All America’s Law-Enforcement Race Problems Demonstrated By One Cop’s Stupidity

A white cop pulls over a black teenager and puts the teenager into the back seat of the police cruiser. The kid would almost certainly have been booked, probably jailed, and probably would have had a conviction on his rap sheet for the rest of his life. That he had broken no laws and did not resist the policeman in any way would have made no difference at all. If not for the serendipitous combination of the video (let’s call it “the Rodney King effect”) and the cop’s own testosterone-fueled stupidity, we wouldn’t have known what really happened:

A white Ohio police officer has been fired after a department investigation found he conducted an unwarranted traffic stop on his teen daughter’s boyfriend, who is black, reports the Chronicle-Telegram. Lorain police officer John Kovach Jr. was fired last month for violating the department’s standards of conduct during the April 16 incident in Lorain, about 30 miles west of Cleveland, the paper reports.

In bodycam video, Kovach can be heard ordering the young man to get out of the car and telling him, “You’re going to jail,” not responding when the teen repeatedly asks him, “For what?”

The officer later temporarily detains the boy and his daughter, both 18, in his squad car and is heard saying, “We’ll make (expletive) up as we go.”

To be fair, there’s one overriding reason why dads are ferociously defensive of their daughters: we know what we were like when we were that age. We wanted one thing and one thing only, and it certainly wasn’t the so-called American dream of a lifelong marriage, a house, a nice car in the garage, and two-point-five kids. Sure, we joke about how we’d have a nice, peaceful talk with the daughter’s prospective boyfriend while he’s nervously eyeing the [insert choice of weapon or instrument of torture] that we’re innocently cleaning at the time…but a part of us really isn’t joking at all. I don’t have a daughter, but I still remember what I was like at that age.

That was almost certainly the motivation of the cop. He saw himself as a dad who figured he needed to protect his daughter…but the way this cop went about doing so exposed him as being stupid and racist. He pulled the kid (to me, an 18 year-old is still a kid) over without any probable cause, forced the kid to get out of the car and walked him over to get into the police cruiser, and even told him “we’ll make (expletive) up as we go”.

But what’s chilling is the list of factors that led to this point:

  1. The cop obviously thought he’d get away with it. Why? One, he was a 26-year veteran of the police force of relatively-suburban Lorain, Ohio, (oh, and he’s white, too). Two, he was taking a black male into custody. In this case, the black male was young and may also have been a teenager, but the sources do not state yet how old he is. In America, those two facts alone almost ensure that the cop can or say almost anything he wants, and his word will be taken over that of any teenager, especially if that teenager had committed the apparently unforgivable offense of having been born black and male. The cop knew - had to know - that his word would have been more than enough to convict the kid, especially since that kid was black.
  2. Pro-law-enforcement bias is an indelible part of our court system, thus enabling law enforcement to essentially make up stories to excuse crimes that they themselves commit. To be sure, the majority of police out there are good, honest, and courageous men and women…but many are corrupt and abuse their power. Yes, it is essential that the word of law enforcement be given greater weight in the court of law, but it is every bit as essential that they be held to a higher standard of conduct. In the Navy, I was at one time a Chief Master-at-Arms (in civilian terms, the shipboard “chief of police”) and at another time was an Assistant Legal Officer. While our word was given greater weight, we most certainly did hold our own to a higher standard. We had to in order to keep the trust of the crew.
  3. Institutional racism. The higher the poverty, the higher the crime rate. In America, blacks strongly tend to be poorer, and so the crime rate is higher…but too many in law enforcement don’t seem to realize that the higher crime rate is due to the poverty, not the color of the skin, and over the decades, that racist perception has become ingrained in law enforcement, sometimes all the way to the top. The insular nature of the law-enforcement communities also tends to make such attitudes self-reinforcing, often effectively creating an echo chamber of racist attitudes (see Ferguson, Missouri). As a result, police departments strongly tend to hire whites over blacks of equal or better qualifications (as an aside, here’s the Lorain PD’s Facebook photo page - they serve a lot of minorities, but I see precious few blacks actually wearing the uniform). To make matters even worse, white supremacists have made a concerted effort to infiltrate law enforcement.

Now we can’t say for sure that the Lorain PD is infested with racists, but we can say that one of its senior officers honestly thought that he could get away with making up charges against his daughter’s black boyfriend even though he had to know that his dashcam was taking a video of his actions.

That, then, is what troubles me the most, that the attitude of the Lorain PD as a whole was such that one of its senior officers thought he could get away with such egregious conduct. If it had been a junior officer, then I might not point the finger at the leadership…but it was a freaking 26-year veteran who would have known what he could and could not get away with. In my experience, if the leaders are holding their subordinates to a high-enough standard and are swift to discipline those whose conduct goes beyond the pale, then such incidents involving senior officers like this do not happen.

That is why I point the finger not just at the racist cop, but at the Lorain PD as a whole. They did the right thing by summarily firing him, but I suspect they’ve still got a long, long way to go…because I strongly suspect that the Lorain PD didn’t fire him because he was racist or because he egregiously abused his power as a law enforcement officer, but because he got caught and made them look bad.

One last observation: the CBS story pointed out right away that the cop was white and the young man was black, while the story posted by Fox News didn’t address race at all (except for what was in the video). One just wonders if Fox News would have been so “race-blind” if the cop and his daughter were black, but the boy was white.

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Retired Navy. Inveterate contrarian. If I haven’t done it, I’ve usually done something close.

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