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Heroes Or Tyrants? When Good Cops Do Bad Things

Heroes Or Tyrants? When Good Cops Do Bad Things

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Researcher Leslie Erickson explained, “Anti-heroes are protagonists that live by the guidance of their own moral compass, striving to define and construe their own values as opposed to those recognized by the society in which they live. Ultimately, their methods may depict how they alter over time, either leading to punishment, un-heroic success, or redemption.”

Over the years I’ve heard men speak of exacting their own brand of justice if their daughter or wife were to be raped or hurt in any way. I’ve seen ordinary people take matters into their own hands and good cops do bad things when their morality is predicated on a broken system of law and justice. Replaced by the commandment of “an eye for an eye,” their moral perspective seeks harmony and restoration through vengeance and suffering.

As a fan of comic books and superheroes, I’ve written extensively on equivalent themes of retributive justice which are widespread and carry the anti-hero traits that force us to personally examine our own ethical boundaries. We see it with films such as The Punisher, V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Wolverine, Daredevil, & Elektra. Even Batman has been placed under the lens of scrutiny as a hero, anti-hero or villain. Two comic-to-film adaptations that brilliantly tempt us through this motif are Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

Given the long-running success of Tim Burton’s 1989 classic Batman, Nolan’s films provided even more character deconstruction and, through them, we can place into vivid perspective the behavioral traits, decisions, and sacrifices that can drive good (or poor) police work.

In the beginning of the film, Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne had saved his training mentor from a fire, however, when that mentor returns to Gotham City to exact his own brand of justice, a surprised Batman is forced to respond—not by his training, but by the purpose behind it. In the final scene, the two are fighting within an elevated transit car. With the train about to plummet from a damaged track ahead, it appears the two are destined for extinction.

Having been mocked by his mentor as weak-minded for not killing as a means to an end, Batman pins his former master down in the subway car and is about to strike a fatal blow. Seeing him angry and confused, the master smiles and exclaims with satisfaction, “You’ve finally learned what you need to do.” Batman quickly retorts, “I’m not going to kill you—but I don’t have to save you.” He quickly uses an explosive device from his utility belt to sear open the rear of the car and flies free as his former master falls to his peril. Hero or anti-hero?

This theme arises again for Batman in The Dark Knight where Gotham’s citizens are forced to resign him as a vigilante. He quickly becomes an outcast and, conflicted throughout the film having used brutal force, Bruce Wayne realizes what he had become in order to defeat criminals. A superhero who distributes his own brand of justice would only be a tyrant. This forces us to ask a similar question, “How far can I go and still be different from the bad guys?”

Typically noted as our “shadow side” in classical psychology, this conflicted, destructive nature that we all possess was further explained by Joseph Campbell as the hero vs. the dragon. With the dragon representing one’s inner demons, it illustrates the archetypal theme of the ego’s triumph over regressive trends. For many of us, our dark side remains unconscious so a hero must realize that the shadow exists and must draw strength from it through awareness. Only after coming to terms with our destructive powers are we sufficiently terrible enough to overcome the dragon!

Spiritual theologian Jean Vanier, in her 1999 book, Becoming Human, recognized this human tendency:

“We all tend to wear masks, the mask of superiority or inferiority, the mask of worthiness or of victim. It is not easy to let our masks come off. The removal of these masks lead to an acceptance of who we are—that we have been hurt, and that we have hurt others. This discovery is sometimes a leap in the dark, a blessed moment, a moment of grace, or a moment of enlightenment.”

It is with this sound, moral decision and behind a mask of justice that Batman becomes a true hero—a silent guardian and watchful protector. This seemingly clouded undertaking is indicative of the police culture, and when a good cop does something wrong, we feel the ripples across the globe.

Cops are often condemned for others’ mistakes and are subsequently forced to accept themselves as heroes or tyrants. Decide now: which one are you?

