Service with a Smile

 

In an exchange in Decatur, Alabama, between a police employee and a handcuffed citizen, the employee identified himself as F*ck You when the citizen asked his name. The citizen and another young man had been filming a music video outside, and there are conflicting accounts about whether they used a handgun as a prop in filming. The sight of the handgun may have prompted a passerby to call police. It is unclear if that is what brought police to the scene, but if it did, then the two young men used poor judgment in filming in public with a handgun without making it abundantly clear they were engaged in a harmless fiction.

 

Further speculation on what brought about the police encounter devolves into victim blaming and sidetracks the basic point, which is that the behavior of Officer F*ck You was clearly out of bounds and unnecessary. It turned out the two citizens had not been up to no good and there had been no need to handcuff them and illegally search at least one of them. Officer F*ck You’s thin skinned behavior is precisely the kind of escalation of an encounter with a citizen that too often ends with the police employee meting out violent street injustice. A person as hotheaded and drunk with power as Officer F*ck You has no business dealing with the public.

Hello my name is sticker
Many people dealing with the public find it helpful to wear a sticker like this one. Write in whatever name you like, but try to be nice! Image created by Eviatar Bach.

We can imagine other scenarios for the encounter in order to guess at why it went wrong, but thankfully stopped short of becoming another incident of a police employee murdering a citizen. What if the two citizens had been middle-aged white businessmen in suits and ties? Chances are higher in that case there would have been no police encounter at all, even if a passerby had spotted a handgun. Surely such fine gentlemen must have good reason for what they’re doing! Perhaps they’re police detectives filming a training video!

Had the police nonetheless been called to the scene, chances are high the police employees would have treated the two white, middle-aged men in suits with circumspection and respect while working politely toward a peaceful resolution to the problem. Had Officer F*ck You been called to the scene at all, he might have introduced himself instead as Sam-I-Am, the character in Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham who beguiles another character into trying the titular foods. Or he could have said with a salty twist “Call me Ishmael”, as the narrator does at the beginning of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.

“The Name Game”, a 1964 song written by Shirley Ellis and Lincoln Chase, and performed by Shirley Ellis.

There are any number of names Officer F*ck You could have used if it is the policy of the Decatur police department for employees not to identify themselves when asked by a citizen. He could have referred to such a policy as a reason for not giving any name at all. Contrary to what many people may believe, it is not a matter of law that police employees identify themselves by name, but a matter of each police department’s policy. All of the alternative tactics mentioned above would have conveyed a less hostile tenor and might have even lowered the tension. Isn’t that what a police employee is supposed to do in order to keep the peace? What purpose does it serve when a police employee gets in a citizen’s face when that person simply asks for a name and badge number? Who does it protect to belligerently retort “F*ck You! F*ck You is my name!”?
— Ed.

 

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Standing on Shaky Ground

 

Last weekend was the anniversary of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and while the organizer of that rally was denied a permit by the mostly dysfunctional Charlottesville city government for a reprise this year in Charlottesville, he was able to promote a rally in Washington, D.C., where it fizzled. Meanwhile, in Charlottesville, police employees showed up in force, 1,000 of them, in order to make up for last year when they stood by and did as little as possible to keep the two sides from fighting. Since the police employees had even less to do this year despite their greater numbers and show of macho force in riot gear, they contented themselves with bossing around peaceful, law-abiding citizens who wished to conduct business as usual on the downtown pedestrian mall, site of some last year’s conflicts.

Police State Pittsburgh G20
Police employees power tripping at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in September 2009. Among the other tricked out military gear, note the desert camouflage trousers, surplus from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, being worn by servers and protectors in the green, leafy environs of home as they serve and protect the interests of the conservative 1%. Photo by katesheets.

 

The police appear to have no concept of reasonable proportion and common sense discretion which would permit them to gauge an appropriate middle ground in these civil conflicts. They are hammers, and to them almost everybody looks like nails. They are either busting heads, almost always of those on the left, or standing by idly and collecting overtime while the two sides in fascist and anti-fascist protests engage each other violently. It’s not hard to guess based on police conduct that most of them sympathize with protesters on the far right. No one impartial appears to be directing the police at these events. This is nothing new in American life, that the police would side with the most conservative portions of the citizenry against the left. The police slogan “To serve and protect” has always implied a narrow constituency. What’s all the more interesting then is that the supposedly liberal city government in Charlottesville, out of fear and a desperate desire to reclaim their reputation from last year’s debacle, deferred to local and state police organizations eager to impose for one weekend an authoritarian regime in an empty show of over-the-top policing.
— Ed.

 

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Calling All Cars

 

Following up on a story from last December in which some gamers involved an innocent man in their dispute by calling in the police on a phony hostage situation, ultimately leading to the innocent man being shot dead by a police employee, two other gamers as well as the one who made the call are now facing federal charges. While it’s encouraging to see authorities taking this incidence of swatting seriously, it is not surprising to learn that the local district attorney in Wichita, Kansas, where the killing took place has decided not to prosecute the police employee who shot the innocent man. Andrew Finch came to the door of his house when police called him out under the impression that he was armed and dangerous based on the hoax phone call and, when in his confusion he moved toward his waistband, one trigger happy protector and server shot him dead.

