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Cohen's production, which he'd intended to share with his colleagues at parties for Capt. Bruce's retirement and the winter holidays, is a low-budget, 28-minute, SNL-style affair consisting of a series of short vignettes, some of them backed by a soundtrack of borrowed pop tunes.
In one clip, two white cops pretend to slack off while on duty. Instead of responding to an emergency call, they get out of their cruiser and practice tai-chi, the Chinese meditative art, before visiting a massage parlor, where, the skit implies, they're quite, uh, indisposed.
In another clip, a cop pulls over a female driver and scrutinizes her butt.
In perhaps the most controversial skit, an officer piloting a police cruiser runs over what looks to be a homeless woman and then drives off.
If you watch the vignettes closely, it becomes clear that there's a lot of inside-joking going on. The tai-chi/massage parlor segment seems more like a poke at the officers than some kind of racist commentary on Asian culture; likewise, the traffic cop vignette isn't an ode to testosterone, but rather a satire about a narcissistic male cop.
Sgt. Mike Evanson is the officer who pretends to flatten the lady with his black-and-white. He says the scene was conceived as a spoof on him the concept being that he's too dim-witted even to notice that he'd run someone down.
"Once I knew they were using me as a practical joke, I figured they could use me to provide laughter for the troops," says Evanson, one of the highest-ranking officers sanctioned in the video scandal. "At no time did I ever think [the videos] were racist, sexist, or homophobic. ... You see more racially, sexually oriented-type material on network TV than you do with these vignettes."
Clad in jeans and a green felt cowboy hat, Evanson, a thick man with a pile of silver hair, says the video was all about laughing a little at a time when cops were confronting appalling levels of violence notably, a high percentage of the city's 80-plus annual homicides on a daily basis.
"From my standpoint, the videos were therapy for the officers at Bayview Station," he explains. "As Cohen was putting this stuff together, I saw these hardworking cops unwind."
After six years at Bayview and 18 in the Western Addition, Evanson was suspended without pay for five days and shifted to a desk job at the Hall of Justice in the wake of the video scandal. "You'll find the people who're assigned to Bayview want to be there. They want to help the people," Evanson says. "When they suspended those 24 officers, they took a high percentage of the officers with the knowledge and work ethic to do police work [in Bayview-Hunters Point] off the streets. It affected the whole station and the department as a whole."
Another officer caught in the scandal, who didn't want his name used in this story, expressed extreme displeasure at being sidelined during an ongoing homicide epidemic. "I firmly believe the chief and mayor don't give two shits about anything but their own careers," the cop growls.
The mayor has always insisted that he didn't leave Bayview Station short-staffed, and some outside experts think the officers deserve to be punished. "I doubt there are any vicious propensities, but it's in terribly bad taste," says D.P. Van Blaricom, a former Bellevue, Wash., police chief and nationally recognized expert on police practices. "What they're doing with this video is alienating a part of the community, and police can't afford to alienate anybody." Van Blaricom figures Evanson and any other supervisors should be demoted, saying the sergeant "showed terrible judgment."
Officer Jimmy Lewis disagrees. "The videos had nothing to do with mocking African-Americans, or mocking Asians," says Lewis, who is black and a 25-year department veteran. Like Evanson and Cohen, he's been stuck at a desk since the scandal broke; these days he's running a photocopier in the Records Management Division, essentially purgatory for a street cop.
While speaking to the media, Newsom singled out Lewis, talking about an African-American officer wearing a dog collar, eating out of a dog bowl, and caged like an inmate at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
All of which bothered Lewis, because, according to the cop, Newsom was "embellishing the truth" and the mayor definitely did not know the back story. Yes, Lewis posed as if he were eating Alpo out of a dog bowl. Yes, he posed with a dog catcher at the Animal Control center. But there was no Abu Ghraib routine or anything resembling it, and the whole thing had nothing to do with race.
It all went back to a dispute between Lewis and a sergeant. In the midst of a heated conversation, Lewis went off on his superior officer, saying, "'I'm not your goddamned dog! I don't want to be treated like a dog. I get treated like a dog by the public. I don't have to take it from you.'"
The incident entered the lore and mythology of Bayview Station, and for months afterward Lewis' friends teased him about it. When Cohen came around with a camera, Lewis clowned himself and acted like a dog.