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Mike Pondsmith: Cops and Racists

So. Here we are.

First, I’ll answer the question you think you want to ask me but really don’t want to ask me. Yeah, I’ve been pulled over by cops more times than I care to remember. And at least once, I was pretty sure the cop (who was off duty at the time and flagged me into a deserted street area) was planning to pound me for no reason until he found out that I was friends with a ton of local cops who were going to investigate whatever happened to me. And there was the period when the local cops decided to pretty much harass me whenever they saw me; until I mentioned it to a friend who was the City Councilman in charge of police oversight–and then, miraculously, it was like a magical “don’t mess with this guy” bubble appeared around me from then on.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m a black guy with friends who are cops and LEOs (Law Enforcement Officers) of all stripes. I also know some pretty high-powered people who guard my back. I’m not a relatively faceless black guy just minding my own business when some cop gets an urge to bust heads or some “Karen” decides to release her inner racist because she just can’t help it but she really isn’t a racist at all and she wouldn’t have done that, really. Even so, there’s no safe level of being black in America. You could be a senator; a  famous actor, a brilliant scientist or even the recipient of the Nobel Prize, but to the supremacist with a badge, or the secret racist who really doesn’t want to consider the idea that someone who doesn’t look like them could actually be a living, breathing human being with hopes, dreams and rights just like they have, you are a target. Every single case I have just described has happened in this so-called post racial America. It’s just that a lot of people would rather just pretend it isn’t happening.

But here’s something I want to tell those of you who think the color of their skin makes them safe. “Your” cops are out of control. They don’t care about who they work for anymore. Like the cops in Cyberpunk, they work for themselves. They have weapons, power and invulnerability that has been granted to them because of the devil’s deal the people in power made with them since the 90’s.

You take care of the people we’re trying to keep control of, and we will give you whatever you want.

Most of the cops I know retired out long ago. They were good cops. They honored the Badge. But there’s a reason they got out when they did. They tell me that policing has changed. They tell me about the corrupt guys who are dealing drugs, seizing property and acting like street gangsters. They tell me about the heavy steroid use that is turning some cops into ‘roid raging monsters.  They tell me about the guys who didn’t have the cojones to join up to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan who are now playing “soldier” on the streets of America instead. They describe the sadists who figure a badge gives them the right to beat in the heads of anyone who “crosses” them. They emphasize with the cops who are basically good guys who joined up to be the heroes and protectors of their neighborhoods, but who are ground down by their corrupt gangster wannabe co-workers, the police unions who shield the bad guys no matter what they do, and the higher ups who still subscribe to that devil’s bargain.

You take care of the people we’re trying to keep control of, and we will give you whatever you want.

There’s an old saying: First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a socialist.  Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

If you think police brutality isn’t going to get to you, you’d better reconsider. Because the flip side of that devil’s deal is that any of us can be lumped into the groups that the people in power want to keep control of. They aren’t your cops; they’re the people in power’s cops. And those people will use them against you just the same as they have used them against black people. They’re already beating, gassing and shooting all kinds of American citizens in the streets; black, white, Asian; you pick a group and I can probably show you a half dozen videos to prove my point. They’re even attacking the press; who, more than anyone, are supposed to be sacrosanct in a free society. Because in the end, this is what it’s all about; Control. Terror. Domination. Enforcing the authoritarian doctrines of the people who want, need and crave power.

If you don’t believe me, maybe you should read this article from a real cop:

I’ve known a bad cop just like this guy personally. I thought he was an okay guy. I was wrong.

It’s been about twenty years; he’s probably out of prison by now.

When I wrote Cyberpunk many years ago, I meant it as a warning, not an aspiration. Of what happens when Power, Money, and Ruthlessness combine. Of what happens when the America you think you know morphs into a tyrannical state that combines the worst of corporate excess with the worst of authoritarian tendencies. We’re speeding on the way towards that Dark Future right now, and the color of your skin, or the money in your bank account are not going to spare you. It’s time to wake up; to face down the people who want in the end, to enslave all of us.

So where do we go from here? Here are a few goals to start:

  1. Establish strong national laws prohibiting false, racially motivated reporting to police. Many states already have laws to that effect; we just need to enforce them. If Karen realizes she will face a felony charge for “weaponizing” the police on her behalf, she’s going to stop that pronto.
  2. Break or otherwise renegotiate current contracts with police unions. Right now, the biggest obstacle towards better policing are the police unions. They obstruct their political bosses at every turn, as well as fight legitimate DOJ oversight. They also cover for bad cops and allow them to move from department to department unhindered, spreading corrupt policing wherever they go. The implied threat of “blue flu” or an outright walkout is the way police unions force city governments to accept these contracts. In the Mob, they call this a “protection racket.” Is this how we want to ensure our cities have good policing? Think about it.
  3. Demilitarize police by prohibiting the sale of surplus military hardware to departments. In the early 2000’s, the military realized that it could offload old or out of date equipment to police departments at a pittance of value. But an armored assault vehicle from the Vietnam Era is just as effective as ever when you’re using it against civilian targets. Are we planning to fight a house to house war on our own citizens? If we are, it’s time to stop that now.
  4. Establish a strong national group equivalent to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but dedicated to police oversight and transparency. As a unified group, they will be able to bring the money and clout needed to force departments to return to fair, uncorrupted, non-racially biased policing. A good start will be to establish a national database of “bad cops” so that they are unable to move around from department to department.

Here’s are a lot of organizations to support getting the above goals underway. Look at who they are and what they need and ask yourself how you can help. 

