This was a garbage year. It was twelve months of bumper-to-bumper injustice, war, and tragedy. But despite all the awful shit, there were a few people who managed to make 2014 occasionally tolerable and, in some cases, even convince us that 2015 might be worth sticking around to see: honest journalists and courageous protesters, resurgent divas and poetic movie stars, a five-year-old born to be on TV, a man whose audacity spiralled into the biggest party west Michigan has ever seen, and others. These are our Gawker Heroes of 2014.


Edward Crawford, Ferguson's Flag-and-Chips Man

In the chaos of the crackdown on the Ferguson protests, St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer Robert Cohen found an immortal moment of clarity: Edward Crawford, a man wearing an American-flag shirt, rearing back to throw a burning tear-gas canister. Crawford's figure was poised in harsh light and deep shadow; his long dreadlocks swung out behind him; the chemical weapon spilled a serpentine trail of blinding light and smoke. In his off-hand, in this instant of extremity, he held a bag of chips.

The chips were not just a comic note, but the key to the image. On first glance, Crawford's pose read as that of a Molotov-throwing rioter, attacking the forces of law and order. But that gas bomb in his hand was not a protest weapon; it was what the police had unleashed on the protesters. One second Crawford was eating a snack, the next he was defending himself against a paramilitary assault.

That he was doing it in a flag shirt made the image irresistible. There were jokes to be made about Marvel Comics' plan for a new, black Captain America, but the picture stood also as a rejoinder to Stanley Foreman's "The Soiling of Old Glory," from 1976, the appalling image of a white anti-busing protester in Boston swinging a flagpole at a black man as a weapon. Here still was brutality and racism, yet now the flag was not grim or ironic, but inspirational. Edward Crawford was an American, fighting back as one.

Tom Scocca


William Lopez, Innocent Man

After being convicted of murder, William Lopez spent 23 years in prison. In 2013, he was released. Exonerated. He was innocent. The case against him was flimsy—a judge called it "rotten." He never should have gone to prison in the first place. He spent his adult life in a cage, unjustly. His daughter grew up without him. He missed the life to which he was entitled.

After his release from prison, Lopez was forced to rely upon charity from private groups to live. He filed a lawsuit against the city of New York for his false conviction and imprisonment. And last September, just as that case was set to go to trial, William Lopez died of an asthma attack. Our nation's criminal justice system is often flawed. Our nation's thirst for incarceration is a sickness. Exonerations in America are on the rise, mostly because more effort is being expended looking for innocent people in prison. William Lopez is gone now. But he lives on as a reminder of what is at stake when our lust for punishment overcomes our better nature.

Hamilton Nolan


Noah Ritter, the "Apparently" Kid

There's been a lot made of Noah "Apparently" Ritter's use of the word "apparently" this year. But the true charm of the five-year-old Wilkes-Barre wunderkind is his matter-of-fact, my-grandpa-makes-me-watch-the-Powerball sincerity: "Apparently I've never been on live television before, but apparently sometimes I don't watch the news." Right. Ok. Yes. If only we could all be so brave and forthright in our shortcomings, Noah. And regarding any future use of "apparently"? "I got over it," he later told Not Gawker Hero Ellen DeGeneres. But seriously, Noah Ritter is a tiny dynamo of inspiration and the only person who can, seriously, save CNN. Seriously.

— Jason Parham


Aretha Franklin, the Voice

If the only thing Aretha Franklin did in public this year was share with the world her assessment of Taylor Swift ("OK…great gowns, beautiful gowns"), she still would have been my hero. That's the most hilarious thing anyone has ever said about the overpraised Swift. But Franklin did so much more this year. She threatened to file a $10 million lawsuit against TheNewsNerd for a satirical story depicting a fistfight between her and fellow legend Patti LaBelle. (Since LaBelle landed the punch in the story and, the defamation of character that Franklin alleged came through being presented as someone who could get knocked out by Patti LaBelle. Don't underrate her.) Franklin also released an album of wig-snatching covers of other divas' classics, made a viral splash with her divisive cover of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" on Letterman, hilariously withstood a disastrous satellite media tour, and spit venom at David Ritz, who wrote a sprawling unauthorized bio on the notoriously tight-lipped superstar. Ritz's delicious bio portrays Franklin as calculating and press-hungry, but that's just a salacious way of saying that Franklin is a craftswoman of fame. Now in her 70's, she remains extremely adept at staying famous, decades after her artistic peak (let's set it at her 1972 live gospel masterwork, Amazing Grace). That's no small feat given the pervasive ageism of the music industry and pop culture, in general. Aretha Franklin is a voice, perhaps the voice if we must pick just one, but she is so much more than that. May she never stop showing us how much more.

