I completed my John Cazale experience by watching Sidney Lumet’s movie Dog Day Afternoon on Neflix Instant Play. I had seen the beginning of the movie as a child when it originally came out on television, but as it is not a children’s movie, I quickly lost interest.
Steve Sailer has written about the gradual professionalization of law enforcement since the 1970s, specifically that police departments have trained their officers in specific procedures that maximize their own safety. Dog Day Afternoon portrays the early 1970s New York police as an unfunny clown act where the detective managing the siege barely controls teeming crowd of uniformed and plainclothes officers, who seem more interested in getting a piece of the action than in going home alive. Is this a representative portrayal? Or have movies and television gotten better over the years at the way they depict law enforcement sieges?
Al Pacino’s character famously incites the multiracial crowd against the police surrounding the bank by reminding them of the Attica Prison Riot, which ended when police opened fire into the tear gas befogged prison yard. It’s not clear whether the real-life bank robbers did this, but clearly the scene had resonance with mainstream movie audiences in 1975. The weird thing is that today – in ways large and small – the police are even more inimical to the freedom of Americans in general than they were in the early 1970s, and yet politically they seem almost as untouchable as the armed services, at least among whites. Why is this?
I have a couple of possible answers to that question. White America invested massive social capital in law enforcement as part of winning the war on the black crime spree of the late 70s - early 90s, and they are still riding that social capital. Related to that is the loss of political balance: the cause of law enforcement (and prosecutorial) restraint was all but dropped by white Democrats after the 1988 election. Now we have two parties bidding each other for the tough-on-crime vote while the police are getting away with murder, sometimes literally.