Frank Serpico is an American hero because he represents what is best about this country: not only the ability, but the requirement to speak out against the abuses of authority. Today this ability is under attack. When the NY Times dares to print a report that shows that the Bush administration has extended their unauthorized power to the point of secretly investigating the bank accounts of anyone they deem suspicious of possible terrorist links, it is not the Bush administration that bears the brunt of Congressional outrage, it is the press!
Frank Serpico became famous to the point of being played by Al Pacino back when Al Pacino was actually a good actor. The movie which bears Serpico’s last name is basically pretty accurate as it relates Serpico’s evolution from cop on the beat to undercover agent who becomes one of the first NYPD officers to ever break the so-called Blue Wall of Silence. Frank Serpico witnessed police corruption and graft going on around him at all levels and, thank goodness, reacted in a way that used to be called American. He went to the higher levels and told them what he was seeing.
Those who have read my article on the rat bastard Elia Kazan may say hold on, Mr. Sexton. Didn’t you just vilify that man for ratting out his friends before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the communist witch hunt? Yes, I did. And here’s the difference: Being a communist was never a crime, even during the late 40s and 50s. What those bad cops were doing was most definitely illegal.
Frank Serpico is an American hero because this is one of the few countries where a person can call to the carpet those who are abusing their power. Of course, just because you can is no guarantee that you’ll be treated as a hero when you do. Frank Serpico was treated as an outcast, ostracized and demeaned. His career suffered. Worse, he was shot during a drug bust and left to die without any other officers calling in an “officer down.” Circumstances indicate that the shooting was probably a set-up by the officers who feared him.
Today, when someone dares to call into question the tactics and reasoning behind the policies of the Bush White House, it is no unusual for them to be vilified. This country was founded upon the very idea of raising a dissenting voice against an authority figure who abused his power. That is the very definition of being an American. If it hadn’t been for a group of people who believed that you don’t just sit back and trust that your leaders will always act in the best interest of its citizens there wouldn’t be an America today. And there would be no American heroes.
We look back on Frank Serpico now as a hero. Most of us look back on Woodward and Bernstein as heroes for pursuing the Watergate story. At the time, however, all three of these guys were ridiculed, harassed and called traitors. (True, Bob Woodward is a traitor now, but mostly to himself.) Time has a wonderful way of evening out some of the injustices of the world. We who daily harangue the abuses of power we see going on within the Bush administration are referred to as unpatriotic, un-American, liberal ranters, idiots, America-haters, and much worse.
Frank Serpico had to deal with far worse in his commitment to exposing the truth, so I don’t really complain too much. Usually I just consider the source and ignore it. Just as time has made Frank Serpico a hero, so will time reveal that we who’ve been shouting out unpleasantness for the past four years were right. Time has already moved in that direction. A very small minority of us back in 2003 said that going to war in Iraq was wrong. Today, at long last, a majority of people are saying that.
The world needs far more Frank Serpicos and far less George W. Bushes.