Why Self-Regulation by Police, Environmentalists, and Any Other Group Never Works
New York state police leaned on the girlfriend of New York Governor David Paterson’s key aide, whom the aide was accused of choking, to get her to drop charges against the man. The aide, David Johnson, turned particularly to the head of Paterson’s personal state police detail, Major Charles Day – whom Robinson worked with daily – to contact the woman. The woman complained in court that the state police were harassing her – and she did drop the case.
The governor, after the New York Times revealed these events, suspended Johnson, but not Maj. Day, nor the superintendent of the state police, Harry Corbitt, who backed his officers. Denise O’Donnell, assistant director of the state’s public safety division, resigned in protest, saying Corbitt had misled her. But no one in the Paterson administration seemed to care.
Peterson immediately called for an investigation by the New York attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, and by superintendent Corbitt! (whom Cuomo told to forget it). But Cuomo had just completed a detailed report saying that for more than a decade governors of both parties had used the police for their own political purposes – and Corbitt – whom Paterson selected for the job – had sworn to halt the practice. I know – let’s get him to swear to do so again!
Of course he wouldn’t – he couldn’t. In the first place, the superintendent serves at Paterson’s discretion – so how was he going to cross his boss’s closest aide? But, more important, Day knew and worked with Johnson, so he’d always cover for him.
That’s the way the police always act. It’s not only the way of the thin blue line (the police), it’s human nature. Just consider a few phrases: look out for your own, blood is thicker than water, birds of a feather stick together, band of brothers, don’t bite the hand that feeds you, you rub my back I’ll rub yours. . . . and on and on. People in cooperative groups always work together against outsiders. We call it loyalty, solidarity, collegiality, brother (or sister) hood – and we prize it highly.
(Did you happen to notice that, after New Orleans police shot and killed several unarmed people during hurricane Katrina, all seven cops on that detail worked as a group to cover up the crime?)
This isn’t just police. When e-mails revealed that environmentalists worked together to attack, smear, and discount the views of opponents, people were shocked. These were scientists, after all!
Of course, you would do the same. Don’t deny it. If your life, friends, and work were tied up in a point of view, a position, an action, you’d do everything in your power to protect your colleagues and cohorts who shared these things. You’d act as though your life depended on it – because it does. Your psychological life.
So here’s a psychological truism for Cuomo, the governor, and all of his successors to chew on: admonitions for police, or anybody else, to stand up and do the right thing, and to alienate their own, never work. You better have a superior plan B.
P.S. Read this post and you’ll know why Nancy Pelosi refuses to censure Charles Rangel for his host of ethical-financial violations in Congress.