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  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 2 years ago


    The fact of the matter is that society on a whole is held to a different standard than police officers. If a civilian were to become an "anti-hero" as the above author described, he would most likely be (rightfully) thrown in jail when he was finally caught (by police officers). Sadly, the same thing can't be said if the "anti-hero" happened to be a police officer. He/she might face termination of employment, but that would probably be about it. Indeed, police officers usually receive more leeway than their civilian counterparts when it comes to breaking the law. The important thing here, though, is that police officers should and need to be held to the same standard as the rest of society. When a police officer gets off the hook for breaking the same laws that they arrest other people for, it instills in society a mistrust of law enforcement. However, nobody is above the law. Instead, we are all created equal. There is a reason that Dirty Harry is only a movie and that The Punisher is only a comic book. It doesn't work in real life. Somebody who is innocent inevitable gets killed. As for the assumption that "good people can do bad things" idea, how is it possible to gauge if someone is bad or not? If the statement is taken to be true, it creates a undefined line between the good and bad. Perhaps, you gauge how bad someone is on how many bad things they have done, or the severity of the bad things they have done. Of course, this leads to the question of who decides. On top of that, another downside to accepting the "good people do bad things" statement is that it's tantamount to saying " the good outweighs the bad". Such a saying has been used to defend atrocities such as the Holocaust, Stalin's mass murder of his own people, to the justification of slavery in America. It would not be surprising if the "anti-hero" mentality, if accepted, would be used to beat drug users and subsequently lock them in jail for long periods of time, as well as justifying other acts of brutality, etc. "It might seem cruel, but it's what's best for society", would probably be the mantra that would be repeated by law enforcement and politicians alike when interrogated (no pun intended) by the press for their questionable tactics. And herein lies the problem, accepting such and idea justifies cruel and unusual punishment, something that is strictly prohibited by The United States Bill of Rights. Indeed, it is a very frightening prospect once the Bill of Rights is sidestepped, as it would mark the beginning of the end of freedom as WE know it. That being said, do we really need "anti-heroes" in our law enforcement? The answer is quite simple, absolutely not.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    Great discussion, however, maybe the term should be 'quasi hero'. We only allow ourselves the luxary to examine such things when we have some thought and reflection. As we all know, working on the street doesn't lend itself to planned decision making processes. Like Mike Tyson said, 'everybody's got a plan until they get punched in the face.' As humans, we may be caught up in the emotion of the moment, like in the end of a foot chase in a back alley at night. We'll write the report to justify the 'resisting'. Not a big deal and let's hope there are no cameras or witnesses to back up the bad guy's complaint to IAD. That's the reality but so is this. That history is a lesson in repetiveness. Play by the rules and allow the system to release back into the community the ones who will literally get away with murder (or name your crime here). Over time the values in that community will change and a demand of justice, longer sentences, and even the death penalty will follow. You get to go home at night and will likely enjoy your pension after a long and prosperous career.

  • 19jyucm2tzgez_max50


    over 3 years ago


    I think as society we put law enforcement officers on some extremely high pedestal, we expect them to be without fault or blemish. Then when one falls off the pedestal we crucify them for not living up to the standards we set. We are living in a much different world then we where ten or twenty years. Society has grown more violent, the clear visible line that once so easily divided right and wrong has become blurred in society where political correctness and cultural diversity have been forced feed to us. The fact is simple in order for a police officer, state trooper, federal agent etc, to do their job which is protecting society from rapist, murders and thief’s, they are going to have to get off their pedestals. Get down in the muck and mire to do what we have asked of them. Ten30code0100 said it best “Bad things happen to good people, good people do bad things, but that does not mean that they are bad people.”

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    there's the rub how to eliminate crime when police have to follow rules but criminals don't.........oh and thanx @alexy for the comment_"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing" of my favorite sayings, but I never knew who thought it up,now I do!!!

  • Joefriday_max50


    over 3 years ago


    All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

    Edmund Burke
    1729 — 1797

  • Gas_mask_1_max50


    over 3 years ago


    I won't have fans flocking to my statement and I won't win the political correctness award and I don't care. I agree with the "anti-hero." You can call me a bad guy or just as good as the criminal but at the end of the day I know that there is one less murderous, raping, arsonist, evil bastard walking the earth destroying the lives and community that my family and others were meant to enjoy. The bad guys don't play by the rules. Our rules only inhibit ourselves and enable them to be the infection in society that they are. I will continue to weed them out, fighting fire with fire.

  • 251872743_00891b8267_max50


    over 3 years ago


    If these anti-heroes are breaking the law to perform acts of good they feel are warranted. Using their own definition of 'good' to perform illegal acts. Most criminals would say they are doing the same. That reason alone is why I'm not a fan of the anti-hero. I prefer heroes like Superman and the Green Lantern that abide by the law and defende the justice system.

