Andrew Cohen — the producer of the tasteless video that’s been at the heart of the current San Francisco Police Department scandal — is not a bad Jew. He’s a good Jew who made a bad decision, and he’s certainly gotten a lot of negative exposure for it.
Certainly, you’ve seen the headlines by now, headlines that shocked me when I first opened my daily newspaper last month: “Video scandal rocks S.F. police … 20 officers ordered suspended … Mayor condemns ‘sexist,’ ‘racist’ films.”
A few years ago, Drew and I dated. Well, “dated” is the wrong word. Drew and I are both solo parents — we get no help from the other parent — so how much dating can one do? What we did that warm spring was eat dinner together every week at his place: Drew, his two girls, my girl and me.
His daughters are biracial, like my daughter, both super-sweet and intelligent girls who took my then-3-year-old under their wing. Drew is a fine cook, a loving father and a great disciplinarian (what would you expect from a police officer?). I certainly picked up a lot of parenting tips from him. Oh, and if you listen to the gossip among Jewish women around Berkeley, he’s certainly one good-looking hunk of a man.
For years, Drew has been producing the public-service police series, “Hearts of the City.”
One night, in his recording studio, he sang and recorded a lullaby for my little girl so she could listen to it on the way home to fall asleep. It was at his house that my daughter watched “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” for her first time, and it remains one of her all-time favorite movies. When Drew took his daughters to Disneyland that spring, we went to pick them up at the airport, and today, my girl still talks about the Minnie Mouse toothbrush they brought back for her.
It was evident from the start that a real relationship wouldn’t develop. After all, he’s a cop and I’m a reporter. That’s not a good recipe for love.
Within a few months, our dinners graciously came to an end. The last time I bumped into Drew was about a year ago at Trader Joe’s, as we both stocked up on school lunch supplies.
I’ve seen clips of the 28-minute DVD on my local news station, including an image of a black officer eating from a dog bowl. Drew told the media that this was meant to be a “good-natured, inside joke” for the Bayview police station’s Christmas party.
I find the images tasteless, but I don’t think Drew is a bad Jew. (He’s not observant, but sends his daughters to the after-school program at the Berkeley Richmond Jewish Community Center.)
I don’t think he’s a bad person either.
In fact, did you know that Mayor Willie Brown had proclaimed Oct. 14, 1998 as “Officer Andrew Cohen Day” to honor his community outreach work?
“I’m a liberal Berkeley Jew with two biracial children, who was raised by a very strong liberal woman,” Drew told the San Francisco Chronicle last month.
From what I gather, the video was just a prank (looking for Drew to elaborate, I left a message saying I was writing this column, but he hasn’t replied yet).
Did the negative publicity surrounding Andrew Cohen affect the Jewish community? Jonathan Bernstein, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in San Francisco, says he hasn’t seen any evidence that people equated Drew with the Jewish community as a whole. But he does agree with criticisms of Drew’s actions.
“He had a serious lack of judgment,” Bernstein says. “The argument that this is private humor doesn’t fly with me.
“You wouldn’t see this sort of thing being produced in a private company. The police should really be held to a higher standard because of the role they play in our society.”
In my book, for Drew to reclaim his character as a good Jew, he would need to come out and apologize to the public for his poor judgment. That’s what a decent Jewish man should do, right?
Sure enough, at a press conference Dec. 14, he did say he was sorry. “I’m apologizing for any harm that it has caused,” he said.
A good Jew indeed.