Rich Juzwiak


Hong Kong Protesters

As American streets were literally lit up by protesters this year, a larger, more fundamental struggle waged for months in Hong Kong, the semiautonomous Chinese city in the grips of political upheaval. From late September to just a few days ago, determined citizens stood in defiance of the government's ruling that candidates for the city's so-called "democratic" elections be first vetted by Beijing.

Hong Kong was fraught with similar recurring images from Ferguson: peaceful protests erupting into chaos; marchers immobilized by tear gas and pepper spray; police abusing the power we give them under the pretense of protecting us; spirits waning in the seeming hopeless of the cause. Their fight is arguably harder to win and much longer fought: to have their leaders genuinely represent them.

"We still haven't got what we wanted," Jerry Lau, one of the protesters, told the New York Times the day police dismantled the group's final encampment. "I stayed here for over 70 days, so we still want a result." Lau and his comrades might never get the democratic elections most Americans take for granted every day. What they've hopefully won, 11 weeks later, is that their screams for change have been heard loud and far.

— Aleksander Chan


Ariana Grande, Lil Diva

My hero this year is Ariana Grande for many private reasons and one I'll share with you now, which is this anecdote from a Daily News report about her greeting fans in September:

"She did autographs and pics and was all smiles until she got into the elevator," a stunned industry insider tells us. "And as soon as the doors shut she said, 'I hope they all f—king die.'"

It doesn't really matter to me if she actually did this (even though I know in my heart she did). Lil Ari is my hero because people read this story and thought, yeah probably!! What a doll.

— Allie Jones


Allie Jones, Gawker Writer

It what seemed a darker, more exhausting year than any in recent memory, including 2012, we, the staff of Gawker.com, have had the private pleasure of working alongside the human incarnation of a Seasonal Affective Disorder light therapy sun box: Allison "Allie" Jones.

Readers may have had their commutes brightened by posts like Daniel Radcliffe: Fuck One Direction, I'm the Richest Lad in England and What the Hell Did Dianna Agron Do to Deserve This Life, but behind the scenes Allie's unceasingly delightful personality blazes with the unholy, scorching power of a blue hypergiant. One time she was pulled over by the police for driving too slowly. One Monday she IM'd me to say "It's a fun Monday for candy!!!!!!" because we were eating candy.

Allie is my hero because she is not afraid to loose the fateful lightning of her terrible swift sword upon Hollywood's darlings, calling remarks made by Glee actress Naya Rivera "straight-up rude," observing to the world "If There's One Person I've Had Enough of It's Jessica Biel," calling a comment from Bette Midler "rude," and also calling a column by Pippa Middleton "very rude." She denounced Blake Lively's slavery-inspired fall lookbook, and remained firm in her position even as Blake Lively's lawyers angrily defended Blake Lively's right to defend slavery.

One example of an Allie post is Kristin Cavallari Still Bitter and Crying Over LC and Ste-Pheeennnn and another example is this post analyzing the air strikes launched by the U.S. against ISIS and the Khorasan Group in Syria.

Her treatise on Bud Light Lime® Apple-Ahhh-Rita, Bud Light Lime® Apple-Ahhh-Rita Is the Hottest Drink for Fall, inspired me to try Apple-Ahhh-Rita and guess what I loved it.

One time someone stole her string cheese out of the refrigerator at work!

"Sometimes," wrote Allie, "I think about the crop of high schoolers experimenting with drinking in the age of Apple-Ahhh-Rita, and I get nostalgic for memories I'll never have. Imagine the homecoming dance... with Apple-Ahhh-Rita. Haunted hay rides ... plus Apple-Ahhh-Rita. I'm crying."