  • Img_1155_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Its all about the Punisher :)

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    Gezzz Dirty Harry is a MOVIE! Sure its easy to hate the villain, you KNOW who it is, but in real life this can get the cop years in prison...(depending on if they do a 'coverup').

    Remember the FBI trying to setup the guy that they THOUGHT had placed a bomb, and then "discovered" it. Richard A. Jewell's life was destroyed by the FBI and only after he died did they find the REAL bomber, Eric Robert Rudolph.
    This is what happens when cops make mistakes, people's lives are destroyed, sometimes by accident & sometimes on purpose.
    The problem comes when 'bad' cops abuses are covered up by the 'good' cops...the small percentage of bad ones needs to be removed, they make all the rest look bad too when they aren't.
    Its cops like these that make the rest of the cop's jobs at least harder, if not more dangerous.

  • Photo_3__max50


    over 3 years ago


    Great article! This is fascinating stuff from a sociological standpoint. Movies and comics like The Boondock Saints and The Punisher really put this question to task. We've all seen cases where a girl is too scared to testify against her rapist, so he walks, or the chain of custody is broken, so a murderer walks. Where is the justice in those cases? The system is imperfect. It's unsettling, but it's what we have to work with.

  • 029_max50


    over 3 years ago


    You can believe in the system all you want, fact is it's broken. Broken mostly due to liberalism, political corectness and the greater erosion of our society and morals. When something bad is happening to you and your loved ones - do you take action or call 911? Remember when criminals would never even think about killing a cop? Now, it's almost a badge of honor for the criminals. Hiam357 - really? That's why people with multiple counts of drug trafficking and illegal weapon possession, etc are out in the streets doing exactly what they were arrrsted for again...because no one is above the law? Foxblood - great example! How's the crime in the UK, no armed citizen, nanny state, multiculturalism works just fine world? Shamrockll - true but just one question - when it happens to want dirty harry and Jack bauer coming? Or perhaps Jon baker and 'Ponch'? Be honest! Guys, be safe and remember that criminals do not play by the rules. Do whatever you have to do or you may be the next name on a wall somewhere.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    Thx for the advice gman. I normally don't point at what others are doing but I'm just frustrated. I mean the process is so inefficient and time consuming. All I'm saying is theres no telling how many great potential officers have been turned away because of the hiring process. Smart and talented people will only put up with so much before moving on to other things. Yeah you can argue that then they aren't commited or didn't perservere but I don't think thats the case. Months of paperwork and testing on my part comes down to a guy in a swivel chair hooking me to a machine, asking me about smoking pot in highschool, and giving his best "scientific guess" on whether or not the squiggly lines on his monitor mean I would make a good officer. Sorry but I can't help but be cynical at this point. I've passed some background checks and failed others without changing any information. It's a game and the best liar wins.

  • 101_max50


    over 3 years ago


    This is to answer Paladin's question. If we stoop to the level of the criminal then we are no longer any better than they are and we have lost. Criminals have come after me but we learn to work within the rules and laws and we take care of business. Remember we are not alone. We have our brothers who will take care of us but in the right way. If my family is in danger all I have to do is let my brothers know and they will deal with him (criminal) in the right way. Any mistake he makes which violates the law will be dealt with. He (the criminal) will no longer be able to focus on me when he has hundreds watching out for him, but it is done in the right way.

    swc985, a word of advice from someone who has been around for a long time. Don't worry about others, be patient don't loose faith and work hard. When you get your chance and I believe that if you truelly want to be an Officer it will happen. Do your best to learn the job to the best of your abilities and you will raise to the top. Remember only 10% truelly know the job and can do it. The rest just get by.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    I've been trying to get hired with a department for two years now after I finished school. While my background isn't that of a choirboy, I've maintained a clean record and moral lifestyle. However, the people being hired are not the most qualified or honest. It's ALL WHO YOU KNOW. I attended school with many cadets and officers and have seen their behavior "when no one is looking." Deparments really need to examine their hiring processes as it has caused me to lose alot of respect and enthusiasm towards a career in law enforcement. Expect to see some of those hired on the 6 O'clock news embarassing their department because they knew Jimbo in Human resorces.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    Bad things happen to good people, good people do bad things, but that does not mean that they are bad people..

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