The Origins of the War on Cops

When I joined the Los Angeles Police Department some 35 years ago, it was common practice among officers that upon returning to our cars after handling a radio call, having lunch, or what have you, we would check the ground beneath it for the presence of a bomb. To me, with my paltry experience at the time, the exercise seemed silly. No one I knew had found a bomb under his car, why should I think I would find one under mine?

But this was the early 1980s, and the officers who trained me, many of them veterans of the Vietnam war, had come through the tumult of the ‘60s and ‘70s, with the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers, and all the other revolutionary groups whose aim it was to overthrow the government and whose practices included attacks on police officers. These officers explained to me that some years earlier someone had indeed attempted to blow up an LAPD car, and that the device had been designed to detonate only when the car moved from its parking place. In other words, whoever planted the bomb intended to kill the officers as they drove away. Fortunately for those officers, the bomb failed to detonate when the triggering mechanism malfunctioned. It was only after backing out of the parking space that the officers saw the bomb on the ground and came to realize how close they had come to being blown to bits.

Things changed, and the time came when we no longer looked for bombs under our cars. But as the old saw goes, history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. We are not, fortunately, experiencing the level of social upheaval seen the ‘60s and ‘70s. But for America’s police officers, the echoes of those bad old days are unmistakable. In 2014 came the assassination of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, whose killer, Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley, had posted on Instagram of his intentions to kill police officers in retribution for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The next year brought the riots in Ferguson and smaller-scale violence at anti-police protests across the country. Earlier this month came the horrifying events in Dallas.