Codger’s Column: Reboot

Codger is not entirely looking forward to his world returning to normal, not that he knows what normal means anymore.

No masks mean he will have to start shaving regularly again. No social distancing means meetings and parties will be in person and he’ll have to wear pants.

But that’s only the start, because it won’t be a rewind. It’s a total reboot, a brand new ball game. Something happened, and it’s not even over yet.

And this time around, if we aren’t more skeptical of politicians, law enforcement officials, professional pundits, all the people who always claim to know better, we probably deserve what happens and who pushes us there.

Codger is thinking about this while he’s watching the coverage of the trial of George Floyd’s killer and reading the draft report and recommendations of Shelter Island’s police reform and reinvention collaborative, which is in response to a state executive order trying to improve a national disgrace — inept, often biased policing.

If it seems unfair making any kind of parallel between what seems like a murder in Minneapolis with the generally excellent services of Chief Jim Read’s department, it probably is: but we need to tweak even the best if we want a new direction away from the recent past of plague, racism and insurrection.

Codger’s relationship with the police has been mixed. As a young reporter he wrote a number of predominately positive stories about cops, whom he found similar to the jocks he was also covering; like everyone else one-third were great people, one-third were just there and one-third were stone jerks. The cop jerks could be pretty bad because they had power and often unaccountability.

Codger wrote about a narcotics squad who liked his magazine pieces so much they asked him to write a book about them. They even spent time casting the movie.

One day, Codger and the lead cop busted into an apartment where they found a young white woman holding a biracial baby. The cop roughed her up because, he told Codger, he hated to see white girls with black men.

That was almost 60 years ago and the 24-year-old reporter couldn’t figure out what to do. He knew that no one, including the police department or his newspaper, was going to make a case out of his little anecdote, even though it was a window onto so much of what was going on in 1960s America. But how could he keep writing about this hero cop? So Codger bailed out of the book deal. Someone else wrote the book and movie, both called “The French Connection.”

He’s told the story and thought about it often. Other cops, even that one’s partners, shrugged, Hey, that’s the way he is — but he locks up the bad guys!

Nowadays — thanks to braver journalists than Codger — it’s not hard to connect the dots to the epidemic of white cops killing unarmed black people. 

That’s hardly a Shelter Island problem, but no place is exempt from the need for training and understanding, and the careful culling of bigoted officers.

Six years ago, after a Shelter Island fireworks show, Codger, his son and two of his grandchildren were returning home, crossing Shore Road for Stearns Point Road, when a car coming up the hill accelerated toward them. Codger waved his flashlight toward the driver and shouted, “Watch where you’re going.” Several expletives were included. The driver looked startled and braked quickly.

A young state trooper, supposedly directing traffic nearby, shouted, “Watch your mouth, show some respect, there are children here.”

Codger shouted back, “That’s right. And some of them are mine. I don’t want them run over.”

There were more words and expletives, and Codger stayed angry enough to sit down and write about the encounter and send it to Ambrose Clancy.

Codger wrote: “If I were young and Black or Latino, that seemingly inept young fellow might well have become angry because I was not showing him respect. I was challenging his shaky authority.”

He understood that his white entitlement had seen him through.

The Codger column was thus born and here we are, reading that a “major challenge facing the Police Department is the changing demographics of Shelter Island.

There is at the same time an increase in the Hispanic population and an influx of wealthy urban residents. This presents a social conflict on a level that Shelter Island has not previously had to address, having until recent decades been predominantly a middle-class farming and fishing community.”  

We could have used this attempt at reform 60 years ago, even six, but Codger is grateful for it now. We certainly need a Hispanic cop, also a female cop, given the rise in domestic violence. And, why not, a wealthy urban one.