Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Taking cop-haters to school

Blog of the week: The power of words

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When I was approached by the Winnipeg Free Press and asked to publish Peter O'Kane's tribute in the newspaper, I realized that I would be providing an opportunity to a select group of citizens to spew their anonymous venom.

The group I'm talking about are the cop-hating comment posters on the Winnipeg Free Press website.

I admit I was a bit concerned that their venomous comments might be taken personally by Peter's grieving family members.

The decision to publish the tribute was not an autocratic one; consultations with those closest to Pete endorsed the idea and saw it as a great opportunity to celebrate the life of a unique man with a wider audience.

So the story went to press and the cop-haters didn't disappoint.

With all the courage that anonymity provides, the haters took their shots at Pete and me both. It seems they took issue with certain terms I used in the tribute, specifically "the thin blue line" and "old school."

The hateful spin the anonymous heroes put on these terms didn't really surprise me, but it did provide me with an opportunity to take the cop-haters to school and educate them regarding this terminology.

According to Wikipedia, "the blue line" stands for law-enforcement officers. It's the thin line that separates the good from the bad in society.

Although I can relate to the Wikipedia definition, it runs much deeper than that for me.

When people ask me why I joined the police department, I have a simple explanation for them, one that spells out the true meaning of the controversial phrase "the thin blue line."

When I was 18 years old, I was dating a young woman who I had taken to dinner in downtown Winnipeg. After parking the car, we were in the process of walking to the restaurant when I noticed a group of people looking across the street with horrific expressions etched on their faces.

As I looked across the street, the cause for their concern was evident.

There, lying on the sidewalk, was a dishevelled man who was being subjected to a ruthless beating by some no-account scumbag who was kicking him in the face, head and body.

All eyes were cast across the street and not one person was motivated to act. Much to the shock and amazement of the gallery, I yelled across the street.

"Hey, a..hole," I said.

The scumbag ignored me and continued on with his brutal assault.

"Hey, a..hole," I yelled in a much louder and more authoritative voice.

This time, the abuser stopped and looked across the street, making unwavering eye contact with me.

"You kick that guy one more time and I am going to cross the street and kick your ass," I said, with my chest puffed out and an expression on my face meant to send the message that I was only too willing to make good on the threat.

The scumbag's face now mirrored the expressions of the bystanders, amazed that someone had the balls or concern to intervene. He looked down on the victim, clearly wanting to continue the beating, then looked back across the street at me, observing that I had now taken one step off the curb in his direction.

That was all the coward needed to see: I was for real and I meant what I said. He turned and slowly walked away. The victim of the beating struggled to his feet and left in the opposite direction.

That's it; it really doesn't get much deeper than that.

The willingness to confront the s..t, to stand up for people who can't defend themselves, to sacrifice yourself to confront evil. Some of us just have "that thing" inside of us. At some point in my life, I came to realize that I had "that thing" inside of me.

Peter O'Kane had a ton of "that thing" inside of him.

Just about every cop I ever met had "that thing" inside of them.

It's the same thing that was inside of the police officers and first responders on 9/11 who ran up those stairs while everybody else ran out.

The 25 or so spectators watching that guy get his ass kicked on the sidewalk didn't have "that thing."

That doesn't make police officers better than anybody else, it just make us different.

Police officers represent that small percentage of people in society who have "that thing" that drives them to serve and protect everyone else.

"That thing" separates us from the majority; "that thing" is the essence of "the thin blue line."

According to Wikipedia, "old school" can refer to anything that is from an earlier era, anything that may be considered old-fashioned.

Its true I called Peter O'Kane an old-school cop.

As a card-carrying old-school member, I have the right to make that assessment.

So what does that mean exactly?

Wikipedia essentially has it right: "Old school" refers to things from an earlier era, out-of-fashion things like respect for law and order, for example.

Old-school cops believe in serving and protecting. They believe that the streets of our city belong to law-abiding citizens and not drug dealers and gangsters.

They believe their patrol area is "their" turf and they don't like criminals s..tting in their backyards.

"Old school" is walking into a downtown bar and being prepared to face any "a..hole" in the building who thinks he's a tough guy and wants to test you.

"Old school" is about getting punched, kicked and spit on and having the guts to come back for more.

"Old school" is about being tough but fair.

"Old school" is giving a s..t about victims of crime, taking the crimes done on them personally and doing everything you can to properly represent them.

Unlike the evil spin the cop-haters try to put on this beloved term, I wear my "old-school" tag like a badge of honour.

Peter O'Kane wore that tag like a badge of honour.

It's one of the reasons why hundreds of cops showed up at church on Tuesday to pay their respects to Peter, his grieving wife and family.

So now that the haters have been enlightened, I challenge them to start looking in the mirror before they enter their next anonymous cop-hating venom in the comment sections on tributes for one of our fallen soldiers.

Ask yourself what you have done for your community.

Ask yourself what you stand for.

Ask yourself if you have the courage to confront evil or sacrifice your life for the safety and security of your fellow citizens.

Ask yourself if you have the right to judge men and women whose boots you could never fill.

Next time, do us all a favour and take a break from the keyboard.

School's out!


James Jewell retired from the Winnipeg Police Service after a 25-year career. Follow his blog at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 2, 2012 A10

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