Two white women lip sync side-by-side on Tik Tok. Nearly everything in the shot is blue: their t-shirts, their coffee tumblers, their eyes, and the color of the text they have written over a TikTok video.
The a capella opening of the pop song “Kings & Queens” by Ava Max plays, promising, “To all of the queens who are fighting alone, babe you’re not dancin’ on your own.” The women raise their mugs, pantomime a toast, give an all-knowing nod to their sisterhood of followers.
Welcome to #CopWife TikTok, a community on the video sharing app made by and for police spouses. While their husbands are on duty, they fold their laundry. When their men have to pull an all nighter, they sigh, pour a glass of wine, and put the dinner they made in the fridge. They do popular dances alongside their children, using patrol cars as backdrops. They drink out of mugs blazed with a popular catchphrase: “I do fuck the police. #PoliceWife” (the “U” in “fuck” is made up of a gun and a taser, the “C” is a pair of handcuffs turned on their sides.)
This community peddles a familiar stereotype; the ever-patient wife at home, standing by her man despite long hours, lack of sleep, and—oh right—a nationwide call to defund the police and demand accountability from an institution that refuses to reckon with its inherently racist history.
In June, Rolling Stone’s EJ Dickson wrote about #HumanizeTheBadge, a hashtag created by cops “still trying to be the good guys” amid a summer full of protests. My colleague Tarpley Hitt wrote in The Daily Beast about the problems with that corner of TikTok: “It’s always been overt copaganda, a way to distract from the systemic problems in policing with anecdotes of isolated, [positive] incidents.”
Similarly, #CopWivesofTikTok (nearly 700,000 views strong) and #LEOWives (that’s short for law enforcement officer, just over 400,000 views), serves as homespun PR.
“Recurring themes [of Cop Wife TikTok] include sisterhood with other LEO wives, fighting online with people who disrespect the police, loneliness, and how hard it is to be married to a law enforcement officer, ‘especially in 2020,’” the journalist Katie Way wrote last month in her newsletter, All Cops Are Posters.
Then there are the #BadgeBunnies (456,000 views)—women who want to date men in uniform. Cop wives and badge bunnies have an antagonistic relationship, one that’s often mined for (attempted) humor. Unlike the wannabes, the actual spouses recognize the unglamorous truths of marrying into the profession—and wear these hardships as a badge of honor.
Cherie Wiser (@wholesome.ish.mom) lives with her detective husband and two young children outside of Indianapolis, Indiana. She’s 40 and a stay-at-home mother, although she has a pilot’s license and used to teach aviation. Speaking over the phone, while her son could be heard playing in the background with a toy train, Wiser told The Daily Beast she hopes her content speaks to “both sides of the issue.”
While she has not made a video explicitly saying Black Lives Matter, Wiser said that she supports the movement, at least at home. “My daughter had BLM drawings all over her room this summer,” Wiser said. “I’m always that middle-of-the-road person—how can we all get along?”
In June, Wiser saw “ACAB” spray painted on a building and had to look it up. (It means, “all cops are bastards,” and though the phrase dates back to the 1920s, it was revived this summer in graffiti, protest signs, and hashtags.) She also googled the meaning of “F12,” another political slogan of hazy origin that is synonymous with “fuck the police.” The comment section on her TikToks are now filled with those phrases.
Wiser does not think that supporting the police should be a “divisive” issue. But after a summer full of videos depicting police brutality at protests (and cops continuing to shun masks, the most basic of coronavirus protections), of course it is.
“All Lives Matter is also divisive to me,” Wiser added. “I would never say that in any TikTok. I find both ACAB and All Lives Matter to be divisive phrases—let’s not say them. Even though I think All Lives Matter people mean well, and ACAB people mean well, too. Blue Lives Matter, I don’t love that one either. It triggers people to have a response. I try not to say it.”
She likes “Back the Blue,” and the other popular pro-police hashtag, “Got Your Six.” She also started using a new hashtag, “Mrs. Piggy,” which can be cute or a criticism, depending on who you ask.
“People have been like, ‘Yo, I don’t like cops, but Miss Piggy—lol,” Wiser said. “I think that’s a good thing to bridge the huge gap right now.”
Amanda Taylor (@mt_manda_taco_burrito), a 42-year-old dental hygienist from Billings, Montana, has been married to a cop for almost 12 years. It is a life she never imagined she would have growing up in a family of firefighters who had a joking beef with the police.
“There are these people out there who have this fantasy about men in uniform,” Taylor said. “I never wanted anything to do with it. I never wanted to worry about whether or not my husband was going to come home to me. For example, today my husband has been awake for almost 24 hours because he’s had to work. I’m a single mom putting my kids to bed without their dad, that’s part of it. I never wanted this, but love has a different story for you sometimes.”
Taylor believes that her TikToks “expose things that a lot of people don’t think about when they think about being a cop wife.” She speaks about the boredom, the solitude, the cold dinners on the table that go uneaten when her husband has to work overtime.
She has found camaraderie in the other TikTok cop wives she met online. “It’s really a gathering place where we found each other,” Taylor said. “It’s such a huge support system, which is important for us. Our husbands are gone a lot, they’re emotionally and physically exhausted, so they’re not always available. You need to find like-minded people who can understand what you’re going through.”
