I’ll be Disappointed if My Son Becomes a Cop
Like most parents, I operate in the school of thought that my child(ren) should strive to achieve all they want in life and grow up to become whatever it is they want to become. If my son wants to travel the world, I say, “Go west and east, young man!” If he wants to become a teacher, I’ll buy him his first Kevlar vest and shiny red apple on his first day in class. If he finds affinity with some organized religion, I’ll say, “Okay,” and be patient and understanding when he starts spouting religious nonsense at the dinner table. If he wants to have a career in the military or in Washington D.C. as a lobbyist, I’ll worry about his value of human life but I’ll do my best to live long enough to celebrate his retirement with him. However, I’ll be disappointed if my son wants to become a cop.
There’s a good chance he’ll utter the words “I want to be a policeman when I grow up,” because that’s what so many kids say. Police, firefighter, teacher, and nurse are occupations young kids are exposed to early and often. So, when my son says, “I want to be a policeman when I grow up,” I’ll correct him by replying, “You want to be a police person… when you grow up.” And then I’ll let his desire linger until it fades away. But if it doesn’t, I’ll have to step in and do something.
A young boy wanting to be a cop is not as bad as a young man becoming a cop. But a want that sticks around long enough is often gotten, especially if my son is raised to be the achiever we want him to be. If my son becomes a cop, if his want becomes his achievement, I’ll be disappointed. Not disappointed in him as much as I’ll be disappointed in myself and my wife. Because if my son becomes a cop, we were not good parents.
We did not expose him to enough. We were not honest enough with him often enough. We did not present a diverse society of different races, classes, sexes, orientations, et. al. as a positive thing. We did not teach him that inequality is bad. We did not teach him that power can corrupt. We did not teach him to question authority, to think independently, to buck trends and the status quo for the sake of expression and the betterment that comes from individual originality.
If my son becomes a cop, it is because he has something to prove and cannot prove it without the vague authority cops are given. If he becomes a cop, it’s because he is unable or afraid to think for himself. If my first born — or any subsequent children — becomes a cop, it is because he is living a life he feels he has no control over. If my kid becomes a cop, it is because he never felt important, appreciated, or valuable. Policing others with intimidation and force will be the only way he can fill the void in his mind and soul.
“Maybe your son just wants to help people, David,” you might say. “Maybe he wants to become a cop so he can fix the problematic culture from the inside.”
Okay. Maybe. Let’s say that’s the case. Let’s say my wife and I and his teachers and friends and other adults in his life and all the exposure and external influences and internal contemplations and realizations all participate in creating a model citizen. The best version of Us. Let’s say my son becomes the most absolute good guy second only to Jesus Christ. And he’s going to use his skills to fix America’s police departments while also preventing crime (not just punishing offenders after crime happens) and strengthening communities. Let’s say all that. So he becomes a cop. He walks a beat, works his way up through the ranks, whatever trajectory his cop career takes, he’s along for the ride. He’s one of the good apples.
He’ll fail. He’ll suffer. He’ll be punished. Because the Cop Culture in America is more stringent than the most stringent of born again Christian sects. Absolute loyalty. Back the Badge. Blue Lives Matter. It’s a brotherhood. To be a cop is to pledge allegiance to your department. Loyalty to the force far outweighs the commitment to the community. And any cop who speaks out against the brotherhood or the system or the status quo — any cop who attempts to break down or through the Blue Wall of Silence is seen as a perp on the street. And perps need to be taken down.
If my son becomes a good cop, his life may be threatened, his family may be threatened, or worse, real harm could come to him. And even if he’s fired or forced into early retirement or quits on his own accord, he’ll already be screwed. He won’t be able to live in the same city where he was a cop because he’ll always be that traitor. If he ever needs to police department, they won’t rush to the scene. He’ll be regarded by the local police as less a human worth helping than they regard a teenage black man.
So he moves. But chances are, cops all over the country know his name and face. He’ll be more popular than the top three criminals on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted list. He’ll never work in law enforcement again. What career prospects will he have? Security guard? Security consultant? Special expert witness for black families suing the police officer who wrongfully murdered their loved one? A writer of true-crime novels? Nothing looks good.
I don’t have any preconceived notions of who my son will become tomorrow, and certainly none for who he’ll be in twenty years. And I don’t have any plans set aside for him to act on when he’s older. All I have is a plan to be supportive and encouraging and loving, and hope that he’ll be a good enough person and smart enough person to never become a cop.
And if he wants to be one, I can only cross my fingers and pray to the scoundrels of the ether that he grows out of it by the time he’s four years old.