Apologizing for Doing the Right Thing

Photo from the Atlanta Black Star

So many of the awful things we do come from the underlying frame we’ve built them upon. 

Let’s take a look at a news story from last week. During the protests in New York City, there was a humbling and hopeful moment, during which at least a few police officers stood with the protesters, talked with them for a bit, and then knelt together in a show of solidarity and unity. For just a few seconds, they weren’t occupier and occupied; they were fellow New Yorkers hoping for peace in their city.

One of those officers, Lt. Robert Cattani, subsequently apologized for this moment of humanity. In a letter to his colleagues, he wrote: 

To The Men and Women of Midtown Precinct South,

I know most of you hate reading emails and are probably too exhausted to keep your eyes open long enough to read this so I’ll try to keep it as short as possible.

As most of you know on Sunday during the protest at Foley square, I made a horrible decision to give into a crowd of protestors demands and kneeled alongside several other officers. The conditions prior to the decision to take a knee were very difficult as we were put center stage with the entire crowd chanting. I know I made the wrong decision. We didn’t know how the protestors would have reacted if we didn’t and were attempting to reduce any extra violence. I thought maybe that one protestor/rioter who saw it would later think twice about fighting or hurting a cop, I was wrong. At least that what I told myself when we made that bad decision. I know that it was wrong and something I will be shamed and humiliated about for the rest of my life. We all know that the asshole in Minneapolis was wrong, yet we don’t concede for other officers’ mistakes …. I do not place blame on anyone other than myself for not standing my ground. I did not consider the consequences or facts of what I was doing …. Anyone who really knows me, knows that this goes against every principle and value I stand for. I would like to think that being up for almost 40 hours and walking over 32 miles in two days might have clouded my judgement, yet still no excuse …. I was there for the peaceful protests, I was there for the fights with the rioters at night. I walked, I fought, I bleed and I still kept showing up. I spent the first part of my career thriving to build a reputation of a good cop. I threw that all in the garbage on Sunday.

So from the bottom of my heart and soul I am sorry and ashamed. Since then I have been struggling with the decision I had made, not being able to eat, or sleep. I at one point came to a rash decision to leave the department. I could not imagine the idea of ever coming back to work and putting on the uniform I so wrongly shamed. However, I decided that was the easy way out for me and I will continue to come to work every day being there for my personnel.

I want especially apologize to everyone from MTS: I let you down, I understand your frustration and anger. I know the cop in me wants to kick my own ass. I want you to know that I don’t expect anyone to accept my apology, nor do I deserve it. Please know that just like the first half of my career I will work every day for the rest of it to rebuild the confidence you once had in me.

Thank you and may god watch over you all.

So the fact of apologizing for attempting to find common ground with protesters is a sad state, and the reaction of the police unions that they’re “out there battling” and demanding that politicians and the media “stop treating us like animals and thugs and start treating us with some respect” shows us how long the road to civic health will be.

But as bad as those are, it’s the language beneath it all that shows the rotted frame that any meaningful police reform must dig out.

  • Lt. Cattani apologized for “giving in,” for not “standing his ground.”
  • He apologized for attempting to use personal judgment rather than following orders.
  • He apologized for trying to reduce tensions.
  • He apologized for taking some responsibility for the bad actions of some police colleagues.
  • He believes that being a “good cop” means that he walked, he fought, he bled, but he still kept showing up.
  • His apology includes other manhood-markers like he was “up for almost 40 hours and walk[ed] over 32 miles,” the valorization of stoic suffering.
  • His own assessment of his reputation is now “in the garbage.” 
  • When someone makes a mistake, the appropriate police response is to kick his ass.
  • He hopes that god will watch over his fellow officers rather than the entirety of a city in crisis

This is the abbreviated anthem of our stunted, wretched beliefs about manhood. And that’s why efforts toward police reform are so difficult; we’re applying policy tools to a culture problem.

More tomorrow.