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Watching the Watchdog: What Keeping an Eye on Cops Can Do

08/30/2013 05:29 EDT | Updated 10/30/2013 05:12 EDT

Tim Knight writes the regular column,Watching the Watchdog, for HuffPost Canada.

I was thinking about Constable James Forcillo of the Toronto Police Service who's accused of second-degree murder in the death of Sammy Yatim.

I was thinking about Constable Forcillo and what he did and that police are not like you and me.

I first learned that as a very young reporter in a very tough neighbourhood -- Johannesburg, South Africa, during the apartheid years.

The relationship between me and the cops was simple. They saw me, the reporter, as -- quite literally -- the enemy.

If the cops should happen to torture or kill a few black malcontents while carrying out their assigned duties supporting the state and protecting white people, it was none of my goddamned business.

And if I should happen to get roughed up while covering violent police raids on "terrorists" or peaceful anti-apartheid demonstrators, well, it served me right. Once again, I should mind my own goddamn business.

At one stage I covered the police beat and got to know a few of the cops. Even developed a useful police "source." He was white, bright, well educated, and believed that he and his colleagues were all there was protecting decent people from a communist takeover.

He lived in a different world from me. A world defined by the famous "thin blue line" which police everywhere believe separates the good people from the evildoers who would rape, pillage and murder the rest of us if it wasn't for cops standing so bravely on guard.

There's a small amount of truth in that, of course.

But the thin blue line does something else. Something much more worrisome. It makes police an in-group, a special, separate, self-contained, elite clan of people with their own code of behaviour and honour, who depend on each other for survival and are truly different from the rest of us.

I saw more of that during 10 years as reporter/producer with ABC, NBC and PBS in New York. There too, I covered the police beat at times, and met cops both on the job and over beers.

It was during this time that Frank Serpico told the New York Times about years of endemic corruption and brutality among his fellow cops and later gave evidence before an official commission.

In Serpico's case the thin blue line excluded, rather than protected, one of its own. The wagons were circled, as is the tradition with police, but this time the brother was left outside the circle, in the cold. In fact, there was strong evidence that some of his fellow cops set Serpico up to be ambushed by drug dealers and murdered.

Anyway, as a result of Serpico's evidence, the New York police force was cleaned up, at least for a while, and he won the NYPD's highest award, the Medal of Honor.

After New York, my next brush with police was when I was head of CBC news in Ottawa and was asked to train some senior RCMP officers from all over Canada on media philosophy and culture. (This is not the same as journalists or former journalists training how to avoid reporters' questions and, in effect, lie to the people. That is despicable and the people who do it should be drummed out of decent society.)

After class, I spent some time drinking with these Mounties. And I was struck, again and again, by the wall between us. Yes, we could agree and disagree about almost any subject except politics. And yes, they were decent, intelligent, well educated, well-informed and reasonably moderate in their mostly conservative views.

But always, there was the thin blue line that separated us. I was a civilian and a journalist. They were cops. Never the twain could meet.

Which brings me to Samantha Jones who, because of her profession, has had a lot more experience with cops than most of us. Samantha, you may remember from a previous column in this space, is the author of My Life in the Great Sexual Window, which I edited.

In the book, Samantha writes about working as a prostitute since she was a teenager.

Naturally therefore I've known a lot of cops, sometimes professionally as freebies, sometimes as the enemy needing to fill a quota, sometimes as sort of friends.

We have a lot in common.

Neither whores nor cops have friends outside the profession. Each is a separate, distinct, paranoid, suspicious community -- a guarded, secret, hidden sub-culture.

Both whores and cops have values that set them apart from the rest of society, define how to behave, how to dress, who to trust, what to believe in.

Both whores and cops get paid to hire themselves out in the service of others.

Cops use power -- the awful power of the gun -- to do their jobs.

They sell protection, see themselves as the righteous guardians of civilization who protect the lives and property of respectable people -- those who have -- from the less-than-respectable people who haven't, but would like to have.

Cops feel misunderstood and under-appreciated.

Whores, in turn, use power -- the awful power of the pussy -- to do their jobs.

And whores, like cops sell protection. They see themselves as righteous, unfairly stigmatized outlaws who protect society from the violent, animal lusts of men who, if it isn't for them, will likely murder and rape all available females.

Like cops, whores feel misunderstood and under-appreciated.

Gun power and pussy power are brother and sister.

So what will happen if society gives either cops or whores more freedom?

Cops with more freedom will naturally and instinctively become more authoritarian and aggressive. It's in their nature, their training, their instinct, their code, their DNA. Cops would eat away at civil rights, little by little, all in the cause of course, of protecting hardworking, decent people from the scum of the earth.

Whores with more freedom will come in from the outlaw cold, become normal, unafraid, tax-paying members of society. And as a result, some of the world's most violent criminals who live off whores -- particularly the Mafia, biker gangs and crooked cops -- will lose millions of illegal dollars and eventually be forced out of business.

It's simple. For a better world, tighten control of cops -- and free your scarlet sisters to do their thing in safety.

Back to Constable James Forcillo of the Toronto Police Service who was videoed firing nine shots at a teenager holding a knife in an empty streetcar.

Forcillo is charged with second degree murder which carries an automatic life sentence with no chance for parole for up to 25 years. This is only the second time in more than two decades that an on-duty Toronto police officer has faced such a serious charge.

But Canada's courts -- just like courts in most of the rest of the world -- are not exactly famous for holding cops to account, however heinous their crimes. In fact, the Globe and Mailreports blandly that "convictions are extremely rare in Canada after people die during interactions with police."

But that was the past, before the time of the cameras.

You can't watch the police riot at the G20 summit or the killing of Sammy Yatim in the bus on all those smartphones and surveillance cameras without believing that maybe, just maybe, the era of the thin blue line endlessly protecting its own might be ending.

Not because the cops have cleaned up their act.

But because now they're being watched.

So for the very first time, they'll be doing much of their serve and protect thing right out there in public.

Which is exactly where it belongs.

Sammy Yatim