I'm crying too. She's my hero.

— Caity Weaver


Kara Dudley, Karlie Kloss Photobomb Girl

Imagine this scenario and then after imagining it try not to kill yourself: you walk out of a building and onto a crowded Manhattan sidewalk. There are cameras in your face and they start snapping. You strike a fucking cool pose—you pop a $5,000 Amazon gift card smile (that's dream money). You don't know why or when you became famous right now on this sidewalk, but you are—you're a star, man, a TMZ doubloon. Then you go home and see on the internet that they were actually trying to photograph supermodel Karlie Kloss, who you didn't know was standing behind you, and you're still just a nobody on the sidewalk.

The internet used to be a place for amusing little animations of stick figures kicking each other, or lewd jokes, but now the only thing that really gets us off is people accidentally ruining themselves. Social media shame-porn is our one last step before we're literally just watching streaming videos of people murdering each other on a Google Glass. Karlie Kloss Photobomb Girl—real name Kara Dudley—could've just been another half-hour moment of ridicule fun. But she transcended the whole thing. She broke the formula. We look at that photo—the cocked elbows, the royalty wave, the sorority-social-chair-hand-on-hip—and we don't pity her. We're in awe.

Karlie Kloss Photobomb Girl looks fucking incredible. She nailed it. Are you kidding me? Who the fuck is Karlie Kloss? Karlie "Garbage Pail" Kloss is what she goes by now, after being showed up by some lady named Kara Dudley on the sidewalk. Kara Dudley is the people's champ, the anti-shame, the snark-killer. "I left the store and I was confused when people started flashing cameras when I walked out too," Dudley told the press after her internet moment. "I didn't know what they were doing but I decided to strike a pose anyways because how cool is that!" It ain't cool, Kara. Sunglasses are cool. This was a lot more than cool. I look at that photo and want to believe in God. Maybe I do—and one day in 2014 God photobombed Karlie Kloss for all of us.

Sam Biddle


Rhonda Lee, Ginger Zee, and the Women of Weather

The United States is experiencing a huge push to get students involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields, but it's an uphill challenge. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that there is a huge gender disparity among students (and eventual graduates and career-holders) in STEM fields. As of 2009, women made up 52% of the workforce in the United States, but held only 24% of all STEM jobs in the country. Even worse, as of 2001, only 12% of meteorologists in the United States were women. That is an enormous problem. Millions of women not pursuing an education and eventual career in scientific fields means that there are countless lost opportunities for the world to see its next great doctor, the next innovation in renewable energy, or the next brilliant mind in the field of meteorology.

Aside from doctors, the most visible women in science are those who choose to pursue careers in meteorology. 2014 was a wonderful year for women in weather. Female meteorologists are among the most passionate and dedicated scientists you will ever meet, and not only is it incredible to watch them produce forecasts every day for the public, but they put up with disgusting treatment from a select few members of society with a level of courage and dignity that I could only dream of possessing.

Meteorologist Rhonda Lee was fired by KTBS in Shreveport, Louisiana in 2012 for defending herself against a bigoted Facebook commenter who was displeased that Lee, an African-American, chose to wear her natural hair while presenting her forecasts on the air. Fast forward to this summer when Denver-based weather network WeatherNation recognized her talents and hired her as an on-air meteorologist. Rising above the hatred and discrimination of both viewers and station owners, Lee now brings the science of meteorology to tens of millions of homes across the country. Since Facebook is one of the major forms of communication today, meteorologists often receive instant feedback on their forecasts and presentations, and this feedback for female meteorologists is often low on weather and rife with disgusting levels of sexism. In August, ABC News meteorologist Ginger Zee delivered a surgical blow to an ugly comment by another Facebook user who called her "the most ugly weather girl i.v seen on tv." Zee immediately corrected him that she was "the ugliest METEOROLOGIST you've ever seen," and went on to say "I studied too hard & chased too many storms to be called that."

