American Bully

New York City police officers play with kids in Harlem circa 1978. The man on the left is undercover.

Police sirens blared. They stood there, pistols at the hip in holsters. Thick smog and faint gunmoke choked my lungs. The mid-summer’s heat bared down on us, making us pant like dogs. We felt like dogs. Told to stay put. Our legs crossed like kindergartners on time out. The rough concrete and jagged glass scrapped against my thighs.

They started going through the car. The first officer tore out left over fast food bags out the backseat and worn CDs out the front. The second waltzed to the car’s rear, his black loafers clicking on the concrete, to pop the trunk.

Could they do that? I wondered. I looked at my cousin; he less bewildered. This was his city, I was nothing more than a tourist. His face contorted and in objection, but he said nothing. Deep down, he knew it didn’t matter. Other moans and of dissatisfaction and the occasional swear, that was all he had the courage to muster.

Why did they stop us again? I wondered. I didn’t know. They just pulled us over and we instantly obeyed. Without question, without second thought. I rolled down the window and he peered in, sniffing the fear on both of us. Next thing I knew, we were on the curb, questioned about everything from gang affiliation to drugs.

They found nothing. The first officer flashed us, a condensing, but nevertheless impressed smile. The second flicked the flashlight’s beam in our eyes before heading back to their squad car.

They left, sirens blaring.


The picture above offers a glimpse into a pefect world, absent of brutality, prejudice, fear, and exploitation. The job of a police officer is beyond stessful and truly a daunting amount of responsibility. But when you mistrust those who you’ve sworn to protect, and that mistrust morphs to misconduct and malice, you no longer are a police officer…

You’re just a bully.

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