Code Blue: A Police Officer Unwinds

by

07/11/2002

W 125th St & Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10027

Neighborhood: Harlem

Most evenings will find Michael Johnson, a New York City Police Officer, sitting at home alone in front of his TV with a bottle of Hennessy near by. Hennessy is top shelf he says. It doesn’t leave you with a hangover. Michael doesn’t drink every night to get drunk, according to Michael. He doesn’t even drink to unwind from a stressful day because most of his days are not that stressful, according to Michael. According to Michael, he’s just chillin’.

Michael recently broke up with a girlfriend, a fellow police officer. His co-workers had warned him: never date a cop. He sees now what they meant. He’s contemplating whether or not he should go to Internal Affairs because of the latest spree of incidents with this lady cop. She’s having a hard time letting go of him. She follows him in her car. He’s able to lose her because according to him she’s not a good driver. She has cut his car tires. In the cold early hours of winter mornings he has had to change flat tires. Once she even ticketed his car. It was a big laugh for his fellow officers when he went in to the precinct to complain about the ticket. He didn’t know at that time that she had issued it. In several phone conversations with her, he tried resolving their issues. He really did not want to take his personal business to the Department. One day he left his apartment and found her sitting in his car. She refused to get out so he left her there and did not drive to work that day.

Like many New York City police officers, Michael moonlights as a security guard. He is presently working at the Wiz on Fulton Street in Brooklyn. On several occasions he sees her cruise by the store. He makes up his mind. He’s going to report her to his superiors first chance he gets. He knows that the way the Department works, he will come under just as much scrutiny as she will. That was part of the reason for his hesitancy. But it was evident at this point that this woman was not of sound mind. And he felt she might be pretty close to slipping over the edge.

Michael has been on the force for six going on seven years now. No, he did not as a child dream of growing up and becoming a cop. His mother drives a school bus, and his father is a dentist. They are divorced. The way he tells it, the opportunity arose for him to take the civil servants test. He did pretty good on it and was called to begin training at the Police Academy. “It was a city job, that offered a decent salary and early retirement,” he summed it up blandly. Michael had gone to SUNY New Paltz on a football scholarship. He dropped out after one year. Since dropping out, he had held several menial jobs. He didn’t think of police work as particularly dangerous. He was not going to try and be anybody’s super cop. He would go to work like any other city employee and not place himself unnecessarily in harm’s way.

An accidental pepper spraying landed him in the hospital. After having his heart monitored for several days, the Department decided that he should be removed from the street beat. He was moved to the Youth Officers Unit. At the time of his transfer, he couldn’t say that he particularly liked kids. But it was certainly a relatively safer assignment than running down criminals. As a youth officer, he and his female partner patrolled around schools and responded to incidents inside school buildings. His sensitivity towards kids whose parents and home lives he came to know increased. He says after having met some of the parents, he understood better why the kids were the way they are. Michael has lots of stories to tell about promiscuous thirteen year olds and their boyfriends who are grown men, fourteen year old daily pot smokers, kids who can’t put together an articulate sentence. Kids who are physically, verbally and sexually abused. Kids raising kids.

Despite all of the social ills Michael sees on a daily basis, he remains pretty much apolitical. He doesn’t bother to vote because he doesn’t believe it will change anything. “The world is going to be the same as I found it when I leave it,” he says pessimistically. Somehow he hasn’t connected the kids deviant and anti-social behavior with social, political and economic realities. Some of his other values run along the same line of a devil-may-care attitude. When asked about going to church and God. He jokes that the only God he worships is the dollar bill. He supports capital punishment as opposed to life in prison. About convicted rapists and murders, he says, “Fry their asses. Why should taxpayers dollars feed, clothe and shelter these people for the rest of their lives?”

When asked about racism within the police force, Michael readily admits its existence. He says he deals with it on an individual basis, though, not institutionally. He told of once threatening a fellow officer with taking him “out back and kicking his f-ing ass” because of a racist comment he made. He said he never had a problem with that officer again.

While Michael was willing to talk about racism within the Police Department, the blue wall of silence came up immediately when asked his view around the latest spate of police killings. “We are experiencing a bad moment between police and civilians,” he explained. “But every job has its good and bad workers. I can’t speak for the cops who were involved in these incidents. I don’t know them.” When asked about both the acquittals and convictions in the recent police trials, Michael’s response was “The jury spoke, and the people spoke.” When pressed to expressed his personal feelings about the incidents involving Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond, Michael insisted he had no comments.

“I can’t afford to pick up a paper and see me quoted somewhere,” he said very seriously. “I have a daughter to take care.” He offered to talk about his unit, the Juvenile Unit. “I work in the schools. Now, I can tell you anything you want to know about Bloods, Crypts, juveniles, whatever. I don’t deal with other units in the Department. I get dressed, join my partner and go do my job. That’s it.”

What is Giuliani’s role in the tension between police and the Black community? According to Michael, Giuliani has nothing to do with anything. “The Department is going to always be the same.” As for his future in the Department, Michael responded solemnly, “I’ll be in and out in twenty years, retired.”

When that time comes, he will be forty-three.

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