It is a disappointing truth that many still see female meteorologists as "weather girls" and nothing but a pretty face who reads from a teleprompter, when nothing could be further from the truth. Almost everyone you see on television presenting the weather—from the local news up to The Weather Channel—is an educated meteorologist. They withstood and mastered years of calculus and advanced physics and proved to a body of often-strict professors that they are more than capable of handling the intricate science of understanding and forecasting the fluid movement of our atmosphere. Female meteorologists not only aced these challenges, but they overcame the systemic and societal biases that make it even harder for women to succeed.

When girls watch television and see Ginger Zee on ABC or Rhonda Lee on WeatherNation or Janice Dean on Fox or Sue Palka in Washington or Remeisha Shade in Dallas or Tracy Butler in Chicago or Vivian Brown and Kelly Cass on The Weather Channel, or any of the other thousands of female meteorologists in the United States and around the world, they are listening to highly educated, successful women in science. For their ability to influence a generation of young women to take up STEM as a career path, all while standing up to the disgusting harassment and discrimination they face on a daily basis, female meteorologists the world over truly deserve a spot on this year's list of Gawker heroes.

Dennis Mersereau


Dallas Swonger, Portland Reservoir Piss Teen

In April, 19-year-old Dallas Swonger made national news when he allegedly pissed into a reservoir full of drinking water in Portland. Feeling his name was unfairly besmirched, Swonger—who insists he peed near the water, not into it—heroically embarked on a media campaign to restore his reputation: "I didn't piss in the fucking water," he told Vocativ in the single greatest interview of 2014.

"Everybody thinks it's funny and a joke and I'm going to be on the news," he added. "It's no fuckin' joke, dude. I don't want people thinkin' that Dallas is a dumb ass because he pissed in the fuckin' water. In our drinking water. Yeah, that's fucking awesome. I mean, wouldn't you be pissed about that?"

But what exactly happened that fateful night? Swonger, who that evening had been skateboarding with friends at a park next to the reservoir, explained the incident in detail to Vocativ.

"I was like, 'Dudes I have to piss so bad,'" he said. "So I just went over to the wall [of the reservoir]. I leaned up against the wall and pissed on it. Right there on the wall, dude. I don't know else how to describe it."

The teen also took issue with Portland's initial decision to flush the 38 million gallons of perfectly drinkable water. "Yeah, it's fucking retarded dude," he said. "Like, how they can do that? How can they be like, 'Yeah, we're gonna flush all that water.' Dude, I've seen dead birds in there. During the summer time I've see hella dead animals in there. Like dead squirrels and shit. I mean, really, dude?"

Just days later, Portland reversed course and decided not to flush the water. Was the city's decision inspired by Swonger's persuasive argument? Who can say for sure. Regardless, Dallas Swonger was one of 2014's greatest heroes.

— Taylor Berman


Chrissy Teigen, Ribs Advocate

Chrissy Teigen is a goddamn American hero for finally saying, loudly and proudly, what no one else has had the balls to say: turkey is a garbage meat, elevated only by its lucky association with delicious, worthwhile foods like stuffing and mashed potatoes. This is true on Thanksgiving, and all other days.

The only benefit to eating turkey, really, is that its inherent blandness allows the taste of those desirable Thanksgiving sides to dominate the palate. But we've all been brainwashed by Big Turkey. We see a honey-glazed, ripe-for-carving bird and think, "That looks delicious."

Not Chrissy Teigen though. She started the revolution.

So a special thanks to Chrissy, my personal hero this year, for speaking truth to power: fuck turkey.

— Gabrielle Bluestone


Keanu Reeves, Chill Poet

Think about the last book of poetry you read. This exercise is still relevant if you've never read a book of poetry. Then think about a time that you have acted with impatience, treated someone with disdain, or been a bogus dickneedle to any of our fellow earth creatures. Do you think you might have refrained from acting out of line if you had access to the serene poems and tales of kind acts that pepper the lore of Keanu Reeves?

Long has it been known that the good half of Bill & Ted is a supremely chill and highly relaxed person with good morals and a positive attitude. 2014 was the year that he really let those qualities shine. Lost your credit card? Keanu's bringing it back to you. A line at the party? You better believe Keanu doesn't give himself special privileges to skip it. But he doesn't stop there. This year, Reeves did one of the most outstanding AMAs on Reddit the world has ever seen, telling stories of enlightenment, childhood, and inner peace. I nominated him for poet laureate then, and I nominate him for Gawker hero now.

