As a child, I was taught police officers follow the law and protect citizens because that’s their civic duty and oath.
My father worked as a police officer in the Newark Police Department for more than 19 years. Other family members have worked in the Newark Police Department in administrative roles and all the way up in the ranks. I looked up to law enforcement with admiration and respect. They held honor.
In the mid 70’s, Newark had stables at the precincts, and officers would patrol the streets on horseback. I would visit the stables and have lunch at the precinct where my father worked. These officers were our friends and family. I trusted them.
But that changed once I entered the criminal justice system at the age of 42 years old. I will never forget the tactics law enforcement used to get a conviction. It is embedded in my heart and mind.
The dictionary version of “The Blue Wall of Silence” is, “adherence to a code of conduct that places loyalty to fellow officers above all other values.”
Loyalty is to each fellow officer and not to the vulnerable people entering the justice system, many of whom have mental illnesses like I did.
One of the many devastating harms of the Blue Wall is the toll it takes on mentally ill individuals. Law enforcement capitalize on their vulnerability, taking advantage of someone that has no cognitive understanding of their situation.
When juveniles are arrested, they are required to have a guardian present. The same standard should be held for someone experiencing a mental episode. Advocates need to intervene for individuals experiencing psychosis or psychological suffering when arrested.
One offered solution has been to defund the police. This would allow social workers, psychologists, and other mental health professionals to intervene on behalf of individuals suffering from mental illness during their arrest.
Law enforcement officers are not experts in the medical field and should not be allowed to determine who is suffering from psychosis or a mental impairment. Who is to say you understood your constitutional rights or you understood why you were even arrested? Is it fair that these individuals cannot understand what is going on around them? How can they understand their rights without being taken advantage of?
How many mentally ill incarcerated men and women are victims of the Blue Wall of Silence?
This wall comes in so many different forms and variations in the justice system. Common practice in law enforcement is for them to create a narrative at any length even if it constitutes official misconduct.
Defendants file lawsuits against misconduct. Sometimes they win and sometimes the lies cannot be proven. These cases become unpublished and buried. The officers get a slap on the wrist, and they move on to their next case.
I want to encourage lawmakers, doctors, and judges to realize the struggles in our system. There are cracks that need mending for the system to provide a brighter path for vulnerable individuals entering the system.
My passion for this cause comes from having personally experienced how law enforcement treats the mentally ill.
Society asks, “How do those murderers and criminals sleep at night?” I ask how do the men in blue sleep at night knowing they took a life? If you can’t trust the men and women in blue, who can you trust?
The silence of the mentally ill who are incarcerated is deafening, but I have a voice that wants to be heard.
Our justice system can never break free from this deafening silence as long as the Blue Wall of Silence surrounds law enforcement. The wall must be kicked down.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.