How they talk when they think nobody can hear them, or, did I do the Right Thing or not?

Over a decade ago, in the mid 1990s, I had a subcontract gig to fix a broken backup for an early web message board. The users were mainly from the northeastern US.  And they were all cops.

The owner of the site would check the credentials of all the users, to make sure they were actually real police officers. He then outsourced the technical operation of the site to technical contractors. To people like the sysadmin who subcontracted to me to fix the broken backup system.

The operating sysadmin picked me for the gig in part because he thought I would find the site content illuminating, and encouraged me to read it. I read all the message boards posts via the database. Post after post of cops chattering among themselves, thinking they were "safe", thinking only "brother officers" would read their words, telling each other on-the-job stories, and expressing stomach churning levels of bigotry and hatred, and sharing tips and tricks for all sorts of ways engaging in small and medium scale corruption, thuggishness, theft from the public, fraud on the court, techniques for abusing the people they were detaining and arresting, and why it was ok that they do all these things.

One of the more interesting regrets in my life is that I didn't make a copy of that database, and anonymously send a copy to every investigative reporter, defense attorney law firm, and social justice org in New England.

To this day, I cannot say if I did the Right Thing or not.

I've been hearing about a modern site called "officer.com", which sounds to be a nationwide successor to that small regional web bbs. And from what I can tell from what leaks from it, it sounds like the kind of outlook and conversation has not improved any.

1 comment:

  1. I generally don't hate policemen, they have a job to do and every profession has its version of gallows humor.


    This is not the first time I've heard of this sort of thing and it gives me chills to think that, as a black woman, if I need help, one of these officers will be the one to show up at my door. Can they professionally do their job despite what they may think? Do I even want to take that chance?

    I don't think you can worry too much about whether you did the right thing or not.

    IIRC, we're about the same age and an interesting observation I heard recently is that one of the ways our generation differs from the ones after us is that for us, protest was about visible rebellion: what we wear, how we decorate and display our bodies, taking to the streets to march or to sit. To Occupy.
    For people born in 1980 and later, protest is increasingly about information and specifically the releasing of information.

    I can kinda get this. For prior generations, if you leaked information, you had to be sure you were doing it to a source that was friendly to your POV and not going to suppress it and turn you into whatever authority you were offending. You also needed to have a venue that would get the leaked information a high enough public profile that it would be worth taking such a risk.

    Social protest, while there is true physical risk that can't be minimized, also carries with it the idea of safety in numbers. Look how many people who protested in the 1960s faded into society's superstructure.

    If you are a whistleblower, it is all on you, and it can be tough to obscure your identity. However, for people who were born with electronic social media as a standard part of their lives, in much the same way TV and radio were for us, those venues are out there. You don't have to deal with the big corporate media if you don't want to.

    Think about it, you may have sent out a printout of all of those comments and it could have been suppressed by the government and the media. If you were to do it today, I'm sure you know who would be interested in this type of info and more than willing to publish it on the web.

    You probably did the best thing you could at the time.


    (I originally left this comment on Dreamwidth but I wasn't sure if you'd see it or not. Sorry for the duplication. When I tried to post my comment here, google wouldn't recognize my livejournal sign in so I had to use this google ID which I don't like to do. *deep sigh*

    In any regard, I hope you think my comment adds some value to the discussion).