— Dayna Evans


Malala Yousafzai, Cool Teen

2014, like every year before it was and every year after it will be, was truly The Year of the Teen. Though each teen is my hero in his or her own way, except for the garbage ones, one teen stood out in 2014 among the Snapchatting, sexting masses: 17-year-old education activist Malala Yousafzai.

Yousafzai, who was the subject of a failed assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen when she was just 15 years old, became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize this year for her work fighting for girls' right to an education. On her win, Thorbjoern Jagland, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said, "Despite her youth, Malala Yousafzai has already fought for several years for the right of girls to education and has shown by example that children and young people too can contribute to improving their own situations." United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon said, "With her courage and determination, Malala has shown what terrorists fear most: a girl with a book." Amen, Ban Ki-moon.

She is incredible.

What else is there to say.

Malala. Malala.

— Kelly Conaboy


Renee Dudley, Wal-Mart Investigator

Wal-Mart is one of the most powerful corporations on the planet. The best and most aggressive reporter covering the global retailer is Bloomberg’s Renee Dudley. Want proof? Wal-Mart’s public-relations office spent the past two years trying to smear her reporting as “so thin,” “misleading,” “wildly inaccurate,” “irresponsible,” and “completely false.” Translated into English: Dudley’s journalism was completely correct, and frequently nudged Wal-Mart’s stock price.

The source of Wal-Mart’s invective against Dudley was P.R. head David Tovar, who in September 2014 resigned from the company to “start a new adventure.” Tovar truly couldn’t stand Dudley; in June 2013, he complained to media blogger Jim Romenesko that her reporting was too aggressive—a hilariously gendered protest that would never be leveled against a male journalist—after he banned Dudley from attending a shareholders meeting at the company’s Arkansas headquarters.

Shortly after Tovar abruptly departed Wal-Mart, however, Dudley reported the real story: He had lied to the company about his graduating from the University of Delaware, and only resigned after Wal-Mart officials discovered the decades-old deception. Using her wits and reporting, Dudley went up against a lavishly-compensated executive at the largest private company on Earth, and won. Kudos to her Bloomberg editors, as well, for standing behind one of their most enterprising reporters.

— J.K. Trotter


James Taylor, Host of "West Michigan's Biggest Rave"

Andrew WK really came into his own as the self-anointed patron saint of partying in 2014, and while his message about the sublime power of having fun is an important one, his means of communicating it are a little too self-aware to get to partying's essential core. Enter James Taylor, host of the biggest rave ever to hit western Michigan and owner of the greatest Scott Ian beard since Brian Skinner. Taylor, immortalized on a local news segment in August, reportedly had 2,000 attendees plus 2 DJs, fire-throwers, and strippers at a going-away fete at his Mecosta County home before moving to California, and when reporters came calling the next day, one particularly hardworking partygoer was still passed out on his living room floor.

James Taylor is charismatic. He is unafraid of embarrassment. He is seizing life by the balls and then twisting those balls, reaching around and giving life a fraternal pat on the ass, as if to say, "You tried hard to best me, but I came out on top this time. I'll see you back on the field for round two." James Taylor is partying's purest expression, and we should be honored to share with him the celestial beer ball called Earth on its endless trip 'round the sun.

—Andy Cush


Tyrese, Meme Lover

It's likely you haven't thought about Tyrese in years. Unless you're someone who sees every Fast & Furious movie, why would you have? Nonetheless, Tyrese has been living his life, and he's been living it well. For instance, he has yet to go on The Celebrity Apprentice. Seems crazy, but it's true. Instead, Tyrese spent much of 2014 hanging out with people who are both very famous and very cool.

