The cover of the Saturday Evening Post on September 20, 1958 featured “The Runaway” by Norman Rockwell. An actual Massachusetts State Trooper was used for the photograph that later became the painting. Rockwell would later paint an individual portrait of that trooper as a way of expressing his appreciation to law enforcement. The iconic painting portrays a law enforcement officer in a wholesome way that seems almost unreal in contrast to the modern media portrayal of law enforcement officers.
Every video of an officer playing basketball with neighborhood kids, or buying a homeless person groceries, seems to be countered by videos of an officer treating someone poorly. There is also the seemingly endless stream of “use of force” videos that inspire debate and, sometimes, public outrage. All of this significantly impacts the way the public views law enforcement.
That perception is more than just a public relations issue. It affects a topic that most police academy students study, known as “officer presence.” This is the concept that the way citizens react to an individual officer, or officers in general, is based on a number of factors. Those factors begin with the appearance of the officer’s vehicle, their uniform, the confidence with which they speak, and continuing on to the opinion the citizen has of the officer’s agency in general. Many of these factors can be controlled by the officer; however, many of the factors are influenced by agencies or the law enforcement community as a whole.
One of the tools that law enforcement organizations have adopted in retaliation to their often unfair portrayals is the boycott. Most recently, the New York Police Department Detectives Union called for a boycott of Dunkin’ Donuts. The boycott stems from an alleged incident at the Dunkin’ Donuts located at 1993 Atlantic Ave. in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Two NYPD detectives went into the location and were refused service. The officers reportedly waited to order and when the employee asked for the order of a man that entered after them, the man asked if it was their turn. The employee replied that he refuses to serve cops.
The call for a boycott was at least somewhat effective, with several New York locations reporting an absence of law enforcement customers.
A release from Dunkin Donuts tells a different story, blaming the incident on the layout of the store. The franchise claims that the officers were standing at the pickup counter and, because the store was busy at that time, the employees did not see the officers.
Whichever way the incident unfolded, it resulted in a call from the NYPD detectives’ union to boycott all Dunkin’ Donuts, a franchise which has historically been pro-law enforcement. The call for a boycott was at least somewhat effective, with several New York locations reporting an absence of law enforcement customers.
The boycott strategy has been employed, or threatened, many times within the last few years. Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime performance sparked boycotts by law enforcement groups all over the country. The performance, in combination with the music video for her song “Formation,” led to the Miami Fraternal Order of Police calling for a boycott of her tour’s opening event, which was held at Marlins Park in Miami. The Miami Fraternal Order of Police asked for officers to decline working off duty security at the event.
Officers are often able to supplement their income by working events where private entities need or want additional security. The officers are paid privately by the entity hiring them, but they are typically allowed to use the uniforms and equipment assigned to them by their agency. The Beyoncé boycott meant that officers would not be present at the concert, but if they were needed, on duty officers would respond like any other call. The boycott was soon expanded to New York City, Tennessee, Dallas, and numerous other concert locations. In addition to the boycotts, the response to her performance and video also included statements by the National Sheriff’s Association blaming her for several officer deaths.
The Santa Clara Police Chief, Michael Sellers…asked for his officers to put the public’s safety first and to defend Kaepernick’s right to speak…
The public protest by football quarterback Colin Kaepernick also created cries for boycott from police. Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem, made statements accusing law enforcement of murdering minorities, and was seen wearing socks depicting pigs in police uniforms at practice. As a result of these actions, the Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association called for a boycott of security positions at Levi’s Stadium for San Francisco 49ers games. The Santa Clara Police Chief, Michael Sellers, took a different approach and asked for his officers to put the public’s safety first and to defend Kaepernick’s right to speak even though it was oppositional to law enforcement.
Recently, the organization Blacks In Law Enforcement of America has called for a boycott of the NFL if Kaepernick is not signed by an NFL team. In May, the organization called for other black law enforcement groups, as well as civil rights groups, to also boycott the NFL if Kaepernick is not signed. Even though Kaepernick is not currently signed to any NFL team, the quarterback may once again find himself at the center of an NFL boycott controversy.
Even Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream could not avoid a boycott call when it released a statement in October of 2016 supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and recognizing the existence of systemic racism in American society. The counter organization, Blue Lives Matter, responded with a call for all Americans to boycott the ice cream brand and accused the company of furthering an agenda that had caused the deaths of numerous officers.
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman is an author and renowned expert on law enforcement and military training. He has authored several books and routinely speaks to law enforcement groups on the topic of killing and the use of force. Grossman has popularized a metaphor that organizes society into three groups. Those groups are Sheep, Wolves, and Sheep dogs. The sheep represent the majority of society, the wolves represent those in society who prey on the innocent, and the sheep dogs are law enforcement and those that protect society. Grossman likens the wolves and sheep dogs in that they both have a propensity for violence. He also explains that the sheep do not like the sheep dogs until the wolves come around. The metaphor creates a noble image of an officer who stands by to protect even those who do not like them.
Officers responded quickly to protect the very people that were there to protest them.
That image is one that played out in July of 2016 when Micah Xavier Johnson opened fire on law enforcement officers who were working an event in Dallas organized to protest the killing of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by law enforcement. Five law enforcement officers were killed during the attack. Officers responded quickly to protect the very people that were there to protest them. Rev. Jeff Hood, who was one of the protest organizers, described seeing officers running toward the gunshots as he and others in the crowd ran the opposite direction.
The boycotts of numerous businesses, Beyoncé, and yes, even ice cream, seem to be in stark contrast to the actions and mentality that were displayed in Dallas. The law enforcement community has expressed a concern for protecting the overall image of officers. With the conversation about law enforcement continuing, law enforcement leadership should have ample opportunity to influence that image for the better. Rather than boycotting, leadership might consider an attitude like that of Santa Clara Police Chief Chief Michael Sellers, in order to open a dialogue that could lead to actual progress.
On August 12th in Arizona, Marshawn Lynch of the Oakland Raiders took a knee during the national anthem. That action continues the conversation and the opportunity for law enforcement to engage in meaningful conversations with the individuals at the forefront of a developing conversation on how we police our society—a tactic that might be more successful than putting down the donuts and ice cream.