“Frank, let’s face it, who can trust a cop who don’t take money?” is one of my favorite lines from the 1973 movie “Serpico” starring Al Pacino. I read the book “Serpico” by Peter Maas when I was a kid long before seeing the movie.
In the movie, Frank explains that all his life he wanted to be nothing but a cop. As a nine or ten year old, he recalls, there was an emergency in his neighborhood with lots of excitement and flashing lights and a big crowd gathered around a tenement. And he was asking everybody what happened but nobody knew.
“Then all of a sudden the crowd just parted—like the Red Sea—and there were these guys in blue and I thought, ‘They know.’”
That’s how Frank Serpico, the proto-type of the uncorruptible cop, back in the days when many of New York’s Finest were most corrupt. Serpico idolized, romanticized and idealized being a policeman because of the power and knowledge policemen had—and because of the service the provided to the people.
Perhaps the same could be said of elected politicians—although there are much fewer opportunities to become an elected official than there are cops.
Senators and Representatives, they know, and they are surrounded by crowds and they, supposedly, help the people.
Police corruption is based on the premise that cops sell their power to withhold or avoid arrest and imprisonment for the benefit of criminals. Similarly, political corruption is based on the premise that Congresspersons sell their power to pass laws and enact funding for the benefit of criminals and quasi-criminals.
With the health care “debate”, we have seen how legalized bribes in the form of campaign contributions offered by the health care insurance industry have bought off the Blue Dogs and the Republicans.
America needs a Frank Serpico of Congress. What Serpico went through to maintain is integrity as a law enforcement officer is more than admirable, it is iconic. In ancient times Frank Serpico would have been turned into a Roman God of virtue. In my young mind—and today—that is exactly what he is—only New York is Rome, as it is in many other aspects.
A Frank Serpico of Congress today would make the rest of them shrivel and shrink like demons before an exorcist just because of comparison reasons. Those bribe takers we have now would not be able to easily explain to their constituents who they really work for and why.
Is it the money from lobbyists or concern for the welfare of the people and the betterment of society that they care most about?
Sure, corporations are people too. And so are pimps, prostitutes, pushers, polluters and politicians.
This is supposed to be the official Frank Serpico blog. If we cannot have a Frank Serpico-type Congressperson, then perhaps Serpico’s opinions of current American politics will help.
For those who have never seen the film or read the book, I recommend them both.
Plus, it’s a New Yawk story! And I will always love New Yawk!