The example of Serpico allows us to consider the difference between justice and law, and a provides a background for the new study of Police law. Police are under a different kind of law as administers of the law, with the extra responsibilities of the badge. The story of Serpico shows the blue wall of silence that demonstrates why the executive branch has proven incapable of checking, balancing and overseeing itself. The call to de-fund the police- while not practically serious- makes clear that the executive branches are dependent upon the legislatures for appropriations, and we will not fund the shooting of black men holding cell phones.
When one overlooks the scene of drugs and organized crime in America, one sees that this could not occur without the corruption of the police with money to look the other way. Serpico reported systemic corruption, and the reporting of David Burnham brought the issue to public attention. Peter Mass then wrote the bestselling book Serpico,” and Al Pacino played the role in a hit movie production. It is difficult to overestimate the effects these had on my early education, in high school, where one studies science, but little literature. Mr. Donahue had the book on a shelf pillaged by a sister, and we saw the movie. The first teaching was that the appearance of justice is not the same as justice. Later in life, when we saw the police impounding cars broken down and not impeding traffic, in less than 24 hours, and heard of many such property seizures, we could discern the systemic corruption because of Serpico. We have had some incomplete progress on this issue in Michigan, though to some extent the corruption merely shifts. It does not occur to us that the corruption is what allows the Oxy-heroin epidemic to occur, and that this makes us weak in foreign policy. Police do not see things in a comprehensive light, but obey authority, and are presented offers difficult to refuse.
Policing is new in modern society, having apparently begun with bobbies in London and in Philadelphia along with Ben Franklin’s Fire department. The domestic and foreign executive offices were not previously distinguished, so that soldiers of the king were those who threw people in prison, hopefully for oppressing their fellow citizens. I am reminded of the genetic presentation of the origins of justice by the pre-Socratic and modern thinkers, and the Socratic treatment of this contract theory of justice (Republic Book II). What all cities have in common is the attempt to prevent the few strong from oppressing the many weaker sorts through the force of the community as a whole. It is a replacement for the original tyrannies of nature that are the practical alternative to government. That is, crime fighting is the common purpose of all legitimate government. Its corruption- the corruption of the badge- to serve the self interest of its ministers is the decline of every civilization. Meanwhile, the gangsters tell themselves that if they did not provide the illegal things, the people would get them from another, so that they may as well profit. The enthroning of the idea of the successful; entrepreneur is sometimes indistinct from the honoring of the natural courage of gangsters.
Prohibition swelled organized crime in America, leading to the growth of new criminal gangs, which once were no larger than bands of bank robbers. The gangs continued to sell drugs after the prohibition of alcohol, and from these funds seem to have grown tentacles into all commerce, so that for example no concrete could be poured in New York City while obeying the law, and the Italian mafia would gain a certain percentage. Again drawing on the comprehensive picture, we note the difference between genuine economy and the “caterpillars of the commonwealth,” who weaken the economy by draining rather than producing value, and attacking private property. The epidemic of opioids turned about one third of a generation into prostitutes and thieves collecting money for the heroin mobs. It is as though the people in general did not notice until it entered and began draining the suburbs.
Organized crime then in part corrupted the appearance of justice, by corrupting the badge, to some extent, and only in part. It is interesting to observe the relative strengths and influences of crime and government, both here and, for example in Mexico, to see what can occur and what has occurred. As excerpted by Wikipedia,
In October, and again in December 1971, Serpico testified before the Knapp Commission:
Through my appearance here today … I hope that police officers in the future will not experience … the same frustration and anxiety that I was subjected to … for the past five years at the hands of my superiors … because of my attempt to report corruption. I was made to feel that I had burdened them with an unwanted task. The problem is that the atmosphere does not yet exist, in which an honest police officer can act … without fear of ridicule or reprisal from fellow officers. Police corruption cannot exist unless it is at least tolerated … at higher levels in the department. Therefore, the most important result that can come from these hearings … is a conviction by police officers that the department will change. In order to ensure this … an independent, permanent investigative body … dealing with police corruption, like this commission, is essential …— The New York Times, December 15, 1971.
Serpico was the first police officer in the history of the New York City Police Department to step forward to report, and subsequently testify openly about widespread, systemic corruption payoffs amounting to millions of dollars.