 

It is no longer unusual for police in this country to overreact to situations and escalate them into unnecessary uses of deadly force. What marks the situation involving Andrew Finch as somewhat unusual is that he was a young white man, and even he was not given the benefit of the doubt. Had he been a brown or black person, he might have been killed even sooner. Police employees increasingly show an appalling lack of discernment in their interactions with the public as a whole, and in their interactions with minority groups it appears the shoot first and ask questions later rule is definitely in force. They behave this way for a number of reasons having to do with their hyper macho culture and us versus them mentality, but the most important reason is simply because they know they can get away with it.

CHP-Swat-Team
What’s wrong with this picture? It’s likely the question has never occurred to the members of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team depicted here getting down with their bad selves. Photo from CHP social media.

Of course the district attorney in Wichita is not going to prosecute the police employee who killed an innocent citizen simply because that employee had no common sense and perhaps had delusions of being garrisoned in a combat zone, where everyone but your fellow cops is a suspect. Who knows what goes through the minds of these testosterone hyped, jumpy confrontational cops? All the local district attorney knows is that he or she has to work hand in glove with the police department every day in the prosecution of cases, and their cooperation and good will is necessary to get that done. Prosecution of derelict police employees should not be left up to local district attorneys, but to a panel of citizens who can appoint an independent counsel.

 

Police sharpshooter at Ferguson protests
Police sharpshooter at the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014. They take all the expensive equipment the taxpayers hand them and then turn those taxpayer funded guns and vehicles on their fellow citizens. Photo by Jamelle Bouie.

People, particularly white people, are more and more coming to the understanding that the police are blunt instruments with no discernment of their own, and they are taking advantage of that proclivity to sic the police on minorities the same as they would sic a vicious dog on someone. Black and brown people have unfortunately always understood this. The police seem all too willing to play along in most instances, particularly when it gives them the opportunity to lay a beating on some brown or black people. This phenomenon of calling on the police so that they may function as thuggish enforcers for the propertied class rather than as impartial guarantors of the public safety comes courtesy of all the police unions and police departments and local district attorneys who refuse to hold police employees accountable in any way to satisfy the rule of law they are sworn to uphold. A paid vacation and a desk job until things blow over is not only nowhere near enough accountability to the public, it is a sick joke amounting to a slap in the face of the citizens they purport to serve and to protect.
— Techly

 

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We’re Watching You

 

There are so many surveillance cameras in private and public spaces watching private citizens that it seems the only way to redress the imbalance is for private citizens to start recording corporate and government officials with surveillance cameras of their own. Recording business representatives on their property without their permission would be legally permissible only on publicly accessible portions. Recording public officials, however, such as police employees, would be much easier since much of their business is conducted in public and because they are, well, employees of the public.

 

The police employees themselves will often dispute the right of citizens to film them as they go about their business, and intimidate filmmakers into shutting off their cameras and even turning them over to the police. Those tactics are illegal, and cops who use them are doing so either out of ignorance of the law or, more likely, in anticipation of ignorance of the law on the part of the filmmaker. It’s interesting that the increasing surveillance in public of private citizens by corporate and government entities is justified by asserting “If you’re not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about”, but the same entities do not feel their dubious logic applies to them when the public films them going about their activities.

Inauguration U.S. Park Police Surveillance
A U.S. Park Police (USPP) employee takes video of spectators observing an incident in which the USPP had kettled a group of people at 12th and L N.W. in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017. The USPP officer has his back to the kettled group. Photo by Mobilus in Mobili.

Dashboard cameras, many of them with audio recording capabilities, are increasing in popularity mainly for insurance purposes in the recording of accidents. Some auto manufacturers have started including them as standard equipment or options, and therefore they are not entirely after market purchases by car owners anymore. What some car owners tend to overlook is the usefulness of dashboard cameras in recording interactions with police employees. Police have themselves had dashboard cameras for about 20 years, and body cameras are becoming more prevalent every year. The question is how much a citizen can rely on evidence provided by police dashboard cameras and body cameras in any interaction with police employees.

 

The police have cameras, which they can and do turn off, or the footage of which they can and do selectively edit. It’s well past time for the general public to have cameras in the same abundance. In their cars, for instance, they should have not only a dashboard camera pointed forward, but a rear dashboard camera pointed backward, because that is where a roadside stop by a police employee will end up if it goes outside, with the cop and the driver between the back of the driver’s car and the front of the squad car. All cameras should have the ability to swivel on their mounts, which in the case of the front pointing dashboard camera would allow it to capture the interaction with the police employee at the driver’s side window. All cameras should also have audio capability, though it is important to remember to advise passengers in the vehicle if this feature is on. Police employees do not have to be informed, because they are engaged in public business.

Bodycam-north-charleston-police
Police employee with bodycam in North Charleston, South Carolina, in March 2016. Photo by Ryan Johnson.