I can’t vouch for all of them. But you’ve gotta start somewhere.

I don’t care what your skin color is or what your orientations are. This a fight all of us have a stake in.  This is our future, and the future of our children and grandchildren. And if you fail them, in the end, they will be the ones who will judge you. Remember; the Cyberpunk future is a warning; not an aspiration. Whether we hear the warning is up to you.

Mike Pondsmith

For those who want a starting point in taking action, R. Talsorian Games is working with DriveThruRPG on three initiatives to raise money for the National Police Accountability Project.

  1. We’ve bundled every book in our Cybergeneration line together and raised the price by 200%. Every penny we make on these bundles will go to the NPAP. This bundle will run to the end of the month. You can still pick up the individual PDFs at the normal price.
  2. Right now, profits from any sales of the Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit at DriveThruRPG will go to the NPAP.
  3. Finally, DriveThruRPG is offering 6 bundles representing around $500 of product each for only $10. The benefits go to one of three charities. You’ll find Cyberpunk 2020 in NPAP Bundle 1.

Until next time, let’s change the world.

11 thoughts on “Mike Pondsmith: Cops and Racists Leave a comment

  1. Hi Mike.
    We, those who lives in Brazil, are expecting the same kind of social problems.
    With a similar kind of goverment against civil rights in charge.
    And, in our Cyberpunk 2020 Brasil comunity, we have had an unnexpecty upraise of problems with racist and fascist comentaries of some members (ex-members, in this case).
    In a F.. cyberpunk comunnity!!!
    So, a lot of brazilians, in special black ones, are very solidary with the americans in this times.
    Sometimes I think the more problematic pandemic is this kind of hate we have to fight.

    But all I can say is: If ME, who doesn´t fight against policial bruttality diary (i´m not black, and this make a lot of diference when police is racist), racial politic stupidity, if Im really tyred and pissed of this kind of situation, I can only imagine how angry people who are victim of this violence are.´

    A Brasillian Rapper, Mano Brown, have a very good line: “Periferia é periferia em qualquer lugar”. Something like “poor neightbohours are the same, everywhere”.
    Good luck and I hope better days there and here.
    (Sorry for the bad english)

  2. Hey Mike, glad to hear from you on the issue. I’ve followed R. Talsorian Games since the beginning in the 1980’s.

  3. Thank you Maximum Mike!

    I also really appreciate you getting Yuji Kaida to do the cover art for Mekton Zeta all those years ago, someone that really cares about the art and the artist behind it!

  4. Thank you for this eye opener. I grew up a teenager in the 80s in France, playing Cyberpunk 2020 without realizing the background it was coming from. i’ve played other Cyberpunk-themed games and enjoyed them all but after reading your piece, I’ll go back to yours (in any of its future iterations) and make sure to pay attention to the subtext.

    Also, I found some echo of your analysis in an AskHistorian thread on Reddit, although they may have an even somber outlook that yours, with the violence starting about 150 yrs earlier:

  5. You know how it works, dude. Whilst I’m sure race does play an issue in cops minds; the ones who make their lives harder by acting hardass seem to do it from some screwed up perception that if they *don’t* act hardass then maybe things will be worse.

    Like with Jeff Payne who aggressively arrested Nurse Alex Wubbells. There was no reason for him to do what he did, and only did it on account of “She’s not accoding me the proper respect by doing what I tell her to do, well this just won’t do at all”.

    Or Officer Brailsford, who shot Daniel Shaver in a screwed up game of Simon Says.
    It’s not like he didn’t have backup, and it’s not like he couldn’t have held Daniel at gunpoint letting another cop move in for the arrest.

    But he decided to end a man’s life for… god knows why.

    And in both instances, the cop and the victim were white.

    Or those cops at one of the recent protests, who formed a riot line and shoved a very old dude onto the concrete when he wasn’t doing anything aggressive.

    And it’s those cops who act arseholsih and wind up making things worse for their fellows. They wind up causing the very thing they fear and that’s people *not* respecting the cops because they’re afraid of being the next Floyd or Garner or Shaver.

  6. I have little doubt that there are many subjects that you and I would likely disagree strongly on. With that said, I am profoundly impressed by the intelligence and reason you showed in your discussion of the problem at hand. I might suggest that the cops you identify as the problem (and yes, that includes most of them because of the devil’s bargain that you so cogently described) are a menace to us all, irrespective of skin color, this is ultimately a distinction without a difference, and I believe that we both agree that whatever their motives, the current situation with cops is a serious problem that requires urgent attention.

    Your recommendations are excellent, and I fully endorse them all. Let me suggest that adding a “(5) Remove the doctrine of qualified immunity” would be a useful enhancement.

    Thank you for your insight and wisdom, you are the kind of person that we need to further productive conversations to deal with these immediate problems. I feel fortunate that I found your work.

  7. I’ve been recommending this article for probably a solid week now. The time that Mike invested in polishing this text is evident. Not only is it eloquent, it’s actionable. Had this blog post been delivered as a graduation speech, I fully believe that it would have been remembered as an all time great speech, right up there with “This Is Water.”

    We’re proud of you, Mike.

  8. Compelling words. Applause for * specific * action plans and ending with “change the world”. Love the clarity of RPG settings, paritcularly the dystopian Cybperunk hellworld, as ‘warnings/cautionary-tales’ and not aspirational…

    Makes me wonder how each gamer’s preference of RPG setting reflects their life conditions, views, or fundamental need to fix/improve-the-world?

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