A radio host on Wednesday snapped at a police officer who called in about the Alton Sterling shooting, making a clear, concise argument against the “blue wall of silence.”
The notable part of the exchange began when Hot 97's Peter Rosenberg asked if the officer on the phone thought the Sterling shooting “looks bad.” The officer hesitated, refusing to clearly condemn the two officers who killed Sterling.
Rosenberg went off at that point:
Can you say the words “it looks bad”? I have to say this: This is the problem I have with police officers, no disrespect to you. Y’all don’t ever want to point at someone else and say, “You can’t do your job well!” I can tell you right now if I heard a radio personality get on the air and do something irresponsible, I’d go, “That’s a bad radio personality. He does a bad job.” Police officers never want to say when y’all do a bad job. So that’s the reason the public thinks all of you are bad, because you won’t ever call someone out and say they murdered someone in cold blood; it happened again.
And until you guys start taking responsibility for your own, people in the street are going to be upset instead. So how about y’all lead the movement instead? How about instead of people rioting, police officers get out in front of it themselves, and you guys are the first ones on the front lines? That’s what should happen! Instead of you struggling to say, “Well, I don’t know, it could be…” They murdered that man. We just saw it.
This is essentially a criticism of the blue wall of silence: a widespread, unwritten rule among police that they will always stand together and refuse to condemn their fellow officers’ actions, even in particularly egregious cases.
For police officers, this is seen as a defensive measure: A cop may feel that if he stands up for all his other fellow officers, they’ll stand up for him if he ever gets into trouble — particularly in cases where the public might not be able to understand why an officer had to do what he did.
But in the public’s eyes, this looks like police officers refusing to hold their colleagues accountable. Particularly since the entire point of police is to hold others accountable for wrongdoing, the blue wall of silence comes off as an especially blatant attempt by the criminal justice system to eliminate any personal responsibility for wrongdoing by the system’s actors. That may help explain why, according to Gallup, the public’s trust in police has fallen over the past couple of years.