National View / Trampling the thin blue line: Watching police officers get assaulted has become a trash-talking bloodsport

“(Police) should be held to account for genuine abuse, even when making arrests. However, the legitimate urge to call out police brutality is not an open-season license to stomp on those in uniform and cheer on those who do.”


When I was around 8 and acted out, my father sent me to my room with instructions to write 100 times the lessons of my sins, as in “I won’t chase my sisters with bugs” or “I will treat my mother with respect.” My hand ached and the penmanship slanted by the fifth rendition.

But one time I went too far and he drove me to our local police precinct, where Max the cop was waiting. Everyone in our 1960s neighborhood knew Max. He was a jovial ex-boxer with a paunch and nasal voice, intimidating as Barney Fife. And he belonged to our synagogue. I marveled that the same guy who waddled around with a holstered revolver and wooden club would also recite Torah and show up at Friday night services in a suit.

On this occasion, with my dad watching, Max gave me a stern lecture and led me to a jail cell, “incarcerating” me for what seemed a life sentence. The sight of an open toilet terrified me and was all the juvenile reform I needed. When he returned 10 minutes later and released me, possibly with a wink, I vowed never to cross a man of the law.

The ghost of Max the cop has visited me lately as I follow accounts of hostile clashes involving police and angry crowds. It’s not just the ambush attacks that disturb me but the gleeful reactions of bystanders when officers are sucker-punched — or worse — for trying to do their jobs.

In one recent melee in the Bronx section of New York, naturally captured on cell phone and posted on social media, two cops escorting an unruly collar into a squad car are set upon by a thug, who kicks away one of the fallen officer’s body camera. In the ensuing rumble, the pair slam into a parked car, with the cop squeezed into a headlock that would have gone nuclear had it been the other way around. The attacker then scoots away and is later arrested — and released — turning out to be a gang member with a long rap sheet.


As vile as the incident is, it’s the guy recording it who drops my jaw. Holding his phone on top of the action as if sitting ringside at a WWE match, he mocks the officer for acting “gangster because he’s got a badge and a gun,” and ridicules the policeman with obscenities as he’s pummeled to the ground. “You got smoked!” he taunts the clearly injured cop as he staggers to his car. You won’t find a single account of who this broadcaster is, though his recording has thousands of views.

How have we come to a place where watching an officer get assaulted is a spectator sport suitable for trash-talking color commentary? Some would claim it’s a valid response to the George Floyd killing, as cops represent the enforcement arm of a racist system. I don’t buy it. Of course, officers have been rightly condemned when they’ve gone after protesters with mace and strong-armed tactics, and they should be held to account for genuine abuse, even when making arrests. However, the legitimate urge to call out police brutality is not an open-season license to stomp on those in uniform and cheer on those who do.

What we’re witnessing in all of these encounters — and there are dozens to view on any major news site or social platform — is bad manners gone wild and an inability to see police as part of the communities they serve, with their own families, lives, and challenges. That disconnect is but one sad outcome from the loss of old-school beat cops like Max who knew their turf and who were known in return by residents and merchants.

The police were historically regarded as the thin blue line between civil order and chaos. Now, thanks to a misguided sense of identity justice and social grievance, they’re triggers for disorder and targets of hateful smack-downs. Regardless of whether this or that city’s PD has been defunded, cops at large have become canceled, at terrible cost to public welfare.

I once had my own front-row seat to a police showdown. A couple of local tough kids were throwing snowballs at traffic when Max the cop wandered by. No doubt a neighbor had called the station house. At first, I was shocked when they gave him lip and continued heaving at cars and buses. But Max put his hands on his wide hips and called them each out by name and warned he’d phone their parents. They dropped their frozen weapons, lowered their heads, and skulked off. Oh, to have a little bit of shame back in our world to restore the peace.

Allan Ripp runs a press relations firm in New York.

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Allan Ripp

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