The fatal shootings of police officers in Texas last week are another tragic indication of the animosity between law enforcement and part of the public sector in major cities across the United States. While there has always been some resentment toward members of our police force, never did it escalate to the point of multiple murders.
Fifty years ago, during the anti-Vietnam War protests and Civil Rights activism, policemen often suffered chastisement and threats from groups of citizens. Thankfully, the resentment was primarily limited to writing songs about the officers.
If only our society would return to that form of criticism rather than the violence now so prevalent, we might find that the songs would be more effective than the bloodshed in bringing about change.
Here are examples of some of the classic hits that featured corrupt members of law enforcement.
Officer Ray by Hoyt Axton
The influential folk songwriter had several huge hits for other artists, such as the Three Dog Night and the Kingston Trio, but he himself made the definitive version of this tale about the man wearing “Badge 130 LAPD.”
High Sheriff of Hazzard by Tom Paxton
“With his hands in our pockets he’ll take what he can” Paxton says of the unnamed lawman on the Ramblin’ Boy album, who “is a mine owner too, you know which side he’s on.”
The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia by Vicky Lawrence
A Southern sheriff in this tragic chart-topper arrests the wrong man for murder, as the man’s sister confesses to the crime at the end of the song after he has been hanged.
Hazzard, Kentucky by Phil Ochs
Sheriff Combs is the corrupt officer in this track from the folk legend’s Broadside Tapes album, a guy who “runs the law and also runs the mines.”
Hurricane by Bob Dylan
The policemen in this powerful ballad from the Desire album, which eventually was turned into a motion picture, coerce Arthur Dexter Bradley and his friend Bello into framing middleweight champ Ruben Patterson for murder.
Homeless Brother by Don McLean
The man who became immortal because of his “American Pie” created this poignant title track, which ends with the image of police brutality where “The night stick cracks with crazy rage.”
Movin’ Out by Billy Joel
The law enforcement member in verse two of this hit from The Stranger leads a double life, as evidenced by the line “Sergeant O’Leary is walking the beat, but at night he becomes the bar tender.”