What is meant by the Blue Wall of Silence?


wiseGEEK Writing Contest

The Blue Wall of Silence is the name used to describe the unity exhibited by Police officers in an aim to limit their co-operation when the accused is a police official. It is neither a morally justifiable act nor is it a legal act.

Experts say that the Blue Wall of Silence symbolizes the fierce loyalty among police officers. According to NPR’s Eric Westervelt, the idea of the impenetrable ‘code’ came into existence when a Haitian immigrant was tortured in custody at a Brooklyn precinct. In reality, the Blue Wall of Silence was built by Jerome H. Skolnick who reported the case in April 2000.The trial that began on May 4 of four New York policemen in connection with the August 1997 brutalization of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima took two surprising turns. In the second week of the trial, three NYPD policemen took the stand to support the prosecution's charges that one of the defendants, Officer Justin A. Volpe, had sodomized Louima with a wooden stick in the restroom of the 70th Precinct station house in Brooklyn. The three cops, breaking through the notorious "blue wall of silence," testified that Volpe had boasted of the crime, and they offered accounts supporting aspects of the charges. The fact that three cops had testified against another cop in a police brutality case took the media by storm. Then, the second surprising turn was that, Volpe decided to plead guilty to the charges. This confession shocked the community at large who felt that these killers in blue uniforms cannot be reformed but must be removed from our communities. Media reports said that the three cops who testified against Volpe were emboldened to cross the "blue line of silence" by the mass protests against police brutality that followed the murder of Amadou Diallo. Thus the Blue Wall of Silence came into existence.

The Blue Wall of Silence, does not have an official existence. This is not a written code. John Diedrich in the Milwaukee Sentinel article titled “Wall of Silence Not Breaking” calls it the ‘unwritten code of silence’. By common reasoning, it is easy to connect the existence of police brutality with the Blue Wall of Silence. Where there is police brutality, the issue of the Blue Wall of Silence coexists. Hence it can be concluded using deductive reasoning that the Blue Wall of Silence exists at all levels of the police. The existence of the Blue Wall of Silence affects the prisoners who face police brutality, as well as the righteous police officers who try to tear down the Blue Wall of Silence.

The case of Frank Jude Jr. merits special attention in this context. Frank Jude Jr., was savagely beaten Oct. 24 by a dozen men who, witnesses said identified themselves as off-duty police officers. This was a case in which the officers’ testimony became crucial. This is a case when the Blue Wall of Silence affects the life of Frank Jude Jr., a victim of police brutality. According to New York Daily News, Barry, a 16-year veteran of the force, contends she was demoted and brought up on disciplinary charges after whistle-blowing on the truancy unit of the Queens South Task Force in 1998. Barry was demoted, assigned to midnight tours and accused of failing to supervise her unit. She was further labeled by other cops as a ‘rat’."Cops will tolerate psychos, alcoholics, wife-beaters, dweebs and geeks, but they will not tolerate rats. Period," said Tony Bouza, chief of the Minneapolis Police Department from 1980 to 1988. In this particular case, the Blue Wall of Silence has affected the life of a righteous police officer, Barry.

The above instances show that the Blue Wall of Silence hurts the victims of police brutality by preventing them from getting justice and the righteous police officers who are punished for choosing to cross the Blue Wall of Silence. It protects the police officers who perpetuate the crime of brutality.

The Blue Wall of Silence is thus a barrier to the course of justice. It does more harm than good because it destroys the image of the police officers in the public eye. Supporters of the Blue Wall of Silence argue that police officers have friendships and allegiances among colleagues, much like workers in any office and these officers depend on each other with their lives. It can be reasoned that a police officer honoring the Blue Wall of Silence is merely following the instructions of his seniors. As such there can be nothing morally wrong in it from the viewpoint of the police officers.

Another police officer justifies the ‘code’ saying that it is the result of changing role of the police officer. The police of today are trained to look out for drugs and terrorists. They are trained differently in recent times. By heavily arming them, they are expected to be more aggressive in their jobs thereby promoting police brutality.

By indulging in police brutality, such officers commit crimes. When, in respect of the Blue Wall of Silence, colleagues maintain silence in this context, they are actually acting on the side of the criminals and hence will be considered as supporters of the crime. Thus, in the eyes of the public and the prisoners, it would be unethical for a police officer to protect his colleagues on the pretext of the Blue Wall of Silence. The Blue Wall of Silence, created by the media to define the unwritten code of police officers to protect offenders of crimes amongst their colleagues has become a hotly debated issue in the light of deaths due to police brutality. While protecting culprits within the police force, this Wall has been a barrier to obtaining justice for the victims of police brutality. It can be predicted that there is every chance that this Blue Wall of Silence can be finally broken by the powerful roar of the media in the voice of a communicative and aware public.