Rosa Brooks was a fortysomething Georgetown Law School professor in 2015 when she applied to join the reserves of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department. Being “white, female, over-educated, brought up on the political left,” as she puts it, she did not fit the stereotype of a cop (even a part-time volunteer one). But her new book Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City sets out to bust exactly that stereotype.
Documenting the five years she spent with the MPD — one of the law enforcement branches deployed at the Capitol on January 6 — the book challenges the “us versus them” rhetoric Brooks heard so often in her academic circles, including from her mother, journalist, and activist Barbara Ehrenreich. She wanted an insider’s view of policing, to see clearly the structures, pressures, and attitudes that led America to become one of the most overpoliced countries in the world, especially in communities of color.
GEN caught up with Brooks to talk about how cops are trained to be defensive, whether police should have more autonomy to make decisions, and what she wishes her academic counterparts would see about the realities of policing.
GEN: Many people associate police with the use of force, often violent — but what is the reality of day-to-day policing?
Brooks: They’re intervening in family disputes, helping people who’ve been mugged, responding to burglary reports, to reports of an abandoned car, etc. Most of that involves paperwork, listening to people. Or trying to refer people to other city services.
Almost all police officers, almost all the time, are not being violent or abusive or even making all that many arrests. Yet the small percentage of police officers who are behaving in a hostile, disrespectful, bullying fashion can just have an incredibly outsized and devastating impact on community trust and well-being.
During training, police internalize the idea that they will be put in danger. What are the implications?