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A recent NAACP-sponsored protest in Camden to show solidarity with residents of Ferguson, Missouri, and against police brutality sparked dissent amongst police officers.

“As plans for it became known,” according to the Inquirer, “some in [the law enforcement related] union ranks felt it was prematurely and unfairly targeting the white Ferguson police officer whose fatal shooting of  black teenager sparked days of unrest.”

The union members Boren cites as expressing consternation include those in the local chapter of the Communications Workers of America, which represents emergency dispatchers, and Local 3429, which represents Camden county firefighting personnel. Using social media, says Boren, members of these unions expressed disappointment in the protests and some refused to participate.

The firefighters’ union even sent out an email saying, “PLEASE DO NOT PROTEST UNTIL ALL OF THE FACTS ARE IN.” The head of that union apparently told the Inquirer that there was “nothing to protest yet.”

Presumably, the union members and unions upset with the protest had not heard about American citizens (including clergy) being brutalized and tear gassed by law enforcement, that the teenager fatally shot six times by a policeman was unarmed, or that journalists were brutalized in the demonstrations following Brown’s death.

The so-called “Blue Code of Silence” or “Blue Wall” is the notion that law enforcement personnel protect each other by ignoring, not reporting, or not acknowledging their colleagues’ misconduct. It looks like a variation of the cultural practice is what’s happening in Camden. The University of Illinois at Chicago says that “police corruption is enabled by a ‘blue code of silence’ entrenched in a department culture where officers avoid reporting crimes and misconduct by their colleagues.”

Emergency personnel taking care of their own is nothing new or Philadelphia-New Jersey specific, though. Human Rights Watch, an organization devoted to the dignities and rights of all human beings, says that the “Blue Code of Silence” doesn’t just apply to officers: Instead, it applies to all law enforcement personnel, including police department leadership, district attorney’s offices, and, presumably, first responders. The HRW does, however, specifically cite Camden’s neighbor Philadelphia in the 1990s as an example of the practice at play.

“The code of silence all but assures impunity for officers who commit human rights violations,” says Human Rights Watch, “since, without information about brutal incidents from fellow officers, criminal penalties are much less likely. In such a climate, officers who commit abuses flourish.”

About The Author

Contributing columnist

Josh Kruger is an award-winning writer and commentator in Philadelphia. His @PhillyWeekly column, “The Uncomfortable Whole,” took the 2014 First Place Spotlight Award for weekly newspaper commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists and the 2014 Second Place Award for weekly newspaper commentary in the United States and Canada from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia. He also blogs daily for PW on various topics including queer culture and news, mass transit, politics, crime, drugs, HIV/AIDS, civil liberties, activism, media and everything else Philly.

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