Trophy awarded to the Super Bowl winners.
Philadelphia looked fantastic. The mid-spring green colors in the trees were highlighted by unseasonably warm temperatures. It was as though three early-summer days had decided to invade the springtime, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time for the city.
A chilly rain had fallen for days prior to the start of the NFL Draft. With the event over now, Sunday is cloudy with a chance of rain. So it turned out that even Mother Nature was on Philadelphia’s side this week.
The Parkway itself was fully decorated in NFL Draft paraphernalia. Numerous tents and attractions drew fan participation and photo opportunities.
There was plenty of opportunity to purchase food and beverages. If you bought a bottle of water, you could refill it for free at a handful of kiosks scattered around the event. Porta Potty’s were aplenty.
From a concession stand set up next to the famed “Rocky” statue, I got to enjoy a delicious hot sausage on day one, a jumbo hotdog on day two, both washed down by a nice, cold bottle of H2O. The sausage, I waited in a short line and purchased by myself. The hotdog was a treat from a couple of my officers.
Speaking of those police officers, I couldn’t have asked for a better crew. I had the same group of cops under me on both days. Only one of the officers had any time on the job, the others were all rookies.
All of the officers comported themselves with professionalism. They basically held to my directives: “I need to see you around regularly, keep an eye out for problems while enjoying the event and the people, and don’t do anything to get yourselves on TV.” I was ribbed by a couple of them on that last one after my salute appearance.
While visiting with that Rocky statue, waiting on my first-day hot sausage, I ran into an old classmate from my Police Academy class 289. Newly minted Philly PD Deputy Commissioner Dennis Wilson has always been a great guy, and hasn’t let the new rank change him at all. My only problem with him? The man looks like he hasn’t aged a day in 27 years.
People in the area where I was assigned from outside of the Philadelphia Police Department were extremely cooperative and friendly. Fire Department paramedics on their Segways were everywhere. The event security personnel, federal law enforcement, the NFL staff, and employees of the various networks providing TV coverage all worked together well.
One member of that NFL staff gets particular thanks from me, and I’m sorry that I never got his name. The situation went like this: on Thursday night, after taking a few opportunities to capture some of the pageantry by taking a few pictures and videos, my cellphone died.
Still having a few hours to go on the work detail, I realized that I had left my portable charger back in my car. Overhearing me mention this in a conversation with my officers, a member of the NFL Network technical crew offered to charge my phone. I took him up on the offer, and a half hour later had a half-charge and was back in business.
Near the end of Thursday night’s first round, I got to meet and speak for a few minutes with the woman who was in charge of the actual arena structure. If you didn’t get to see it in person or on TV, the NFL Draft arena was an amazing piece of temporary architecture.
She said that her company goes from town to town, event to event, pulling off similar amazing feats. For instance, this summer they will be handling the huge Lollapalooza concert in Chicago in August. Her folks did a phenomenal job putting that structure in place.
On Friday, newly-promoted Philly PD Deputy Commissioner Joe Sullivan stopped through my area and mentioned that “we haven’t even had to handle a fight.” We both knocked wood, hoping it would stay that way.
Stay that way it would. No fights, no major disputes. I saw one protest sign the entire time (“Investigate Pizzagate – it’s real!“) which garnered zero attention for the guy trying hard to get some. He left the front after about two minutes and no crowd response.
There were a couple of lost children, ultimately returned to their families. And there was one other incident that was handled by myself and my crew with the help of Chief Inspector Frank Vanore and the PPD Bomb Squad.
A non-thinking member of the stage crew had left a backpack leaning unattended against a tree for a length of time near a side stage entrance. The bag was reported to us as a concern by the NFL Network folks.
This was ultimately great work performed by the brave Bomb Squaders, who thankfully got to deal with a bag full of clothing this time. After the 2013 Boston Marathon attack, unattended backpacks are a no-no at major public events, people. Something to keep in mind.
It was this spirit of cooperation and friendship that was on display everywhere you looked this week which truly stood out. Whether it was with internal PPD ranks, or with security staff.
Especially with the crowds. Philly fans were outstanding, even from or towards rival Cowboys and Giants fans. A couple of Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders humored me with the above photo. Everyone was in it together, and in it for the right reasons – a peaceful good time.
Congratulations to everyone associated with bringing this showcase to Philly, and with organizing, managing, and running the event itself. The 2017 NFL Draft was a major success story, one of the nicest events that I’ve had the pleasure to work over a law enforcement career that is now in the middle of its 28th and final year.
In January 2006, Alison Antoine woke to find the words “Die Nigger” spray-painted on the front of the house in Stiles, Antrim
A Philadelphia Police Officer is in some hot water today thanks to racially insensitive comments he made while escorting a college student journalist.
It brings to the fore a legitimate question: are words such as ‘nigger’, ‘spic’, ‘gook’, ‘harp’, ‘nip’, ‘chink’, ‘fag’ or ‘gook’ simply that – only words? Or are they more?
I’ve heard this argument made any number of times, that these are just words, and if people are going to keep getting offended by words like ‘nigger’ then they are setting themselves up for a lifetime of taking offense.
True enough in that any discussion on this issue, be it in the local newspapers, at the office water cooler, in an interview room at a police facility, on the internet, or in the halls of Congress or the United Nations is not going to change people’s habits. It is not going to stop people from using these words, either in their most benign sense or their most derogatory.
I have also heard the argument as a question why, for instance, black people are so offended by the word ‘nigger’ when uttered by a white man or anyone from any other race, and yet are willing to toss it around with ease among one another?
“Yo, he my nigger” or “You one stupid nigger” or many other usages too numerous to mention that I have personally heard with my own ears uttered in real life, on television, in films, and in music.
