Eleven months is an eternity in Internet time, so let’s do a quick refresher on the events of December 2014: In the midst of a hack that crippled Sony Pictures Entertainment and put the entire entertainment industry on high alert, a group calling themselves “The Guardians of Peace” threatened terrorist action at the premiere and screenings of the Seth Rogan/James Franco comedy The Interview. Reportedly upset at the film’s on-screen assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the group stated, “We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places The Interview be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to. The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September.” In response, premieres were cancelled, the film was (briefly) pulled from theatrical release, and everyone pretty much agreed that the notion of an organized entity issuing threats against filmmakers was, y’know, a bad one. Well, yesterday, another group did the same thing — but they’re not cyber-terrorists. They’re cops.
Specifically, they are the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police union in these United States, and yesterday afternoon, they weighed in on the current Tarantino vs. police kerfuffle, a nationwide boycott and culture war talking point borne out of — brace yourself for controversy — his contention that perhaps police officers should stop shooting unarmed civilians quite so much. Rather than noting that, yes, this does seem to be a problem that precincts, activists, and local communities could work together to address, rather than insisting that they, like Tarantino, are “anti-police brutality,” police organizations set their sights on the real enemy: Quentin Tarantino.
Boycott announcements followed, from, among others, the five largest police departments in the United States (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Houston) and the National Border Patrol. Typically, such an uproar would result in a meek retraction and “sorry if anyone was offended” apology, but Quentin Tarantino is (for better or worse) not a typical public figure, and this week, in print and on television, he chose to clarify his statements rather than retract them.
And that’s when the Fraternal Order of Police, the D.C.-based union more than 330,000 cops strong, decided to make like a hood in an old gangster movie, eyes darting around a corner grocery while growling, “Yeah, nice store you got here, hate to see anything happen to it.”
Jim Pasco, executive director of the FOP, told The Hollywood Reporter:
“Something is in the works, but the element of surprise is the most important element,” says Pasco. “Something could happen anytime between now and [the premiere]. And a lot of it is going to be driven by Tarantino, who is nothing if not predictable.
“The right time and place will come up and we’ll try to hurt him in the only way that seems to matter to him, and that’s economically,” says Pasco.
When asked if this was a threat, Pasco said no, at least not a physical threat. “Police officers protect people,” he says. “They don’t go out to hurt people.”
When Tarantino appeared on All in With Chris Hayes Wednesday, the general success and sensibility of the interview was punctured only briefly, when he went off on this tangent: “I was under the impression that I was an American, and that had First Amendment rights, and there was no problem with me going to an anti-police brutality protest and speaking my mind.” In that moment, though the letter of what he said was accurate, it felt as if he were fundamentally misunderstanding the Constitution in the manner of Dr. Laura and their ilk; the First Amendment allows you the protection to say whatever you’d like, but it does not protect you from the consequences of those statements. In this case, the consequence was a boycott—an infuriatingly tone-deaf consequence, to be sure, reeking of self-protection and institutional myopia. Yet that boycott is a consequence not only allowed by the First Amendment, but itself protected by it.
This bullshit is another matter entirely. This is an organization of state and federal employees attempting to prohibit or abridge the rights of an individual citizen to speak freely, specifically at a peaceful assembly petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. I mean, I can use the actual text of the fucking thing, because that’s how textbook this is: the man got up at a protest, spoke about a matter of state that should be corrected, and has since seen his well-being mysteriously threatened by an organization representing hundreds of thousands of police officers.
In doing so, the Fraternal Order of Police has subverted their (already wobbly) narrative of the rich, powerful, cop-bashing, bubble-dwelling limousine liberal, attacking hard-working boys in blue who put their lives on the line everyday, all the while living under the roof of their protection. Now, instead, this is the story of police organizations around the country ganging up on a private citizen for daring to speak his mind — a shift in the perception of power balance that now tilts, rather terrifyingly, in their favor. When they’ll issue such chilling warnings to a figure as high-profile as Tarantino, how do you think they’re treating the hundreds of activists whose names we don’t know?
And the vagueness of their threat — Pasco “would not go into any detail about what is being cooked up for the Hollywood director” to THR — only extends the severity of their menace. How exactly can they “hurt him… economically,” beyond the already-extant boycotts? Is this, by extension, a threat against those who would assist him “economically” by buying tickets to his movie? (Or, gulp, encouraging others to do so?) Police officers “don’t go out to hurt people,” Pasco smirks, like Don Corleone telling Tom Hagan, “I don’t like violence.”
In writing about the whole sorry affair yesterday, this writer noted the ties of Fox News’ de facto police spokesman Bernie Kerik to alleged mob fronts, noting how statements like “it’s time for those cops to send a message” were “Spoken like a true mob-connected thug.” Of course, it’s not fair to assume Kerik’s connections mean all cops in power are hoods. But this odious threat from the FOP muddies such distinctions — because this is intimidation, and this is browbeating, and this is thuggery. Full stop.