Gavin Newsom, the ninny who fills up the official suit of the San Francisco Mayor's office, has done something I never thought possible—made me side with cops in a public controversy. In an emergency night-time press conference, Newsom and Incompetent Chief of Police Heather Fong announced the suspensions of 20 police officers in the city's most crime-ridden district. It's "an extremely dark day in the history of the San Francisco Police Department," says Fong, denouncing "egregious, shameful, and despicable acts" by cops. "Enough is enough," exclaims Newsom, "We have zero tolerance for this kind of behavior." What is this new Ramparts/Len Davis/Dirty 30/"Big Bill" Thompson/Abner Louima/Tulia, Texas-topping outrage? A bunch of yahoo cops made a video mocking each other for being slackers.
Full disclosure: I have a passing acquaintance with Officer Andrew Cohen, the cop at the center of the controversy. I met Cohen back when he was known by his hiphop BKA MC Powder, at a time when white rappers, let alone cop rappers, were rare enough for that to seem pretty hilarious. I interviewed him and had lunch with him a couple times, first with an eye toward mocking him, then—when I found him to be an OK guy who was self-aware and self-deprecating enough to make mockery superfluous—with an eye toward doing an article about cop PR, which I ended up abandoning. (I'm pretty sure F.O.R. Emmanuelle Richard did something on him at some point, though I can't find it.) But while I don't believe Cohen, who pulls an Officer Friendly routine with reporters, is really the "racist, sexist, homophobic" character the mayor is depicting, for all I know he scarfs donuts, steals fajitas, and impersonates panhandlers with the best of them.
But take a look at the mind-bogglingly innocuous movies these cops made. All the videos are here, and Newsom and Fong's press conference is here. You can judge the material for yourself. (Nearly 80 percent of respondents in the CBS news poll found it "harmless," humorous," or "informative," while fewer than 20 percent found it "shocking" or even "mildly offensive." Here are some written reactions.) I say, like most jocular/collegial home movies of this type, it's mostly stupid, occasionally amusing, and shot through with not-unpredictable "funny" song selections. There's an obvious disciplinary problem here in that they appear to have been doing this stuff on public time and with public resources—which I'd expect to be met with a stern warning.
Only in San Francisco could this dustup over injured sensibilities be turned into a nationwide scandal. Newsom is completely clueless and Fong has dithered while the city's murder jumped in the past two years, with the Bayview neighborhood leading the pack in homicides. It's a symptom of the city's incalculable lameness that we can't even generate a scandal that belongs on the same page with the NYPD Naked Cop episode. Now that the public has greeted SF Videogate with a yawn, the mayor is trying the oldest trick in the book—claiming that this is just the tip of the iceberg and promising that there are more, unseen outrages that will really knock your socks off (as long as you don't see them). Is it any wonder Dirty Harry threw away his badge?