He started the year by kicking it in Dubai with Will Smith and Maxwell. This would essentially be the peak of most anyone's life, but Tyrese was able to keep a steady plateau across the rest of 2014. When Dr. Dre made hundreds of millions of dollars when Beats Electronics was sold to Apple, it was Tyrese who posted the celebratory video. "How did I end up in the studio with Dr Dre ON THE night his deal went public that he did with Apple 3.2 BILLION!!!!!," Tyrese wrote. On back-to-back days in June, he got ice cream with Brandy and rapped with Meek Mill. You probably assumed that Tyrese wasn't at the White House's Kennedy Center Honors this past month? Wrong! You also probably assumed that when he was at the White House, Tyrese didn't meet Barack Obama. Wrong!!!!! While you spent Thanksgiving with your cousins, Tyrese was back in Dubai with Michelle Rodriguez.

Tyrese loves life. Tyrese loves memes. Like, he really, really loves memes. Everybody loves Tyrese.

— Jordan Sargent


Jan Karski, Holocaust Whistleblower

Information was scant in Europe during the Holocaust. Over a span of a decade or so, beginning when Hitler took power in 1933, the Third Reich's propaganda master, Joseph Goebbels, expertly manipulated and slowly cut off air supply to the independent and anti-Fascist German press. By January of 1942, when the Wannsee Protocol was hammered out and the Final Solution was decided upon, the country's press arm was firmly under the government's control. Any news coming out of Germany was dictated by the Third Reich, which held daily press conferences extolling the urgency and virtue of the Nazi mission.

The Nazi press blitz made use of carefully coded language so it was difficult to tell what, exactly, they were doing. The Wannsee Conference Protocol did not use the word "murder" but "solution." Jews were not killed or exterminated, they were "evacuated" or "deported." Jews who died in concentration camps due to starvation and overwork did so due to "natural causes." The plan was carried out with a sick swiftness. By May of 1943, one year and five months after the establishment of the Wannsee Protocol, 80 percent of Jews killed in the Holocaust had perished.

One would think if there were simply more information, more news, flowing in Europe during this time, something could have been done to stymie the continent's unimaginable genocide. But few were watching, and fewer still believed those who spoke out.

One such person who made himself heard was Jan Karski. A Polish resistance fighter, Karski's story has been cemented in history by his testimony for the 1978 film Shoah. As a member of Poland's army, he was held as a prisoner of war both by the Soviets and the Nazis. He escaped both times and joined the country's underground resistance movement, acting as a courier for the Polish government in exile. Twice he was able to gain access to the Warsaw Ghetto, which was forbidden, and he also infiltrated the sorting and transit point for the Belzec death camp disguised as a guard.

Karski witnessed what no journalist at the time could see: the horror of what would later be named the Holocaust. He took no notes; he merely memorized every detail of what he saw (along with a proficiency in many foreign languages, Karski had a photographic memory and could deliver edicts, word-for-word, after looking at them).

He collected his findings into a leaflet, "The Mass Extinction of Jews in German Occupied Poland," that addressed to the United Nations from the Republic of Poland on December 10, 1942. In July of 1943 (keep in mind that at this point, 80 percent of the Jews killed in the Holocaust were dead), Karski went to America meet with Franklin D. Roosevelt and other powerful White House officials.

Karski later recalled his meeting with Roosevelt: "I answered his questions, told him everything about the Jews, sparing nothing," he said. "I found it helped sometimes to shut my eyes and speak the facts as if I were a machine."

In response, Roosevelt made no mention of the Jews, but did ask Karski how the horses in Poland were faring. (Karski, for his part, made no moral judgment of Roosevelt for this evident failure. He said in a 1995 interview: "I couldn't ask the president, 'What do you think about the Jews, what are you going to do.' I couldn't. I was just a messenger.")

Karski kept trying. He met with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, a Jew, who told him: "I'm not calling you a liar. It's just that I have difficulty in believing you."

Historians say the incredulity of Karski's report worked against him. Karski tried again and again to tell his story to government, to media, but no one wanted to listen. "I had the feeling that they were thinking that I had exaggerated, they thought that it was anti-Nazi propaganda, they couldn't believe what was actually happening," Karski said in the 1995 interview. It took many years for Karski to forgive himself for others' willingness to look the other way, according to Shoah: "What is knowledge?... [philosopher] Raymond Aron, who had fled to London, was asked whether he knew what was happening at that time in the East," Karski said. "He answered: 'I knew, but I didn't believe it, and because I didn't believe it, I didn't know.'"

