By Steven Jay Griffel
Queens, NY, USA

The second time I visited Ralph Friedman in his beautiful home in western Connecticut I was with my wife. I hadn’t seen Ralph since 2015, when I’d first interviewed him for Stay Thirsty Magazine. At that time, Ralph’s reputation was mostly the stuff of local Bronx legend. But that would soon change. Earlier that year the New York Post had upticked Ralph’s rep by running an article about his extraordinary career as an NYPD cop and detective. It was that article that inspired me to write my own. During our first interview, Ralph mentioned—in passing, and quite modestly—that there might be a book deal and even a TV series in the works. Somewhat jealously, I noted those details in my writing pad. Two years later, Street Warrior (St. Martin’s Press) was in bookstores and Ralph was giving interviews on TV and radio. Even more impressively, he soon had his own weekly television show, produced by the Discovery network: Street Justice: The Bronx, an exciting and informative docudrama of his career, set in the infamously violent Fort Apache neighborhood of the Bronx in the 1970s and ’80s. 

In December 2017, Ralph invited me and my wife to watch the premier of the show’s fifth episode (which had migrated to the Investigation Discovery channel). There was plenty food and drink and the mood was merry. Hanging from a magnificent wooden rafter in his spacious living room was a huge banner advertising the TV series; also hanging was a festoon of photos, celebrating the man of the hour: Ralph Friedman, aka Supercop, the most decorated detective in the long history of the NYC Police Department.

About an hour after we arrived, the lights dimmed, signaling that the show was about to begin. My wife and I had primo, ringside seats on an impressively large, leather pit couch, facing a movie theater-sized television screen. We were surrounded by nearly sixty of Ralph’s friends and fans, all seemingly stoked for an hour of homeboy, kickass action. As the show began there were plenty hoots and high-fives. Suffice to say, I felt a tiny bit out of place: the left-leaning pacifist who was smart enough not to wear his “I Kneel With Colin Kaepernick” T-shirt.    

As I watched, I was aware of several existentially provocative circumstances: I was aware of Ralph, who was standing directly behind me—still fit, still tattooed—who was watching himself on TV as a talking head … and as he was in his younger days, played by a ruggedly handsome and fit actor (Timothy Weinert). The situation reminded me of the Norman Rockwell painting in which he pictures himself as if he were looking at his own mirrored-reflection.

Street Justice - Discovery Channel Trailer

I thoroughly enjoyed the show that night. Each episode of Street Justice, the Bronx is an hour of crime drama and social commentary, craftily integrated for the dual purpose of entertainment and edification. I loved the series, especially (for me) the many levels of reality and illusion at play. But watching Ralph watch himself perform so many feats of heroism made me (a devout coward) wonder how he could always have been so cool and composed as he was portrayed. And so I asked him some probing questions.

STEVEN JAY GRIFFEL: Early in your career, you were a patrolman in the Fort Apache section of the Bronx. I suppose no amount of cadet training could have readied you for every dangerous contingency. Do you remember an early incident when you felt unprepared and had to rely on your intuition or guesswork to get out of a tough jam?

RALPH FRIEDMAN: To be honest I felt prepared. When you went through the academy in those days (1970) you were well trained and hyped to believe you could do anything and could handle any job you might face. The training and indoctrination were excellent. Besides all that, I was working out heavily and was in great shape. I also took some karate classes and I was a very confident person. I’d had fights as a kid and into my teens and was never scared to hit or get hit. Put that together with the police training (in those days they wanted you to be pro-active and aggressive), along with the courses they gave in boxing and judo, and you definitely felt confident and ready to handle all situations. To sum it up, my police training and my own pursuit of bodybuilding and physical training gave me all the confidence I needed on the street.

Ralph Friedman tattoos

STEVEN JAY GRIFFEL: Think of a situation where you felt you were in over your head … and could only pray that you would survive. Describe your emotions at the time.

