Blue Line


April 16, 2014  By Robert Lunney

A friend and colleague retired as the police chief of a mid-West U.S. city. He became a police consultant and travelled often. One night he returned from a trip and took a seat in the shuttle bus to the airport parking lot. Another man joined him and, after a searching look, asked, “Didn’t you used to be somebody?” My friend replied, “Yes and someday I hope to be somebody again.”

Interesting question: If you are not a somebody, does this make you a nobody? And who gets to decide who is a somebody and who is a nobody? A somebody in one setting can be a nobody in another and vice versa. Surely we would all prefer to be somebodies, but (with apologies to Gilbert & Sullivan) when everyone is somebody then no one’s anybody.

is a slim book by Robert W. Fuller, New Society Publishers 2003. Fuller takes the issue to the next level where he addresses rankism.

The author explains: Somebodies are persons with more power, signified by rank in a specific setting. Rankism is defined as abusive, discriminatory or exploitive behaviour towards people because of rank in a hierarchy. Rank-based abuse is related to bullying, racism, sexism and homophobia and it can occur in any social order. It can take many forms, such as exploiting one’s position to secure unwarranted advantage, using rank to get away with insulting or humiliating others with impunity or exporting the rank to claim superior value as a person.

Rankism in policing may not be blatant but it is not unknown. A person of promoted status exercising rank to issue a lawful order is not practicing rankism, but a person of promoted rank is demonstrating rankism if he or she uses their position to humiliate or insult a person of lesser status. That same person would also be demonstrating rankism by using their position to claim an unwarranted privilege over others not associated with the job. The principle equally applies to persons in authority claiming privilege in circumstances beyond the limits of their station, like a police officer bulling his way to the head of the line at a coffee shop.

Author Fuller proposes respect for equality of dignity as the antidote to rankism. Dignity is inherent and non-negotiable. No person’s dignity is any less worthy of respect and of less significance than anyone else’s. Healthy police organizations are respectful of the inherent dignity of all employees regardless of status or position and alert against any evidence of rankism. Police officers in a democratic society are respectful of the dignity of the citizens they encounter as they carry out their duties.

Closing on a lighter but cautionary note for all would-be somebodies, this quote from comedian Lilly Tomlin: “I’ve always wanted to be a somebody… I should have been more specific.”

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