Nation Books' favorite ex-cop is Norm Stamper, the former police chief of Seattle, who, in retirement, has become an outstanding commentator on matters concerning criminal justice, particularly the war on drugs. The book that Norm wrote for us six years ago — Breaking Rank: A Top Cop's Expose of the Dark Side of American Policing — was as bold and radical a book you could imagine coming from a senior American police officer. It was also fabulously written; obviously a lifetime having to write police reports had not damaged his style as a writer who admitted to us once that his literary influences included Gabriel García Márquez and Dostoyevsky.
Breaking Rank opens with a powerful letter to former Tacoma police chief David Brame, who shot his estranged wife before turning the gun on himself. Norm goes on to introduce us to the violent, secret world of domestic abuse that cops must not only navigate, but which some also perpetrate. He exposes a troubling culture of racism, sexism, and homophobia that is still pervasive within the twenty-first-century force; then he explores how such prejudices can be addressed. He reveals the dangers and temptations that cops face, describing in gripping detail the split-second life-and-death decisions. Stamper draws on lessons learned to make powerful arguments for drug decriminalization, abolition of the death penalty, and radically revised approaches to prostitution and gun control.
We hope Norm finds the time one day to revise Breaking Rank or even write a new book for us. But Norm is dedicated to writing mystery novels. And he is of course a terrifically smart speaker on a number of issues, including: ending the Drug War, abolishing the Death Penalty, vanquishing domestic violence, making schools and neighborhoods safe, and driving bigotry and brutality out of the criminal justice system.
Last week he published this extremely insightful piece in The Nation about the rise of para-military policing in the United States, particularly in the wake of the disturbingly militaristic response to the Occupy movement across the country. Norm writes:
The paramilitary bureaucracy and the culture it engenders — a black-and-white world in which police unions serve above all to protect the brotherhood — is worse today than it was in the 1990s. Such agencies inevitably view protesters as the enemy. And young people, poor people and people of color will forever experience the institution as an abusive, militaristic force — not just during demonstrations but every day, in neighborhoods across the country.
You can read the rest of Norm's essay here.
And here is an interview on Democracy Now! where Norm discusses many of the issues in his Nation article and also admits making "huge mistakes" in 1999 during the WTO protests which he presided over as the police chief of Seattle, mistakes that continue to be made.