A Police Cover-up Along Boston's Racial Divide
By Dick Lehr
Harper, Hardcover, 9780060780982, 400pp.
Publication Date: July 1, 2009
A riveting, true-life account of violence, racial injustice, and betrayal within the ranks of the Boston Police Department
The Boston police officers who brutally beat Michael Cox at a deserted fence one icy night in 1995 knew right away that they had made a terrible mistake. The badge and handgun under Cox's bloodied parka proved it: He was not a black gang member but a plainclothes officer who had been chasing the same murder suspect they were.
While Cox was being beaten, Officer Kenny Conley chased down and captured the suspect. Afterward, as Cox waited for an apology from his department, federal prosecutors accused Conley of lying when he denied witnessing Cox's beating. Both Cox and Conley grew up in Boston and had dedicated their lives to serving the Boston Police Department, but when they needed its support, they were abandoned.
A remarkable work of investigative journalism, The Fence details the shocking story of the attack, the attempted cover-up by police officers beholden to a "blue wall of silence," and the bitter repercussions on the lives of those involved. It follows Cox's 1998 federal civil rights trial against the Boston Police Department and features a diverse cast of characters, including the victims, their families, the officers accused in the beating, city officials, and the actual murder suspect—all set against the rich backdrop of Boston.
Like J. Anthony Lukas's 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning classic Common Ground, The Fence examines Boston's race relations and the unwritten police code of covering up through the intimate lens of those who experienced the crime directly. By coming to know the officers and criminals brought together that night at the fence—and the families whose lives were changed forever as a result—we sense how deeply the strains of prejudice run in this city still haunted by tribalism and racial tension.
Boston journalist Dick Lehr has written a gritty, captivating true-crime story with unusual depth—a chilling exploration of what happens when fear of admitting mistakes combines with a police culture of lying to undermine justice.
“Jolting, nightmarish and potent, this true cop yarn bests any bogus reality show or overblown tabloid tale with its hardboiled spin.”
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)