The New York Times has an article this morning about the use of pepper spray at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. According to the article:
an officer wearing a white shirt — indicating a rank of lieutenant or above — walked toward a group of demonstrators nearby and sent a blast of pepper spray that hit four women
I wasn’t at the demonstrations, I didn’t see what happened, I haven’t even watched the videos on YouTube. I have no knowledge of what really happened in this instance, or whether it was - as the NYPD claims - a legitimate use of pepper spray or not.
But I will say that every time that I have been to a demonstration and I have witnessed what I thought was an overreaction on the part of the police, a white-shirted officer seemed to be at the center of it. I have seen a white-shirt order mounted police to push back a peaceful crowd that had nowhere else to go. I have seen a white-shirt literally red in the face with rage, shrieking at people who weren’t doing anything wrong. When I watched some of the Occupy Wall Street video the other day, I wasn’t surprised to see that it was a white-shirted officer who was charging into the crowd and yanking protesters out bodily. It’s reached the point that when I see a cop wearing a white shirt at a protest, I get the hell away from him. Based on past experience, I simply assume that he’s a fucking maniac and that if any trouble goes down, it’s going to happen around him.
By contrast, the rank-and-file officers often seem to be much calmer and more humane. I’ve seen a few instances of what I’d call great policing - individual officers who projected the kind of calm authority that defuses any tension before it can even start. Their manner and their actions said that if you respected them, they’d respect you and everyone would go home happy at the end of the day. Most of them looked like solid, blue-collar working stiffs. None of them were wearing white shirts.
Maybe a handful of anecdotes isn’t a good basis to judge the entire officer class. Maybe the white-shirts are more conspicuous and therefore more memorable. Maybe they have a more difficult job. But I do know that I would feel a lot safer if the next time the NYPD went to a demo, they left the guys in the white shirts at home.