Cops are people, too Nov 18, 2011

by Shasti

The members of Temporary Distortion put on a beautifully-crafted show. They refer to Newyorkland as assemblage, not theatre, and experiencing their work is a bit like seeing a Rauschenberg Combine brought to life. Their aesthetic is unique, minimalist in tone but visually rich, and their method of fusing film and live theatre is impressively effective.
This particular piece has one essential thing to say, and while it seems pretty simple and obvious, trust me – you’ll probably understand it a lot differently after seeing this show:

Cops are people, too.

People complain about how depressing the news is, how they can’t pick up a paper or turn on the news without learning about some catastrophic disaster, or gruesome murder, or horrible accident.
What if you had to watch the news all day, every day – and not just watch it, but interact with it (and try to fix it)?

Welcome to the world of a cop.

What happens when you try to be a good person, to help people, to do the right thing – and you find yourself hated for it?
What does it mean to teach yourself to distrust others, to learn that your survival may depend on always expecting that the calmest situation could turn ugly in a second?
How do you keep a positive outlook when, in the normal course of your day, the only time anyone calls you or wants to see you is when things are going horribly wrong?
How do you maintain your faith in humanity when your daily grind consists of seeing, over and over, the worst things that people do to one another and to themselves?

Cops are heroes. When your whole world collapses around you – when the shit, as they say, hits the fan – what do you do? Call 911. Call the police. Call the cops.
You were attacked.
You witnessed a crime.
You had a car accident.
Your car has been stolen.
Something awful is happening.
Call the cops.

No one calls the police to report that the sun is shining, they’ve just gotten married, they’ve just paid off their car/house/student loans, their daughter just started college, they got a job. That stuff has nothing to do with the police – it’s not their job.

Yet part of the reason people become cops is so that they can build lives for themselves that include sunshine and a family and a house and a good job and college for their kids. How do you create that for yourself when everything you see around you tells you that your ideal life is a lie? That it doesn’t really exist – cannot exist – will surely collapse?

Many of us love the police. We admire them – in their crisp uniforms, with their honor and their symbolism of truth/justice/order/safety/rescue. We tell our children: “if you get lost, look for a police officer.” When we’re in a questionable part of the city at night, we’re relieved to see them drive past.
But how do we feel when we see a police car in our rearview mirror?

And if it’s easy for some to see police officers as symbolizing all that is good and right and just, it’s unfortunately easier for many to see them as power-hungry bullies, corrupt representatives of 'the man', "pigs". And yes, sometimes some cops do some pretty nasty things. But for every cop that indiscriminately pepper-sprays a crowd, there are many others out arresting violent criminals, rescuing puppies, saving lives, and keeping the peace.

There are some really bad people in this world, and there are some really good people. For the most part, though, there are just people – people like you and me, who have good days and bad days – and some of those people happen to be cops. Next time I see a police officer on the street, I’ll smile and say something nice to them.

What about you?