How do I write about cops?

This is a question and a problem that I care about. But I understand that it’s not the most dire when you consider other people’s issues in dealing with law enforcement.

One Good Apple

When I lived in Montana, I dealt with a stalker. The first time I reported him to the police, a female sheriff’s deputy came and took my statement. She then went to inform the creep that he should leave me alone. She called me afterward and told me that he did not seem to be taking her seriously, that he tried to say I had led him on, and she recommended that I get a restraining order. And that was the best experience I’ve ever had with the police.

My friend Heather’s father is a former police officer. She told me that there is a huge problem with cynicism among police officers. They learn to take it for granted that people are lying to them. Maybe that’s understandable, but I hated being treated like a liar or a criminal. Every time I tried to report my stalker again, such as for breaking the restraining order, I got zero help from police.

In fact, one officer asked me, “Did you have a relationship with this man?”

“No,” I said, “I’m married.”

“Because if you did, we’re going to find out.”

Uh, I didn’t. And even if I had, a restraining order still protects me.

That kind of thing was typical in my experience with the police. They wouldn’t take me seriously; they would take his side; they would not arrest or stop him when he broke the law meant to protect me.

My Prejudices

I want to be charitable. I don’t like to judge an entire group of people. But, of course, it has become more and more obvious that our law enforcement system is riddled with systemic problems, especially racism.

I know, I know, a few bad apples. But why do people keep saying that? The full saying is “One bad apple can spoil the whole barrel.” So, maybe the whole barrel of police is spoiled because of those bad apples.

Systemic Racism

And when people of color are dying from cops and incarcerated at a massively higher percentage than white people, I am inclined to believe it is due to oppression and racism.

And when people of color tell me the problems they experience in dealing with the police, I am not willing to invalidate their experience. They say there’s a problem, so there is.

Please consider this tweet:

An Artist’s Responsibility

So, can I still write stories about cops? Should I? If so, how?

I love Law and Order: SVU. I wish Olivia Benson was there when I woke up to a man watching me sleep in my NYC apartment or when I had to report a stalker. I love Brooklyn-99. I’d love to have Rosa Diaz, Amy Santiago, Raymond Holt, or Terry Jeffords protecting me. To me, those shows are aspirational; they are what law enforcement should be.

But here’s the problem. Not everyone sees it that way. In media (such as TV shows or movies) cops are usually the good guys. Instead of seeing that as aspirational, we see that as factual. And too many people excuse cops’ bad behavior based on the assumption that the police are always the good guys and that they always have a good reason for their actions.

I’d like to include police in a story I’m writing–a superhero story. But should I? If so, how should I? Some people seem to be avoiding cops in stories at all. It doesn’t seem right to glorify them.

I have a lot of thinking and research left to do. I know what NOT to do, but I want to be smart and thoughtful about what I do choose to do, if anything.

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8 Responses to “How do I write about cops?”

  1. Angela Renee Says:

    I’d like to know what news you are watching to see them praising the cops…most I see/read about they are putting down the cops and glorifying the idiots who are rioting/acting out but I guess again it is ones experience with them. I have had terrible experiences and great experiences and can tell you that I wouldn’t want to do their job so I respect them for doing it…but what do I know I am just a white middle class woman and I am told that is a problem that i should be apologizing for these days.
    Any who… hope you are doing well Sarah! I love reading your blogs and want to know when I saw you had started posting these it helped push me to slowly start writing again myself so thank you. 🙂 When you are in the Austin area next time we should get together with Carrie! would be awesome to catch up

    Like

    • SJR Says:

      I reread this post, and I did not say that I saw cops being praised on the news. I’m sure if I looked, I could find both praise and vilification. But the best journalism is neutral and facts-based.

      I do hear people, and I’ve done the same in the past, saying, “Well, the cops must have had a good reason for what they did,” but further evidence shows that’s not always the case. And I’ve seen a lot of people on social media refer to the horrible things cops have done as “a few bad apples.”

      I do, however, see that cops are often the good guys/glorified in fiction. There’s endless cop shows and movies that make the police the heroes. That’s where my interest and question sits regarding this post.

      I have not, however, heard anyone asking white middle class women to apologize for existing. I find that attitude and comment distasteful and very naive to the privilege we experience for being white and having money. If you don’t see that privilege, then that’s understandable, it’s hard to notice when our whole life we don’t have to worry about our race.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Angela Renee Says:

    i have heard many white people apologizing for being white these days and I have been confronted about being a “privileged” white woman for expressing my thoughts/beliefs. I think our country is just full of overly sensitive people and people who just like issues/drama to make their point seem more valid. I do understand as white person that you are right I don’t get a lot of things but I am also not going to apologize for being born who I am nor do I ask others to do so.
    Bye the way…’But here’s the problem. Not everyone sees it that way. In media cops are usually the good guys.’ this is what i was basing my cops comment on.

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    • SJR Says:

      I’ve never heard anyone apologize for being white–so that really surprises me. I have heard people apologize for their ignorance. I have heard people recognize their privilege. Being confronted about your privilege doesn’t mean you’re being asked to apologize for existing. Thinking people are over sensitive when they express their pain is a common opinion of the privileged. I don’t think a black person being afraid of being killed by a cop is overly sensitive–it’s a real issue that you and I don’t have to deal with. When black people say it happens to them, and when I hear reports of unarmed people gunned down by police, I do not see any reason to invalidate it.

      I gotcha. I should have said “in fiction media” meaning stories, like movies and TV shows.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Angela Renee Says:

        Well agree to disagree on our beliefs and how view the world and people
        There is no solid right or wrong on any of this just that everyone needs to grow and show a lot more compassion no matter color, background, beliefs, and so on. I try not to judge others without knowing them personally and if I do judge I keep it internal…havent been the case always but again I try…”privilege” and all

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  3. hanneshaye Says:

    Thank you for this post. The writing was thoughtful, unassuming, and learning-focused. Your comments are self-assured, logical, and absolutely necessary (especially with this subject matter).
    You’re asking great questions for yourself, doing your best to be conscious of what language you put into the world. I may have mentioned this to you before, but I think the answers you are looking for can be found by asking BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color), asking other women, asking those who have experience dealing with police. How do portrayals of police in literature make them feel? How are fictional depictions of police warped from reality? What does a “good” cop depiction look like to them?
    And honestly… can your story function without police? How would that change it? Would it still be the story you want to tell?
    Again, you’re amazing and this is a long comment… I know I have added many more questions to the question you already posed and I feel the need to apologize, but I won’t. Keep on keeping on, Sarah.

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