Hunting the web for more on Serpico the man I found he has his own blog: the Official Frank Serpico Blog. I find that a pretty amazing example of how the Internet, and in particular blogging, has changed things. From the sense of isolation Al Pacino’s Serpico projects in the movie, and the fact he had to go to the New York Times to be heard, to having a blog to air his views. Not perfect, but a great advance. (Of course, there’s the question as to whether it really is his blog, and how one proves one is the real author, but let’s leave that aside. There is a website as well.)
Anyway, like all blogs, it’s patchy. Started last May, there’s a big gap from last December until two days ago, when he publishes a letter he sent earlier this week to Malcolm Gladwell, author of the excellent Blink:
In the book Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, I believe Gladwell has mistaken bad police work in the killing of Amadou Diallo with the life and death split second decisions that police officers are forced to make every day. A situation like this raises issues of police credibility. This is a letter that I sent to Mr. Gladwell expressing my thoughts on the matter.
I don’t have the book handy, but as I recall Gladwell uses the Diallo shooting as an example of how ‘thin-slicing’ predictions can go awry, in this case based on race. Serpico’s point, as I understand it, is that Gladwell may be mis-using the example because of the very thing he himself was a victim of: the institutional ‘lie-factor’.
As I understand it, Serpico says the policemen’s testimony over the shooting — in which an innocent man was mistaken for a criminal because of his race and his ‘suspicious’ behaviour in response to the policemen’s approach — is suspect, and therefore should not be used as academic source material. He says it is called ‘testilying’ — when policemen are coached to deliver testimony that better fits with operating procedures:
In the Diallo case officers continually testified “I’m like, alright, definitely something is going on here” …“What I seen was an entire weapon”, “my prior experience and training, my prior arrest, dictated to me that this person was pulling a gun”, key words when testilying. “Gun, he’s got a gun” ad nauseum. Fact — there was no gun. They never saw a gun, they were never in any danger. They created, orchestrated and dictated the entire scenario, ending in catastrophe, supercharged by testosterone.
I don’t know much about the case itself beyond what Gladwell and Serpico wrote, but I guess it will be interesting to hear Gladwell’s response. As far as I know, he has no blog. Shame, because blogging is a perfect way to address these kinds of issues, and dig out some kind of truth.