The Blue Wall of Silence
Dallas Police Officer, Quaitemes Williams, has been fired and charged with misdemeanor official oppression for kicking and macing a handcuffed suspect. Williams and another officer, Edward Cruz-Done struggled to take Rodarick Dasean Lyles into custody for the “crime” of having a suspended license. During that struggle Lyles fell onto Williams’ arm, causing Williams to become angry. As a result of his anger Williams maced and then kicked Lyles in the head. Officer Ricky Upshaw witnessed Williams’ attack on Lyles as he drove up on the scene. It was Upshaw who reported Williams to supervisors.
Speaking of Upshaw’s whistle-blowing, Dallas Police Chief David Brown said “One of the things that I really want to express about Officer Upshaw’s action is that we should not as a department ostracize him in any way. We should applaud him for coming forward, him intervening.” While I am thrilled that Chief Brown is speaking out in support of Upshaw (publicly at least), I find it very telling that there is even a need for him to do so. The “Blue Wall of Silence” is so ingrained into the institution of policing that the chief of a police department has to make a point to remind officers not to ostracize another officer for reporting the crime of another officer.
The support Upshaw received from his chief is a far cry from the experience of Ellaville Georgia Police Officer, Joseph Sosnovik. He found out the hard way what can happen to police “snitches” when he was fired for reporting a fellow officer that inappropriately touched a woman that was riding in his police cruiser. The acting police chief, Charles Pine, tried to get Sosnovik to keep quiet, telling him that “this stuff need to be over with.” Pines warned Sosnovik that he would be fired in he continued to pursue the matter. “He told me, that if I pursued questions or pursued anything or any other type of incident on this or documentation, that I’d lose my job. He continued to say that I would lose my job if I continued to ask questions.”
Radley Balko’s column “Why Cops Aren’t Whistleblower’s” from the February issue of Reason tells of other stories of police officers enduring the wrath of other officers when they come forward to report misconduct. Kansas City Police Officer, Max Seifert, was forced into early retirement, losing part of his pension and health benefits, when he refused to participate and even fought against the attempted cover-up of the beating of Barron Bowling by DEA agent Timothy McCue. Bowling was awarding $830,000 for the beating he endured. The judge in Bowling’s lawsuit acknowledged the mistreatment that Seifert endured to bring Bowling’s beating to light saying that Seifert was “shunned, subjected to gossip and defamation by his police colleagues, and treated as a pariah. The way Seifert was treated was shameful.”
Balko also tells the story of New York City police whistle-blower Adrian Schoolcraft. It was Schoolcraft who brought attention to the quota and crime statistics data manipulation going on in the NYC Police Department. For his trouble he was raided by a SWAT team and taken to a psychiatric hospital for six days against his will.
As long as the Blue Wall of Silence stands, the “few bad apples” argument is irrelevant. It does not matter how many “bad cops” there are if “good cops” refuse to come forward and report misconduct. If accountability for police officers is to be achieved we will need more officers like Upshaw, Sosenik, Seifert, and Schoolcraft.