Wiser made a few (“less than ten”) friends on TikTok who are cops’ wives, but her social circle is still predominantly spouses of cops she knows from her husband’s work.
“Law enforcement and military wives, we can be a little over-the-top,” she said. “It becomes a whole personality. They wear the T-shirts and when I see that, it’s a little cringe-y. That’s a stereotype. That’s not me.”
“I could only watch it once, and then my husband watched it,” she said. “He paused for a while. He was very stone-faced. He doesn’t show his emotions really well, that’s part of being a cop, but he seemed anxious about it. He said it was really hard to watch, and I asked if he thought it was wrong. He said yes; he was very adamant that this is not the right way to police.”
The video did not change how she views law enforcement as an institution; she believes the problem is with the individual officer. While the events of this summer may have encouraged many white Americans to take a closer look at how cops police Black men and women, Wiser has been attuned to these types of incidents for years.
“With [George Floyd], white people as a whole have gotten better at seeing this,” she said. “I’ve never seen so many people out protesting.” She remembers the 2016 shooting of Charles Kinsey—a Black mental health therapist aiding his autistic patient in North Miami, Florida—as one of the earliest instances of trigger-happy cops she viewed as unjust. (Kinsey, who was unarmed, survived the attack.)
Wiser did not ask her husband, whose social media is private, for permission before posting on #CopWivesofTikTok. Various police departments have allowed officers themselves to maintain a presence on TikTok, with rare exceptions.
Earlier this month, a Coral Springs, Florida, police sergeant named Gilbert Monzon was suspended without pay for two weeks after posting videos on the app where he disparaged Mexican immigrants. (Sgt Monzon’s union, the Broward County Police Benevolent Association, stood by the officer and called the investigation a “witch hunt.”)
According to the New York Post, NYPD social media policy “prohibits officers from posting photographs of themselves in uniform and/or displaying official identification without authorization.” They also cannot put their job or title in an online handle.
Wiser did not ask her husband’s permission before making a TikTok; unlike a lot of cops’ wives she tends not to film him. “The only thing I’ve asked him about was the social media policy at his department,” she said. “I absolutely don’t speak for him or them.”
Still, most of the comments on Wiser’s videos and the messages she gets focus on her husband. “That’s the most hurtful stuff to me,” she said. “When someone says, ‘Your husband kills innocent people,’ that one’s really hard for me not to fight back and respond to. My husband is a really sweet guy. My husband picks up spiders and puts them outside.”
One frequent point of trolling cop wives comes when commentators point out a tragic statistic: police officers are two to four times more likely to commit acts of intimate partner violence than the general population.
“I hate the idea that anyone would weaponize this fact on social media against the wives of police officers,” Leigh Goodmark, a law professor at the University of Maryland who published a 2015 paper about cops and domestic violence, told The Daily Beast.
Goodmark would not say the abuse is rampant; “prevalent is a fair word.” Before publishing her paper, she collected news articles about every instance she could find. “It’s shocking how many there are,” Goodmark said. “The thing about it is, for every wife we do know about, there are undoubtedly so many more, because it’s hard for a police officer’s spouse to do anything public about it.”
Why? “Inherent in the culture of policing in a militarized masculinity,” Goodmark said. “That has a significant overlap with the kinds of people who perpetrate violence against their intimate partners. People who go into policing are more likely to have authoritarian personalities, expect deference to authority, and be primed to use violence when that authority is challenged.”
Michele Goodwin, a Chancellor’s professor at the University of California’s Irvine School of Law, noted that these TikTok videos traffic a “modern day version of the 1950s family,” with one crucial, only-in-2020 twist.
“The 1950s version was, ‘I’m happy to be at home and take care of my family,’” Goodwin said. “This TikTok version is more aggressive, perhaps. These are defiant messages about, ‘My man the officer.’ They’re saying, ‘Stay away from my policeman, or I’ll take you down.’”
Like many other TikToks, cop wives often use R&B and hip-hop to soundtrack their videos. A popular trend earlier this spring featured wives filming their husband, in uniform, while the song “My Type,” by Saweetie played. “This phenomena is buttressed by the use of rap songs,” Goodwin said. “Yet protests in the streets happen to be about systemic racism in law enforcement and the United States.”
One thing the clips do not do, according to Goodwin, is “allow people to ask critical questions about policing in the United States.”
“These videos are meant to convey a message of support and in addition to that, show cops have good, healthy, happy families, are men who treat their wives well, their kids well, and their dogs well,” she added. “This counters the images that we see through people’s iPhones and cell phones of knees on necks and shootings in the back.”
The wives tend to celebrate the individual, rather than interrogate the institution. To be fair, a 15-second clip does not allow for great nuance. But Goodwin wishes there could be “two messages at the same time” on #CopWivesofTikTok.
She wonders, “What if the wives said, ‘I love you and I care for you,’ alongside, ‘I am so scared and sorry about the society we live in’”?
Maybe the short videos will evolve in time. Before the election, Wiser went on Joe Biden’s campaign website to read about his proposals for criminal justice reform. “He said something like, ‘I’m going to get everybody in the same room,’” she recalled. “I think that is an excellent start. I don’t care if it is a Democrat or a Republican who does it, but let’s get things going.”