In his essay “What Is It Like to Be a Man?,” Phil Christman characterizes the experience of masculinity as that of an “abstract rage to protect.” Christman’s prototypical example is the man who spends all his time worrying about how to protect his family from sudden, cinematic violence while often failing to protect them from life’s more mundane exigencies—the sort that require “holding down a hated but necessary job, cleaning the toilet,” and so forth. He demands honor and obeisance from his family out of respect for his calling to throw himself on a grenade or shoot a home intruder should the occasion arise, yet he never seems to help with the dishes. Call this, perhaps, the priority of the violent speculative.
I can think of no better definition for the warrior-cop ethos, unless it is perhaps to add the word “fearful” to Christman’s characterization. (And fear is a consistent presence in Christman’s account: In the next paragraph of his piece, he summarizes Norah Vincent’s findings after going around in drag for a year to experience male sociality firsthand: “Every social encounter between men is potentially a fistfight.”) More than anything else, the warrior-cop ethos teaches police officers to be afraid. Every traffic stop should be treated as an armed standoff because any person pulled over for a broken taillight could be packing an assault rifle and a longing for death, as a writer for one police industry website argues. Failure to exude a sufficient “command presence” can get an officer killed, argues another. The first rule of law enforcement is to “get home at the end of the shift,” and it is “better to be judged by 12 than carried by six.” Consider the “I feared for my life” language that follows nearly every police shooting. For the officer who aspires to be a warrior cop, Christman’s logic of masculinity takes a heightened form: Every social encounter is potentially a shootout.