RALPH FRIEDMAN: Early in my career, probably around the end of 1970 or early 1971, when I was still in uniform, I’d just got into a radio car for work on the nightshift, and my partner and I pulled over a suspicious car with two male blacks in it. They got out of the car and refused orders to show their license and registration and then started to fight us. They were big, and I mean big, and they were beating the shit out of the both of us. I was in great shape then and still couldn’t get the upper hand. I went down and my guy was still beating me and I saw my partner was in the same situation on the other side of the car. I was trying to get to the patrol car for two reasons: to get my nightstick and to radio for help, which I finally did, and within seconds I heard the sirens racing towards us.... I have to tell you, that was the best sound I ever heard. During the fight I actually felt I was going to be beaten to death. Thankfully, help arrived and my partner and I were saved.

STEVEN JAY GRIFFEL: You’ve had hundreds of violent confrontations. In the vast majority I’m sure you acted appropriately to subdue the perpetrator and to protect yourself. But there must have been times when the situation was so heated it resulted in an excessive response from you. Describe such a situation.

RALPH FRIEDMAN: Yes, I had hundreds of violent confrontations. Ninety-nine percent of the time the suspect was contained, the threat removed, and it was over. But I admit there were some perps who did horrific things and definitely needed some immediate street justice … or shall I say, my fighting anger went on a little longer than need be to actually arrest him. I remember there was this one guy who beat his girlfriend senseless for no reason and then beat up her helpless little puppy. That touched a nerve … and he was like 6’6” 280 pounds. Need I say more: he got some instant street justice. He found out he wasn’t so tough after all.

Steven Jay Griffel Touring the Bronx with Ralph Friedman (iPhone video: Steven Jay Griffel)

STEVEN JAY GRIFFEL: I’ve watched enough crime dramas to know that a police officer must occasionally bend a rule—or even disobey a direct order—because of unusual circumstances. Describe one such situation and your feelings.

RALPH FRIEDMAN: I’ve bent a lot of rules, but didn’t break them. As a police officer you have to make adjustments to make things work sometimes … it’s called greasing the wheels of justice … but I never disobeyed a direct order from a superior. I’m a good soldier … and I was dealing with violent criminals that had no regard for human life.

STEVEN JAY GRIFFEL: Was there ever a time when fear—or some other emotion—paralyzed your action or your ability to make a decision?

RALPH FRIEDMAN: In really violent situations there is no time for fear. Deadly situations require a split-second response. Your training kicks in and you must respond to whatever the situation calls for. When someone is using deadly physical force against you, or your partner, or against a civilian, you must react in a flash … no time to think “I’m scared” or “I should have done this or that.” Your response has to be a reflex to stop the threat immediately and absolutely.

STEVEN JAY GRIFFEL: There must have been situations when you had to cover for a fellow officer who had made a mistake or intentionally did something wrong. Without naming names, describe your thoughts and feelings regarding one such situation. 

RALPH FRIEDMAN: In every unit I worked, the officers were excellent, knowledgeable, honest, brave, smart, and well trained. They didn’t make mistakes. Rules may have been bent, but not broken.

STEVEN JAY GRIFFEL: You and I talked briefly about Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. Do you think all lives matter? 

RALPH FRIEDMAN: No, all lives do not matter. I, as well as many other officers, see things that civilians cannot imagine … they may read about it or hear about it, but their brains cannot completely comprehend how horrific some things are. Police officers who work the streets see these things and know the pain first hand. When you respond to a job and see an infant that has dozens of cigarette burns on their body, or a six-month-old girl who has been raped, or an elderly person who was beaten very badly, then you come to realize the person or persons that did that don’t deserve to live. Their lives do not matter. Their lives mean less to me than a cockroach’s life. Terrorists who detonate bombs killing and maiming people, their lives don’t matter to me. I think by now you’re getting the point. Not all lives matter.

Steven Jay Griffel 


Steven Jay Griffel is an Amazon bestselling novelist, an editor, and a publisher. His latest novel, The Ishi Affair, was released in March 2017.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.