Michael A. Wood Jr., the retired Batlimore police officer who used Twitter to report a slew of misconduct he said he witnessed while on the job, was interviewed by the Washington Post. He explains what he thinks is wrong with big-city police culture, the nature of his own “awakening,” and what might be done to change it.
Wood repeatedly describes policing in Baltimore as an “us vs. them” proposition. “It’s ingrained in you that this is a war, and if someone isn’t wearing a uniform, they’re the enemy,” he said. “It just becomes part of who you are, of how you do your job. And when all you’re doing is responding to calls, you’re only seeing the people in these neighborhoods when there’s conflict. So you start to assume that conflict is all there is. Just bad people doing bad things.”
He said it wasn’t until he had spent some time in narcotics doing surveillance that he “had an awakening.”
“[S]itting in the van and watching people just living their lives, I started to see that these were just people,” he said. “They weren’t that different from me. They had to pay rent. See their kids off to school. The main difference is that as a white kid growing up in my neighborhood, I was never going to get arrested for playing basketball in the street. I was never going to get patted down because I was standing on a street corner. There was no chance I was going to get a criminal record early on for basically being a kid.”
Wood told the Washington Post that a solution to the problem “starts with empathy.” He wants to “to stop all this warrior talk, the militaristic language, and the us versus them rhetoric.”
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