I'm a Cop Review

By | Tuesday, September 27, 2022 Leave a Comment
Eric Garner famously said "I can't breathe" repeatedly while being held in an unauthorized chokehold by police officers in 2014 who thought he stole a packet of cigarettes. All of the cops present ignored his pleas and he died at their hands. Neither Daniel Pantaleo -- the officer who literally choked Garner to death -- or the other cops who participated were ever even indicted for any wrongdoing, much less had to face any repercussions. The New York police union, responding to the incident, started their first response with the phrase in the most incredibly tone-deaf manner possible: "We hear you."

Over the next year or three, as more incidents of police brutality made the national news, I noticed almost every time the official responses -- from the police unions to the police chiefs to lawyers speaking on behalf of the polics -- were absolutely the worst responses you could come up with for each event. Everything they said and did with each incident made them look worse. It wasn't like they were bad at PR; it was like they studied PR very closely, knew precisely how best to communicate their position, and deliberately did the exact opposite of that. There was no way so many police representatives -- and there are so, so many -- across so many regions -- literally the entire United States -- just all happened to be equally bad at talking to the media. I cannot believe those were all people misspeaking in precisely the same way. No, these were calculated messages. These were indeed well-thought out and planned. And what police were telling people was: "We actively don't give a shit what you think. We will do whatever the fuck we want and your very lives do not matter to us in the slighest."

But, hey... maybe that's just my reading things too cynically. Maybe I'm just biased to see evil where there's simply incompentence.

And that brings me to Johnny Damm's latest comic: I'm a Cop. What Damm has done has taken a variety of official police statements and put them in comic form, utilizing old public domain comic artwork from the 1950s to illustrate them. The statements -- mostly taken from 2020, but there are a few from 2021 and 2022 -- are presented in chronological order and showcase a group of people who view everyone who doesn't have a police uniform as chattel that need to be beaten into submission. There are statements saying the citizens are the ones who always escalate situations, that shouldn't have to abide by rules, that they view peaceful protest groups as terrorists, that diversity is unwelcome... I've heard/read many of these statements before, but they are always chilling in their earnestness given who they come from.

As I said, though, Damm hasn't just collected various police statements, but he's paird them with 1950s comic art. The artwork does relate to the text, but it's on the whole not strictly illustrative. For examples, the statement about how some cops are just violent by nature doesn't show police literally beating someone up, and the statement talking about how stupid a no choking policy is doesn't depict anyone being choked. However, the choices of art and the juxtopositions Damm comes up with generally manage to heighten the impact of the statements. They feel very much like the pre-Comics-Code comics from EC that, by today's standards of gore are actually rather mild from a stricly illustrative point of view, but still come across as truly horrific in the context of their stories.

There's a pretty clear audience Damm is going for here. If I give this to my best friend from high school whose father happened to be Chief of Police in the town where we grew up, he wouldn't be very receptive to it. "Oh, that's taken out of context!" "He's distorting the meanings with these images!" On the other end, you'll have someone like me who's firmly in the Defund The Police camp who nods along with every page and keeps muttering, "Fucking pigs!" over and over. I don't think there's much middle ground here -- the people who are wishy-washy about police brutality, who think there are only a few bad apples, who lap up all the copaganda because Law & Order is a good TV show -- they're not going to be swayed one way or another honestly. They'll dismiss Damm as an extremist without a second thought, just like they dismiss the very notion of defunding the police without even a first thought.

But setting aside the message here (which is, I'll emphasize, a message that I wish more people would listen to) this is still worth picking up just for the formal comics elements alone. That Damm can take tame-by-today's-standards art and pair it with statements to make them even more starkly horrific than their prima face ugliness would suggest is worth studying. He's using art to amplify meaning, yes, but he's doing so in a way that is by no means obvious.

I'm a Cop is self-published by Damm and is available now from his website for $8 US. Check it out and remember ACAB!
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