Guest Factor: Honors and duties
Contrasts in rioting and reflections on a life of service
Longtime readers know I am no longer a police officer, so I try to ensure the Graham Factor presents the perspectives of other cops — especially those currently working. I encourage any active or retired police officers to submit their writing to me at GrahamFactor@substack.com. I am more than willing to help with editing and will keep your personal information, including your name and department, anonymous.
Today I’m sharing two shorter pieces from two different officers: One about the contrast between the Capitol riot and other riots, and one which I thought was a really great bit of writing from a retired officer reflecting on a life of service. —Graham
I. Good riot cop, bad riot cop
“Phil” is a veteran police officer in a major West Coast city and serves on a crowd control unit. He previously wrote “The Case For Tear Gas” for the Graham Factor. This piece has been lightly edited, and I added the links and other media.
I recently read a headline saying the police officers who responded to the January 6th riot are being awarded medals. This seems appropriate. In fact, the whole national response to January 6th seems appropriate. But what is not appropriate, in my mind, is that the same politicians and people who are honoring Capitol Police officers are the same people that spent last summer and fall declaring “defund the police” to be the new gospel, while local police forces were battling rioters in their own cities. The difference to everyone is clear as sunshine: The January 6 rioters were generally far-right rioters, the summer 2020 rioters were far left-leaning.
I read a joke on Reddit from an anonymous officer saying that if he had a medal for every riot he was in he would look like a North Korean general. I personally think I would look like a hero of the Red Army who fought from 1941 onward and became one of those generals who hung around until the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But I haven’t received a single medal yet. Nor have any of the other officers who showed up at the riot line every night, night after night, for months on end. What we have received is scrutiny, complaints, and a sea of resignation letters as officers leave the department or the profession. It is hard for me to reconcile the adoration of the Capitol Police with the vilification of every other major metropolitan police department that has responded to riots over the last few years.
In retrospect, I have awful foresight. After the first night of rioting in late May, I didn’t think we would be looked upon negatively. The crowd was hostile from the start, and before my department could muster any kind of response, “black bloc” anarchists and criminals were smashing windows, starting fires, and looting. I got home early the next morning thinking to myself how crazy the night had been. I had never expected to face rioting on that scale — with approximately 400 or so rioters involved in the violence. The next day made the first night seem like a training scenario.
Along with mutual aid from other cities, our department did the best we could, chasing mobs and looters all over town and making loads of arrests. But in the end, the downtown core looked like a war zone, with burned-out police cars, every window smashed and store looted, and every square inch of real estate covered in graffiti. I guess one could say we failed. But so did the Capitol Police.
Throughout the rioting, the locations changed but the demeanor of the crowd stayed the same: Angry. I think they were fueled by alcohol and other substances and looking for something to hate after three months in isolation and lockdown. I was floored when I read news reports about the riots, with our local news media blaming the violence on police. Naively, I had expected us to be lauded for our response to the unprecedented size of these riots. (I can’t stress the unprecedented portion enough. I never thought I would experience this level of social disorder as a police officer.) Instead, we were lambasted as villains. Apparently, we started the riots.
I have sat down to try and write about some of my experiences during the summer of 2020. It’s hard. To walk back through those nights brings up a swell of emotions I would like to keep compartmentalized for a while longer. Seeing this public support for the Capitol Police feels like salt in the wound to every officer who served during last summer’s riots. I am glad they are getting the hero treatment from politicians who compared my department to the Gestapo for literally doing what a police force is designed to do. But it’s bullshit that people in my city have collective amnesia about what really occurred last summer. It’s as if the rioting happened during a night of blackout drinking. “Did we really get so drunk we got all dressed up in black clothing and fashioned homemade shields and threw explosives at riot cops for months on end?” Yes, you did.
So, no medals and no kudos. Instead: Budget cuts and a twenty to thirty percent reduction in staffing through attrition with no hope of getting those positions back for years and years. But hey, have you heard? We are now facing a gun violence epidemic. So here is some overtime pay, and please get these murders under control — but make sure you do it without using any force.
II. In the line of duty
The following is adapted from a Twitter thread by “Blue”, a retired NYPD Emergency Service Unit officer. It is shared with permission and has been edited for punctuation and clarity.
I made about $20 an hour for most of my career.
I had people die in my arms, had to pry a deceased three-month-old boy from a dad after hours trying to console him in the hospital when he simply couldn’t let go of his son’s lifeless body after he died, had to pick up body parts along the highway several times and put them in baggies. I had to shovel bodies filled with maggots into body bags because they were murdered and left in secluded places where someone hoped they would not be found.
I had to pull aborted babies out of garbage disposals in the housing projects. I had to pry open a 55-gallon drum with a murdered woman in it after being disposed of by Long Island mass murderer Joel Rifkin. I had to comfort a Mom walking her baby in a stroller after she was hit by a car severing her leg—telling her she will be fine even though she could feel that her leg was gone.
I had to search a dead body for his identification that had numerous bones sticking out in every direction after tumbling underneath a subway train, had to hold styrofoam cups over the blown-out eyeballs of a despondent man en route to the hospital after he put a gun to the side of his head ejecting his brains and eyeballs out, had to wipe the blood off my face and uniform after being puked on by a dying gas station attendant who was shot in the throat. I had to put four-legged animals tortured by their two-legged creatures out of their misery with an overdose of ketoset.
I had to stand at attention with tears coming down at numerous funerals for some we knew and some we didn’t — including one 25-year-old Police Academy classmate named Irma Lozada who chased a robbery suspect, caught him, and after a struggle, was executed by him.
I had to attend funerals for many others, including 14 friends who ran into the Trade Center never to be seen again. I had two partners with more melanin than me and would have laid down my life for either of them, and they would have done the same for me.
I have been accused of wrongdoing by drug dealers who knew the game in order to try and ruin my career. I had to rehab for months after breaking my hip and pelvis when a 3,000-pound cinder block wall fell on me as I was chasing males wanted for shooting a police officer. I had to serve warrants on criminals and killers knowing that this could be my last minute on earth as I entered the apartment with a shield in front of me.
I had to help raise a beautiful young lady who never got to meet her Dad because he died in the Line of Duty—Stephanie.
There is not a single moment I wouldn’t do it all over again because I always felt we were making a difference in the world and helping those who maybe got a raw deal or who were victims of some bad characters in life.
I was far from alone in my deeds, my career was easy compared to others. Many men and women performed far more heroic deeds than I including those on the front lines today and those who died in the Line of Duty sacrificing it all, as my wife will attest to.
Pray for those on the front lines of what has become a thankless calling.
Starting with this post, Guest Factor submissions can be found in their own subsection. Everybody on the Graham Factor mailing list will receive Guest Factor posts by default, but Substack allows you to disable this if you so choose. — Graham