In doing this, Serpico risked his life and more. He demonstrates the courage of the World War II era carried into the sixties, a virtue that seems more and more to escape the later generations. There is a sense in which police and soldiers too “lay down their lives for their friends,” as Jesus teaches, “greater love has no man than this.” John 15:13. Famously, when asked by one who is not involved in political action, but an actor, why he would make such sacrifice, Paco (again from Wikipedia) answered:
“Well, Al, I don’t know. I guess I would have to say it would be because… if I didn’t, who would I be when I listened to a piece of music?”
But why, in the higher sense, did these examples so effect him as to awaken what sleeps at best in most humans? What is it that causes heroes? Throughout his life afterward too, he seems to apprehend some mysterious intelligibility that is akin to justice and music, and the cultivation our genuine, and not merely apparent, prosperity and happiness.
Appendix: Tweets preserved:
Who the Patrolman was that drove Serpico to the hospital has resulted in the following answer. Remember, this is entirely “unverified”, but appears to be as best we can know at this time. (If you think otherwise, please let me know!).39 frank serpico@SerpicoDet· At the time of his arrest Mambo possessed the 22 cal pistol he used to shoot Serpico, as well as Serpico’s 38 cal 2-inch revolver, which he had picked up after Serpico dropped it after he was shot. Serpico had been able to fire one round from that gun hitting the suspects hand.
Uniformed MOS responded to a 10-10 job they took Serpico in a radio car to Greenpoint The shooter escaped out a window, and was later caught where detectives had been conducting a stake-out for him. The arresting officer was Ptl Maxwell Katz, who shot the perp in the stomach.
38frank serpico@SerpicoDet· Roteman went to an apt in the bldg to call for an ambulance; he said that he stated he was a cop, and a cop was shot. The radio job failed to mention that. Cesare went outside to get an ambulance. IMO riiiight Just like a taxi ?
1320frank serpico@SerpicoDet· Ptl. Serpico was shot in head as he attempted to enter the apartment, with his partners, to effect the arrest of the dealer. After being shot – remember, there were no portable radios, or cell phones at the time – a call went in from a building tenant reporting “shots fired”.3431
frank serpico@SerpicoDet· with that prisoner as Serpico and the other 2 plainclothes narcotics patrolmen went upstairs for the dealer. The dealer they went to arrest was known as “Mambo”, real name of Edgar Echevaria.
111 frank serpico@SerpicoDet· The narcotics team consisted of Serpico, along with his partners Ptl Gary Roteman, and Ptl Arthur Cesare. The fourth member of the team, Ptl Paul Halley, had earlier made an arrest of a drug buyer from the apartment, and remained in the car
1113 frank serpico@SerpicoDet· The location of Patrolman Frank Serpico’s drug bust that resulted in his being shot was at 778 Drigs Ave, within the confines of the 90 Precinct. This five-story multiple dwelling building is identified by the name “NOVELTY COURT”. It took place at Apt# 3-G, on February 3, 1971.
frank serpico@SerpicoDet· As requested; SOME LITTLE-KNOWN SERPICO FACTS A recent inquiry by a loyal reader had me – and my sources – checking out some facts concerning the “Serpico” case. The following information may be of interest to you.
frank serpico@SerpicoDet· “And I believe, my opinion, that there are some who couldn’t live up to his standards. And so they took it upon themselves, as a crusade, to diminish what he did.”
See new Tweets
frank serpico@SerpicoDet·Seems our toddler comedy team Mutt & Jeff are throwing tantrums. Little, napoleon complex, super cop has been marinating in his soiled diapers and big bro Jeff don’t know how to change them. GreatGranny to the rescue.2215m.mcdonald77@Mcdonald77M·Yeah Granny!12GreatGranny@GreatGranny20·Mr. McDonald, I find it interesting that we independently came to the same conclusion regarding the kids. JEALOUS !!!!12m.mcdonald77@Mcdonald77M·There is a more pernicious possibility that has not yet been eliminated. Who in New York might not want police to stop taking money? They raise a good question for history to try to get the motions choreographed in the 7 minutes after the shooting, before the call for transport11frank serpico@SerpicoDetReplying to @Mcdonald77M and @GreatGranny20They had to get their stories together. I doubt a call was ever made. If a cop called it would have been signal 1013 officer down. A Good Samaritan tenant in the building made the call. Period.