I have heard black people use these exact phrases among one another without anyone taking offense, or at least without anyone making an issue of it, usually without even an eyebrow raised.
For a long time in my life, I just didn’t get it either. I thought that it was just another way for a black person to try to gain sympathy, to feign victimization by the white man, to play the race card.
If I tried to list for you how many times in my life that I was called ‘honkey’ or ‘whitey’ or ‘white boy’ or ‘cracker’ or ‘mick’, it would fill a book. If I listed for you how many times those words offended me when used towards me, you could count those times on less than one hand. So I just didn’t get it.
Then one day, about a dozen years or so ago, I was involved in a conversation about this very topic with a fellow police officer who happened to be black.
At the end of the conversation, I said to him “So your people can toss that word around all you want, can call one another ‘nigger’, can use it any way you want, but if I call you a ‘nigger’, that’s wrong and you’re offended?”
His simple one-word response: “Exactly.”
Why it took a smart fella like me three decades of his life to understand a simple concept that was summed up by this cop’s one word answer is fodder for another entire article. But the simple idea is this: some words offend people of ethnic, racial, or sexual groups. Period. They just do.
The fact is that those of us who may not be in their particular group will never, ever understand the emotions behind those feelings.
We don’t need to understand the raw emotions. All we need to know is that these words offend, and so we should refrain from using them in most circumstances.
So does that mean that we can never, ever use pejorative terms or slang words? No, of course not. Everything has its place. For instance, so far in this article I have used the word ‘nigger’ nine times, counting the headline and that last mention in this sentence. Using any word in a legitimate intellectual discussion is appropriate.
There has been a major cop out in today’s society where people from Oprah to Obama use the phrase “the N word” in public, but then according to reliable sources aren’t afraid to use “nigger” in private conversations.
Failing to use the word itself in an intellectual discussion helps to raise the word above it’s meaning.
It is the meaning that lies behind the word when used in a derogatory sense that releases its true negative emotional responses. This is particularly so when it is uttered by a member of one group that has historically been in a position of power and influence against some member of a group that has been historically deprived of that power.
Now just because of my own personal enlightenment, don’t take that to mean that I have never used the word ‘nigger’ in conversation, I have. And so has almost every single person who is reading this article: cop, lawyer, judge, politician, factory worker, businessman, whatever.
It is one of the reasons that we all knew instinctively that Mark Fuhrmann was lying in the O.J. Simpson case. The man is a big city police detective and was asked if he ever used the word ‘nigger’, and replied that he had not. You might as well have painted a huge word ‘LIAR’ across his forehead in capital letters after that.
Mark Fuhrmann could have been, and probably was, telling the truth about most every other aspect of the case and his involvement. But no one was going to believe him after this point, particularly after the defense made a concerted effort to prove that he had lied about this issue.
One thing that I can say for sure is that I have never used that word directly towards any black person, or in the presence of any black people, in any derogatory way. Even if I felt that I was in the presence of someone that I felt comfortable with and had no fear that they would take offense, I wouldn’t use that word in that way simply out of respect.
Now understand this, most cops are very comfortable around other cops. That thing about being white, black or yellow, but when the uniform is on we are all blue? That isn’t just talk most of the time, that is how most cops genuinely feel.
Police officers toss around racial and sexual and other slang phrases and profanities among one another that would make a sailor blush. But we also know our place. We know when we are among friends, when we can let our hair down, and can toss around the bullshit without having to worry about anyone taking offense.
The officer in this current case that has broken in the local news was not among friends, and should have known better. He was driving a reporter around with him, one who was doing street-level research for a story that she was going to write.
Was he trying to impress her in some way by acting tough and hard and macho? Who knows. Who cares. The fact is that this young rookie cop was stupid to make those comments to anyone, let alone a college journalism student writing for her newspaper.
Now some would say that this officer should be off the police force simply for having those feelings. I disagree.
We all bring a wide variety of personal experiences and backgrounds to this job. None of us can help the way that we were raised, what we were exposed to, or what was our ‘normal’ for a couple of decades before we ever considered police work as a profession.
What we can do, however, is grow, mature, and learn how to set aside any personal prejudices and perform a professional job for all citizens, regardless of any background of theirs which may be different from our own.
The young officer in question works in a tough area of North Philly, an area where he is exposed to a great deal of crime, hurt, pain, and even death on a daily basis. It is an area that is mostly black, and where most of the murder, drug dealing, and crime is perpetrated by blacks against other blacks. It is not hard to become jaded by all of that.
For some white people who hear about blacks feeling oppressed by the ‘man’ or the ‘system’, that is a hard pill to swallow. The idea that black citizens in these areas expect more from us as the police than they do of their neighbors. But they, and I believe the officer in this case, have it all wrong.
Most of the people in that area of the city are not bad people. They don’t deal or use drugs. They don’t rob folks. They don’t expect more from white people, or the system, or the man, than they do from their neighbors. They expect their neighbors to treat them with courtesy and respect and perhaps even affection, and they have a right to expect these things.
As always, it is the few who make it difficult for the many in these neighborhoods. There just happen to be more of those ‘few’ bad apples in that particular neighborhood, for any number of reasons, none of which is the fault of those ‘many’ good folks.
So to white people everywhere, get it for once. You can’t call a black person a ‘nigger’ at all. You can’t use the term ‘niggers’ in regards to black people in any public discussion or forum where the term is being used in a derogatory manner.
It doesn’t matter how many times blacks use it among themselves, it is simply different, and you need to understand and respect that as a simple fact. The same goes for any other derogatory slang word for any other group as well. Words like ‘nigger’ are not just words, they are indeed something more.