The Code of Silence/Justice/Or Just-Us

It's almost a given these days, especially with the slaughter taking place on Chicago's streets and the startling, dismal, lack of arrests for both murders and shootings, by most counts 15% are cleared by arrest, that we are hearing more and more, and then some more, that it is somehow all tied into the disconnect between the cops and the community.  If one believed that we would have to ask ourselves why is the code of silence unique to Chicago's cops?  The answer is, to think that is nonsense.

The definition of the code of silence is "a condition in effect when a person opts to withhold what is believed to be vital or important information, voluntarily, or involuntary."  The code of silence is usually kept for a multitude of reasons including threats of force, or danger to ones self, or being branded as a traitor, or an outcast within the organization. Make no mistake cops have been known to have developed a "blue code of silence."  Anybody who has seen or read the the book "Serpico" would have a better understanding of just how difficult it can be for a cop to break that code.  Serpico himself was conflicted between doing the morally right thing in exposing corruption by his fellow officers in New York, and weighing that against his survival on those dangerous streets, when fellow officers at times literally have your life in their hands.  Indeed Serpico's courageous decision to report what he saw cost him a bullet in the face when none of his fellow cops answered his radio call for help.


In terms of professional courtesy it would be out of respect that an officer does not make a report for a rule or law that has been broken by another officer. While there are social tensions between the community and the cops, the code of silence is used to maintain the solidarity among his fellow cops, so as to appear that what they are doing is morally just in society.  Some cops abide by the code of silence out of fear.  The fear stems from the possible punishment that can be faced, including the loss of promotional opportunities, being treated as an outcast, and of course that very thing Serpico faced, not receiving back up in a potentially dangerous call.

I want to be clear that my next observations are not a case of "Schadenfreude"which is taking pleasure in another's misfortune.   I'm merely leveling the playing field of the code of silence. This code is by no means exclusive to "Blue." The code of silence was famously practiced in Irish -American neighborhoods in Boston's Charlestown, South Boston and Summerville neighborhoods.  Dan Goldberg and Danny Ben Moshe won Australia's most prestigious journalism award,  The Walkley Documentary Award,  for " Code of Silence" which covers the fight for an investigation into allegations of child sex abuse at Yeshivah College an all-male Orthodox Jewish school.  It portrayed the real life experiences of an Orthodox Jewish father and his son, and the son breaks the code of silence by going public with his story of being sexually abused as a student.  A more famous example of the code of silence is "Omerta" the Italian Mafia code of silence, until finally the US Government penetrated the code with wiretaps and new laws to combat the scourge of organized crime, revealed in the Valachi  hearings by the senate in 1971.

Prior to Valachi the world never heard the words Cosa Nostra (our thing) the code was so strong.  High ranking members of the Catholic church engaged in the code of silence for decades to avoid the detection of an epidemic of sexual abuse by members of their clergy. The code of silence is also practiced by lawyers, doctors and in almost every walk of life when it comes to reporting fellow co-workers, friends and acquaintances.

We from time to time have heard the expression, usually involving a scandal, in some form or another "what did so and so know, and when did they know it."  The cover up and the code of silence  can be, and has been, explosive at various times.  I believe if we really and truly studied it, we would have to agree that the code of silence is a human condition. It's difficult to be called a stool pigeon, an informer, and all the other names associated with breaking the code.  However, one thing is certain, it has many more colors then blue. In my opinion the driving force in Chicago's neighborhoods is fear. Vicious, thug, gang members, have shown time, and again, that they will resort to violence against anybody who dares to step forth against them.  To blame all that silence on the cops is just nonsense.


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