It’s a tough time to be a law enforcement officer in the United States.
Every time you turn around, someone’s accusing you of racism or sticking a camera in your face as you try to do your job. Then there are the organizations dedicated to second-guessing your actions, the most high profile of which is CopBlock. With nearly 1.5 million Facebook fans, CopBlock is relentless and gleeful in its posts of alleged cases of police misconduct and abuse of power.
Made up of a loosely affiliated network of grassroots activists, CopBlock members also “patrol” their local law enforcement, monitoring traffic stops and other interactions, often shouting advice to those they perceive as victims. It’s a method that was initiated by the Black Panthers and, unsurprisingly, police have not always taken kindly to this sort of citizen oversight. Some even want to see CopBlock members listed as domestic terrorists for their continued push to engage violently with police.
As former Kershaw County, South Carolina, Republican Party co-chairman Jeff Mattox found out the hard way when he was attacked online after he “liked” a CopBlock link on Facebook, emotions run hard and fast on both sides. There are those who are employing CopBlock’s own methods of Internet trolling in an attempt to stem what they perceive as a culture of violence and, yes, domestic terrorism.
One of the emerging voices seeking to counter CopBlock is called, succinctly, Civilians Against CopBlock. With nearly 35,000 followers on Facebook, the only venue it uses for communication, the group has had a relatively meteoric rise. Multiple posts are written by an undisclosed number of admins every day, running the gamut from attacking CopBlock and offering alternative takes or information on their rival page’s posts to banal banter about the Fourth of July or even expressions of support for the Confederate Flag. Sometimes they just try to explain things like the “myths behind the Miranda Rights.” Many of their posts attack those who would question police powers or officers accused of crimes, and devolve quickly in the comments section into your usual Internet swamp of angst and extremist political propaganda.
“...our page is all about the hate that spews from CopBlock,” explains one of the CACB admins, via a Facebook chat session. “We take their stories and dive into them. The stories CopBlock puts out are 9/10 half-true. We tear those stories apart and share the full truth.”
Over the course of an hour or so, I am told that I am, in fact, communicating with several of the admins of the page, who insist on anonymity for their own protection.
“It is not mandatory for admins here to be anonymous,” replies someone who uses the signature of a number 6. “We all choose to do so. CopBlock and the followers they have, have been known to get police officers’ home addresses and phone numbers.”
Another admin, who goes by “KS,” details a slightly more harrowing interaction:
“I choose to remain anonymous for two reasons. First, for the protection of my child. When commenting on CopBlock, a few of their followers got a hold of a pic of my son, three at the time, on life support, and started posting it saying I let him be molested and beat by police. Secondly, I’m not in this for a pat on the back. The focus should be the stories, not the admins.”
Doxxing is a common practice in Internet fighting these days, but it is hard to take wholly seriously an organization that claims to stand for truth and justice but who won’t stand up and be counted. Anonymity tends to make accountability difficult. This facelessness may be why sites like CopBlock have retained a distinct edge in the follower department—their organizers are out in the open.
And yet CACB does have some good points. CopBlock does have a tendency to go overboard with its headlines, and stories posted to its social media pages and blog often don’t quite play out they way they’re summarized when investigated. But especially in the wake of Ferguson and Baltimore, and the dozens of other cases of police abuse of power, there is a real fear among Americans. And there is always a need to keep an eye on those who are given the powers that law enforcement are.
As with anything, there needs to be a balance. And like CopBlock, which is quick to find fault with law enforcement officers, CACB similarly brands any who support such oversight as a criminal.
“They are vitriolic because they’ve had bad experiences with the law. Once again, MOST CopBlockers are criminals. They hate the law and anyone that’s for it,” 6 says.
KS feels as though most of CopBlock’s supporters are reacting to a negative interaction with police.
“A bad experience for them is usually getting busted for doing something they knew was illegal,” says KS. “They preach accountability, but don’t take accountability for their own poor choices that lead to their interactions with police.”
The admins all agree that the root cause of the tension between police and those they are sworn to protect and serve is the media.
“The media portrays hate towards law enforcement,” 6 writes. “They make it a race issue when in fact it’s not.”
“A lot has to do with poor media reporting,” KS adds, when I ask whether it is CACB’s position that there is no racial bias in police. “Reporting too soon, without facts or outright falsities. Negativity sells.”
“We have never denied that there are bad apples,” KS continues. “But is racial bias the norm for the vast majority? Hell no.”
It’s worth noting here that the Department of Justice did find racial bias in Ferguson’s police department, and you can’t discuss race and police without mentioning New York’s infamous stop-and-frisk law, which an independent review from Columbia University found to be strongly biased. And a paper from the University of Pennsylvania found clear, strong tendencies for African Americans to be profiled and stopped in traffic situations, especially when police were seeking drugs.
But does this mean most cops are racist or prone to violent abuse of power? No, of course not. There are nearly a million law enforcement officers in the United States, men and women who put their lives on the line every day to keep the rest of us safe so we can fight on the Internet.
And that’s just what’s happening. Rather than attempt to engage each other in a debate or rational discussion, we hole up in little havens of same-thinking people and fling our excrement at those who don’t agree with us. The majority of each side must have their heart in the right place—they fear the abuse of power, or they believe in the goodness of the people who have chosen to spend their lives protecting the innocent—but those, unfortunately, aren’t the voices that are loudest or most exciting or guiding the conversation, if you could call it that.
“I have family members in law enforcement. I’ve always wanted to be a police officer,” 6 admits. “The current time is not the right time for me now. I myself was tired of all the hate this country shows towards the law.”
But how is hate being alleviated by waving a Confederate flag or mocking the black community’s attempts at healing after Ferguson? CACB is still twisting information to its own end, just like the CopBlock site it claims to be the antidote to.
Just read KS on whether CopBlock and groups like it are a form of terrorism:
“…you have a group of people who spend their time posting falsities or otherwise misleading stories about police, perpetuating the hatred, in turn helping to create those who cross the line into domestic terrorism. It may not make them domestic terrorists, but they are still a huge part of the problem.”
Remove the “about police” part and that statement could refer to CACB itself.
But wait, there’s more.
In the never-ending downward spiral of cultural clashes, there is now a new group devoted solely to debunking and engaging with Civilians Against CopBlock. This group is called CACB Corruption, which is doxxing CACB admins—one of whom appears to be a high school student—and hurling even more tired insults.
And so it goes.