Police brutality is not new. We know this. Those who are power-hungry and who relish in having control over others have abused their positions since the police force originated in this country two hundred years ago. There have always been “good cops”—officers who genuinely want to do good, protect others, make our streets safe for all of us. And there have always been “bad cops” who invoke terror and let their temper dictate how they treat citizens, many of whom are innocent or unarmed.
Except now, everyone has a camera in their hand.
“Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed,” actor Will Smith explained on “The Tonight Show” when asked about race relations in America.
That means that the violent killing of unarmed Black Americans—like George Floyd, Eric Garner, Philando Castile… (the list goes on, as we know) isn’t a new thing in our country. The difference is that today, we have video evidence from witnesses like Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, Ramsey Orta, who recorded Eric Garner’s death, and Darnella Frazier who recorded the murder of George Floyd.
And now it seems that even some behind that “blue line” are coming forward, unwilling to let the corruption they know about continue. The tide is turning in America. Cops can no longer count on the old boys’ club rule of protection that allows them to do whatever they want—specifically to Black Americans—without consequence. Finally, their two-hundred year reign of terror is starting to falter.
We all know the battle for police accountability is far from over, but the conviction of Derek Chauvin—something that likely would not have happened even 10 years ago—is a start. And next up we need to see Vallejo, California police officers, who reportedly bend their badges to mark their killings—yes you read that right—held accountable.
It’s as horrific as it sounds. Police who are sworn in and vow to protect the most vulnerable among us instead celebrate the deaths that they themselves cause. Of course, they’re denying it, but story after story continues to come out and they have one common thread—the bending of a badge after a life is taken. One account even comes from a former officer himself who tried to bring an end to this practice. (Not surprisingly, he was fired.)
Recent court filings claim that at least 11 Vallejo police officers are part of a “so-called ‘Badge of Honor’ gang”—one of whom was caught on video tackling a man named Adrian Burrell on Burrell’s own front porch, The Mercury News reports. Burrell was recording the officer—David McLaughlin—as he arrested Burrell’s cousin, Michael Walton. (And in light of the endless accounts of police violence that continue to plague our country, Burrell’s choice to film the arrest is justifiable—encouraged even by many Americans who say this is the only way to bring corrupt cops to justice.) The report asserts that Burrell’s act of recording the arrest “interrupted [McLaughlin’s] opportunity to gain another bend in his badge” causing him to “retaliate against [Burrell] with excessive force.”
The video, as seen all over TikTok (including the account @akathryn1), shows Officer McLaughlin demanding Burrell stop recording, then entering Burrell’s porch and arresting him despite Burrell saying repeatedly, “I’m not resisting” and “I’m not fighting you.”
This accusation of “badge-bending” isn’t only made by those who’ve been arrested either. A former officer—specifically a former captain and SWAT team commander named John Whitney—says that yes, the allegations are true.
After the fatal shooting of Willie McCoy in 2019, Whitney tried to inform the department of the practice in the hopes of ending a tradition that’s against everything a police department is supposed to stand for.
“The community we serve will lose faith in us,” Whitney told Open Vallejo. “This practice needs to end.”
Whitney was (of course) forced out of the department, as is often the case when a police officer breaks the code of silence and fails to protect their fellow “brothers in blue” even when those “brothers” dishonored their oath. He’s since filed a retaliation claim against the city.
Open Vallejo gathered more information from others in the know, most of whom spoke under the condition of anonymity to protect themselves. And guess what? The stories add up. The Vallejo “Badge of Honor” gang is real, their badges were bent over and over, and many lives were lost in this cruel game of police corruption and brutality.
“Of the 51 current and former Vallejo police officers who have been involved in fatal shootings since 2000, at least 14 had their badges bent by a colleague afterward,” Open Vallejo reports. “One source told Open Vallejo the number could be much higher.”
So this isn’t just one accusation, or one unsubstantiated rumor. Turns out, there are many accounts supporting this sickening story—the story of an exclusive club of officers who celebrate each time they kill another human being. Human beings who are fathers, brothers—just like themselves, but whose lives meant nothing to the officers sworn in to protect them.
Vallejo Police Department, of course, denies these claims. But the evidence against them continues to mount. For example, NBC Bay Area conducted a data analysis and found that Vallejo police have the highest rate of residents shot by police, per capita, in Northern California. (Only two other cities in all of California have a higher percentage.)
So when there are allegations that you celebrate killing people, and then the numbers say that you kill a lot of people, it’s hard to believe that this secret club and its violent traditions don’t exist.
But knowing the history of police brutality in this country, it’s actually quite easy to believe that it does. And it’s also easy to assume that there are probably other officers like John Whitney who want to say something and do the right thing, but are afraid of what will happen if they do.
It’s important to weed out the Derek Chauvins and David McLaughlins if we have any hope of trusting the police again. Chauvin had a history of violence, which was ignored. McLaughlin, The Mercury News reports, was placed on leave as his porch-storming arrest of Adrian Burrell was investigated, but he was back on duty within months. And, he’s also “the defendant in a still-unresolved federal lawsuit over an off-duty incident in Contra Costa County, in which he pulled a gun on a man during a heated argument outside a pizza restaurant,” the article says.
And yet, officers with tempers, with power and control issues, with the propensity to abuse their authority, and who, we are now learning, “honor” the killing of another human being with a bend in their badge, remain on the force. They are allowed to don the uniform that we are supposed to raise our children to “respect,” they patrol the streets with guns they don’t hesitate to use, and they still oftentimes suffer no consequence.
Hopefully the Vallejo Police Department, and all police departments, will see a major overhaul in employment, in training, and in policy. Hopefully they will work on upholding the actual oath they take and stop acting like vigilantes in a John Wayne movie from the 1950s. Until then, they won’t have the respect or trust of the neighborhoods they are supposed to be protecting.