Karski's story became accepted, and well-known, in 1944, when he published an account of his experiences, The Story of a Secret State. The title sold 400,000 copies in America alone. Following the war, Karski came to the United States and was a professor at Georgetown University until his death in 2000.

"I know that many people will not believe me, will not be able to believe me, will think I exaggerate or invent," Karski wrote in The Story of a Secret State. "But I saw it and it is not exaggerated or invented. I have no other proofs, no photographs. All I can say is that I saw it, and that it is the truth."

There's a statue of Karski outside the Polish consulate at 37th and Madison in New York. Give him a visit sometime.

— Leah Finnegan


Steve Anderson, Nashville Police Chief

On the last Saturday of the year, at a funeral for one of the two police officers killed in their car by a sick and suicidal gunman, as many as a thousand cops turned their backs on New York City's mayor, Bill de Blasio, when he gave his eulogy. The act was the culmination of an unbearably strained relationship between the mayor and the police, spurred in part by de Blasio's moderate response to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations held after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, unarmed black men killed by police in Missouri and New York City, respectively.

The sight of cops defying their democratically elected leaders was embarrassing for the city. But it was also just another tantrum from a police force unaccountable and spoiled rotten, a department that acts in word and deed as a violent and unaccountable occupying force.

A day earlier, in Nashville, Tenn., Metropolitan Nashville Police Department Chief Steve Anderson published a short thank-you note to his officers on the department's website, alongside a letter he'd sent a Nashville resident. The letter was a complaint about Nashville's Black Lives Matter protests, which were greeted by police officers with hot chocolate and coffee. "I wanted to send you this email to express my frustration and outrage at how the situation of these protesters is being handled in Nashville," the letter opens.

Anderson's reply, which you should read in full, is everything the NYPD's actions the next day were not. It is professional, mature, articulate, and thoughtful. It's not nice, exactly, but it's also not contemptuous or dismissive. It enacts its best qualities in its own existence: A police chief allowing himself to be held (and holding himself) accountable to one of the citizens he has sworn to protect and serve.

Best of all, it goes beyond addressing the specific response to the protesters to articulate the theory of policing that undergirds that response:

[I]t is laudable that you are teaching your son respect for the police and other authority figures. However, a better lesson might be that it is the government the police serve that should be respected. The police are merely a representative of a government formed by the people for the people—for all people. Being respectful of the government would mean being respectful of all persons, no matter what their views.

Nashville isn't perfect, and Nashville police aren't perfect. But Anderson's commitment to his vision of the role of the police isn't an act, either. In June, he sent a blistering seven-page memo to the presiding judge of the general session court, berating another judge's "lack of concern in matters involving domestic violence":

Even more telling in Judge Moreland's conversation with me was his statement that "victims sometimes give incorrect information" during judicial proceedings.While that may occur, the credibility of a victim should not be evaluated via an ex parte telephone communication with a third party.

I was also surprised by Judge Moreland's cavalier demeanor during this conversation. Additionally, I certainly resent Judge Moreland's implication, during this conversation, that this is just good ole boys doing what good ole boys do and that I should understand. For the record, I don't understand.

In September, Anderson sent a letter to the House Committee on Oversight detailing his and his officers' refusal in 2013 to fake a search warrant on behalf of the Secret Service, attempting to enter the home of a man who had allegedly posted threatening comments about the president on Facebook.

[Anderson] recalled asking, "Do you think it is appropriate to wave a piece of paper in the air and tell him you have a warrant when you do not have a warrant?"

"Answer: 'I don't know. I'm not a lawyer.'"

(Anderson, for what it's worth, is.)

It feels odd to name a single hero in a year when the most admirable action was being undertaken by groups of people, gathering across the country and demanding to be heard and recognized as human. And it feels odd to declare a police chief a hero in a year in which cops were unambiguously the villains—the militarized agents of a violent white-supremacist state.

Anderson's letter to his constituent is a reminder that it doesn't always have to be like that. It is an invocation of the promise of democracy and the power held by the people. "The police are merely a representative of a government formed by the people for the people—for all people" sounds like an obvious platitude. But it's hard to hear it when your back is turned.

Max Read

[Images via AP, Splash, WKRN]