Blue Wall of Silence: An Explanation
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What is the Blue Wall of Silence?
The term “Blue Wall of Silence” is an unofficial oath many cops take when they get into the law enforcement system. It refers to the idea that cops don’t rat out other cops. They aren’t to speak up about unjust actions their coworkers take, and they are never to testify against other cops. No matter what they see their coworkers do, they have a loyalty to the oath, and they cannot go against other cops. These unjust actions include any errors, misconduct, or crimes on the other cops’ part, including any and all police brutality. Officers who live by the code will feign ignorance of the situation or say that they didn’t see anything happen in the first place when questioned.
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Response to: “The Blue Wall of Silence is not bad! It's only an innocent honor code!”
While many may think that the Blue Wall of Silence has good intentions and a positive purpose, its suspicious rules say otherwise. Also known as the “Blue Shield” or “Blue Code,” this code has often been used to cover up police officers’ mistakes and crimes. The Blue Wall of Silence is defined as: “a rule among police officers not to report on another officer’s errors, misconducts, and or crimes when questioned about an incident of misconduct involving another colleague, during a course of an inquiry.” Thus, the Blue Wall of Silence is an unwritten code that rules over many police officers’ lives. If an officer decides to maintain this loyalty, they willingly ignore the presence of police brutality and misconduct around them, which leads to many of the crimes committed by police officers remaining unknown. This turns the cops with good intentions into bad cops, since they are choosing to stay silent. In a National Institute of Justice study, when cops were asked about racial inequality in policing, “5.1 percent of white officers believed there was such unequal treatment; 57.1 percent of black officers believed there was unequal treatment; 12.4 percent of other minority officers believed there was such unequal treatment.”
As an analogy, imagine that you witness a kid being bullied. The bullies see you watching, so they come up to you and threaten you. If you report it to the principal, then they will bully you. If you side with them, they will leave you alone. As you decide to stay on their side, you become great friends with them, but you are enabling their behavior by remaining silent, even if it is in fear of their retaliation. At the same time, you watch them bully other innocent kids. You see it happening, but are refusing to tell anyone about it because you do not want to lose the friendship or experience retribution for breaking the “Wall of Silence” they have established. This scenario is similar to how the Blue Shield is used, except instead of bullying, there are police wrongdoings and cases of misconduct going unreported.
Behind the Blue Wall are numerous accounts of crimes such as the racism, injustice, and prejudice perpetrated towards Black people and members of the LGBTQ+ community. These officers violate the law, using their power as police against people like Eric Garner who was put in a chokehold by a New York police officer named Daniel Pantaleo. While his behavior was violating guidelines, many of his coworkers made up excuses as to why he did it, such as “needed self-defense,” and how his behavior was not criminal. Another example is Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old who was shot and killed. The police officers who killed him, Timothy Loehman and Frank Garmback, were not indicted, and were left alone.
Police are afraid to speak up. In the same national study, “24.9 percent thought whistleblowing was not worth it; 67.4 percent said whistleblowers were likely to be ‘given a cold shoulder;’ 52.3 percent did not think it unusual for police officers to ‘turn a blind eye.’” The toxicity of some police stations makes it so that when police do report misconduct, action is taken against them and they are treated differently. There is no true mechanism that protects them from retaliation and retribution from the very people are supposed to prevent crime and misconduct. Even with laws attempting to reduce corruption, the police who speak up still face consequences.
Here are some examples:
“A detective had been marginalized, denied a pay increase, and transferred into less attractive night and weekend shifts after he refused to destroy reports relating to a 2011 fatality caused by another police officer.”
“He specifically described his colleagues stealing his equipment, interfering with his radio calls, threatening to kill him and his family, and scrawling the word “rat” on his locker.”
A Washington Post story from 1998 states, “D.C. police officers who complain about supervisors or publicly criticize the department end up on a "hit list" that can result in unwanted transfers, a dock in pay, unfavorable assignments, and other retaliatory measures, five officers testified yesterday.”
In this podcast, an ex-officer and sergeant in Chicago tell their stories
Sgt. refused to sign off on a police report of an off-duty Chicago police officer shooting an unarmed 18-year-old, because it wrongly categorized the kid as an offender and the officer as a victim. He was given an unfavorable position because of that.
A former officer reported lack of police accountability with evidence and witnesses. He was accused of being biased against police and ordered to change his findings.
The Washington Post estimated that 296 unarmed civilians were killed between the beginning of January 2015 and the end of November 2019. Although this was happening, the police community and its leaders stayed silent. Even the so-called “good cops” who speak up against police brutality and injustices are silenced by the system, showing the need for widespread police reform and a change in “Blue culture”. It is clear that the Blue Wall of Silence is evidence of rampant corruption in the police system, as it forces many to stay silent about the crimes of other police officers.
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