How would you characterize the cops in "The Cop and the Anthem"?
Several police officers in O’Henry’s story can be characterized as incredulous, careful, and efficient.
When Soapy throws a rock through a shop window, a nearby officer does not arrest him. The officer is incredulous: he does not believe that the culprit would hang around.
When Soapy makes inappropriate comments to a woman on the street, the officer recognizes, as Soapy did not, that the woman is a prostitute. The officer is careful not to intervene. While today’s reader cannot know the exact laws of the time regarding solicitation, as the man had not engaged the prostitute’s services,...
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O. Henry uses the police officers in "The Cop and the Anthem" to highlight the difference between laws and their enforcement.
As the hero Soapy commits several valid offenses, a series of "cops" apply their own discretion, authority, and prejudiced perception of the facts. First, the officers fail to acknowledge his crimes, then arrest him for the appearance of a crime when he's legitimately innocent.
Homeless Soapy's goal is obtaining a warm and well fed jail cell for the Winter, so he intentionally begins breaking laws. Each particular offense Soapy commits is actually a crime but for a variety of reasons no charges are brought.
Soapy begins his crime spree by tossing a rock through a plate glass shop window. Because he stood by until the law arrived, and admitted the crime, the officer didn't believe him, arresting instead an innocent man who just happened to be suspiciously running further down the block.
His next crime, eating in a restaurant without the money to pay, illustrates how the cops can be left out of the picture entirely. The restaurant workers apply their own vigilante justice and serve as judge, jury and executioner. They physically tossed Soapy out on the sidewalk and considered justice well served.
Soapy's attempt to insult a lady enough to get arrested backfires when she turns out to be a prostitute and willing to accept his advances. Similarly his theft of a man's umbrella goes unreported as the fellow had stolen the umbrella himself.
Some crimes are intentionally ignored. Soapy's attempt at mock "drunk and disorderly" behavior in front of an officer is dismissed as boyish exuberance and not worth prosecuting, much the same way that marijuana laws and sodomy laws go generally unenforced today.
Once Soapy wanders into a church and resolves to change his ways, vowing to seek employment and raise his status, he arouses the false suspicions of the story's final cop.
Because Soapy looked so out of place, the officer believed he had to be up to no good and arrested him. African-Americans today face similar false accusations for nothing more illegal than visiting a typically white establishment.