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Now Who's Being Naive? When Sheepdogs Kill Sheep

(We still have a ton of thoughts on Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman’s “Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves” analogy. To read the entire series, please click here.)

If you want to know how silly the entire “sheep, sheepdog and wolves” analogy is, just read the following paragraph [emphasis mine].

“The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.”

As Michael C wrote last Thursday, Grossman and his followers very condescendingly refer to the “sheep” as “naive”. As Grossman writes, “We know that the sheep live in denial; that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world.”

But you could easily reverse that sentiment to apply to Grossman: “We know that the sheepdogs live in denial. They do not want to believe that there is evil in themselves.” In other words, does Grossman really believe that law enforcement and the military don’t protect their own? He doesn’t write “should be punished and removed”. He wrote “will be punished and removed”.

Really? Bad sheepdogs are always punished?

Both parts of Grossman’s assertion are wrong. First, sheepdogs--either law enforcement or military--regularly harm the sheep. I mean, we wrote the Slate article because of the number of unjustified police shootings that occurred last year. To be fair, they occur every year; the country finally noticed it last year. It doesn’t help that the federal government doesn’t keep a database for police shootings.

Second, and maybe more important, law enforcement and the military have a long history of not policing themselves. Even if you think Michael Brown’s death was justified, Eric Garner was killed using an choke hold that violated NYPD policies. And no one was held responsible. According to a report by the NYPD Inspector General, police officers are rarely punished for such chokeholds.

Banned chokeholds are just one example. Police misconduct then denials or cover-ups are a historical part of policing. Some examples…

1. The police officers who beat Rodney King wrote fraudulent reports that he had resisted arrest. Video evidence proved them wrong...and they still weren’t convicted. (At one point, a judge told prosecutors that "You can trust me.")

2. A recent New Yorker article provides another example of a police department that refused to evict multiple wolves. In Albuquerque, New Mexico the police department has a shockingly high number of fatal shootings. But they always circle the wagons to defend these wolves in their midsts, usually by slandering the victims:

Grover, the former sergeant, said that when officers shot someone the department typically ordered a “red file” on the deceased. “The special-investigations division did a complete background on the person and came up with any intelligence to identify that, you know, twenty years ago, maybe, the person got tagged for shoplifting,” he said. “Then they gave the red file to the chief.”

Instead of investigating the police, they investigated the victims, smearing their character. That’s actually the exact opposite of what Grossman believes happens. (Unless the entire Albuquerque police department has been taken over by “wolves”.)

3. While we were writing and editing this post, This American Life did an episode on the relationship between police and African-Americans. A quote from that episode, after describing an incident where Milwaukee police officers (off-duty and on-duty police officers) beat and tortured someone:

“Eventually, seven officers were fired. Three were sentenced to over fifteen years in prison. But before that, officers closed ranks. No one talked. No one knew anything. It showed the city how cops would turn the other way and protect their own, even if they saw something truly terrible.”

Think about it this way. No one has to define what “protecting their own” means. Everyone knows that concept.

4. Part two of the This American Life episode on law enforcement opened with another example of police misconduct--Miami City police officers arrested one person over 60 times for trespassing...at his job--and ended with the not-shocking revelation that multiple police officers who harassed this man were still working. (As a side benefit, this episode also covered the material in our original piece about implicit bias in the decision-making of police officers, and actually made it sound worse than what we originally wrote.)

5. Or take some of the most defenseless lambs: the wives of police officers. It turns out that police (sheepdogs) have higher rates of domestic violence than the general population (the sheep). Are those police “punished and removed” as Grossman naively believes? Nope. Turns out that police officers are protected by their precincts. (Check out the great work by The Atlantic, The New York Times and FrontLine/ProPublica.)

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list, just a few examples I found following the news recently reading about this topic.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be starting a series on why I (Eric C) don’t trust the military or national security establishment, pointing out examples of the military deceiving the public for their own self-interest. In short, I couldn’t write an entire four or five post series like that if there weren’t dozens of examples for me to find.

Because I’m not naive.

four comments

Two things:

- We’re almost done with this topic.

- I really wish the FBI kept better track of police shootings.


I wonder what Maj. Hugh Thompson, Crew Chief Larry Colburn and Door Gunner Glenn Andreotta would think of the wolves in sheep dog clothing on Mar. 16, 1968 at My Lai, Vietnam. Those three heroes landed their chopper between the Charlie Company wolves and the innocent villagers to stop the slaughter of the sheep. The attempt to cover up the massacre and to slander Thompson’s reputation went all the way to the oval office and “Tricky Dicky”.
I guess it was Nixon’s way of saying “Thank you for your service”.


@ John – Great example, unfortunately.


Also, add Michael Slager to this list. Shot an unarmed man, in the back, then lied about about it multiple times, and his police department backed him…until video of the incident was released.

So, sheepdog? Yes, veteran and police officer. Tried to cover it up? yes.