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Police Culture in the United States

a story tinged with the art and culture that surrounds us all…

Awhile ago I came across an article on that while I initially didn’t think it would end up involving art… it ended up doing so in an interesting way.

Ken White’s Confessions of an Ex-Prosecutor is a perfect illustration of what I talk about here at Pink Ink… the intersection of art and reality.

In October 1967, The Andy Griffith Show ran an episode in which Opie secretly recorded an accused bank robber in the town jail talking to his lawyer, and urged his father to take the tape as evidence. Sheriff Taylor erased the tape and admonished his son. “You bugged the conversation between a lawyer and his client. Now that’s violating one of the most sacred rights of privacy.” Andy Griffith played the scene firmly, like a wise TV dad and upstanding lawman. “Whether a man is guilty or innocent, we have to find that out by due process of law.”

Griffith was the father we all wanted and the police officer we happily believed we had. In 1967, in the waning years of the Warren Court, that sentiment was still popular and plausible on a mainstream television show.

The mood changed quickly. Assassinations, race riots, a bloody Democratic convention, and law-and-order campaign rhetoric helped frame constitutional rights as impediments to justice rather than an essential element of it. Politicians like Richard Nixon helped convince America that the lawlessness they saw on TV was the consequence of the constitutional rights recognized and protected by the Warren Court.

By 1971, an equally classic scene about rights looked utterly different. In the movie Dirty Harry, an outraged district attorney harangues Clint Eastwood, playing title character, Inspector Harry Callahan, over his unlawful search of a crazed killer: “Does Escobedo ring a bell? Miranda? I mean, you must have heard of the Fourth Amendment!”

“Well I’m all broken up about that man’s rights,” counters Callahan, voicing the emerging sentiment. When Callahan is told that his illegal search means the gun is inadmissible at trial, he snaps, “Well then the law’s crazy.”

Eastwood plays the hero in this scene; the district attorney is played as a weak, appeasing bureaucrat and a judge as a doddering, detached academic. Just four years after the Andy Griffith episode, respect for rights is portrayed as ignoble.



This is an example of art recording culture, history, that can be valuable to us in our current world regardless of whether or not you like the artworks it was recorded in.

It’s just like how photographs of US police officers from the 70’s side by side with modern officers can be wildly illustrative. What better way to explain our current police culture than by seeing a 1970’s police officer in a powder blue uniform next to a modern police officer in a uniform of such a dark blue it’s nearly black…

Art in all of its forms records history without us even perceiving it… whether it’s photography, TV shows, or movies… art is the ultimate recorder of humanity.

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