So many people have smartphones now that it may seem unnecessary to buy and install more than one dashboard camera in a vehicle. If the need arises, people think, they can always take out their smartphone and film the interaction with the police employee. There are a few things wrong with that idea. The first is that for most people, who interact with police rarely, getting stopped by a police employee can be intimidating and make them nervous, which in turn may make it difficult or impossible for them to get out their smartphone and point it directly at the police employee, making it obvious they are filming them. Secondly, for some aggressive police employees who don’t know or don’t care about the constitutional rights of the citizens who employ them, pointing a smartphone camera at them is like waving a red cape in front of a bull. It’s much easier and less conspicuous to reach up quickly and turn the dashboard camera toward the driver’s window, making sure to enable audio.

The Conversation, a 1974 film by Francis Ford Coppola, is about an audio surveillance expert, though in general the topic becomes the loss of privacy in the electronic age.

It’s a shame it has come to this, where the public feels they have to protect themselves against the very people who have sworn to serve and protect them, people who use public funds to trick out publicly funded squad cars in thousands of dollars worth of the latest technology, and themselves in quasi military gear and vehicles for the purpose of intimidating and beating down the citizens who pay their way. For the time being, it may appear out of control police employees are hurting only minorities and the poor, but that will change as they see they can get away with it, as they have. Any day now, the mistreatment will become indiscriminate, because that is the way of things like this. Psychotic bullies will beat up on almost anyone, middle class white people included, if they step out of lines that are ever more narrowly defined. They will beat up on almost anyone, that is, except the rich who are their real masters. Protect yourself with as many cameras as they have, if you can, because you can’t afford as many lawyers.
— Techly

 

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A Long Leash

 

“What gives the cops the right to open fire? Why didn’t they give him the same warning they gave us? That cop murdered my son over a false report.”
― Lisa Finch, mother of Andrew Finch, 28, who was killed by Wichita, Kansas, police on 12/28/2017.

The killing last week of Wichita resident Andrew Finch by police called out to his house on a bogus hostage emergency allegedly phoned in by Los Angeles, California, resident Tyler Barriss, who did not even know Finch, could lead to a court case in which this country finally confronts how it lets police get away with murder. Historically the courts have bent over backwards to whitewash the excessive, reckless use of force by police. Conviction rates for the few police officers actually brought up on charges have been laughably low. Now with this case in Wichita, the question may finally have to be addressed in the courts of whether police are responsible for their actions or not.

“Swatting”, the practice of phoning in a bogus emergency in order to harass someone else with the bludgeon of a police raid, has been around for many years, but until last week no one has been killed in an unnecessary swatting raid. Nevertheless, the consequences of swatting are usually more serious than those of a “prank”, as many reporters have irresponsibly and inaccurately dubbed the criminal practice this past week. Why would anyone call in a false report for purposes of harassment if they weren’t fairly certain that the cop mentality of overreaction and testosterone poisoning would lead them to escalating most situations to dangerous levels? What would be the fun of it for the hoaxer if instead cops could be relied upon to behave rationally and resolve situations peacefully when at all possible? That wouldn’t serve the purpose of the swatting hoaxer one bit and wouldn’t be the least fun in their eyes. No, the reason swatting exists is because people in this country know very well the police are all too eager to smash down doors, bust heads, and shoot first with their itchy trigger fingers. And the courts stand behind the cops to absolve them of all those actions.

Now there’s a case that will bring up those thorny questions. No doubt the cops will push blame off onto the innocent victim of their reckless stupidity, Andrew Finch. They will claim if he had followed their orders instantly and to the letter he would be alive today. The cops will try to push as much blame as possible onto the alleged swatter, Tyler Barriss. He undoubtedly deserves a long prison sentence if he is proven guilty, but there is scant precedence for prosecuting a criminal defendant like him. He will have to be dealt with in the gray area of analogy – what he did was like dropping a brick off a tall building onto a crowded sidewalk, or like pulling the fire alarm in a crowded theater when there was no fire – but that will not satisfactorily resolve ultimate guilt in this case, because it comes down to who pulled the trigger on the gun that put the fatal bullet into Andrew Finch, and that wasn’t anyone but a cop on the Wichita police force.


Military dog barking
Norman, a 55th Security Forces Squadron military working dog at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, waits to be unleashed and go after his target during training in April 2007. The Offutt K-9 unit performs regular training to maximize the dogs’ effectiveness on the field of duty. U.S. Air Force photo by Josh Plueger.

People can be egged on to do any number of stupid things by other people, whether friends, employers, or strangers. It doesn’t matter. Ultimately you are responsible for your own actions. The cops will fight that assessment in court. They will say they are a tool in the hands of others, and unfortunately they will be correct in that. For too long they have been a tool in the hands of the ruling class to keep down everyone else, and the ruling class has taken advantage of police training to quickly resort to force and adopt the cultural mindset of an occupying army, looking on and treating everyone as an enemy. Us against Them. Shoot first and don’t worry about it later, because the police union and the courts and the district attorneys will sweep it under the rug. A few months administrative leave with pay, maybe a temporary desk job, and then it will all blow over.

In this case, however, it is abundantly clear the police were a tool used by some knuckleheaded video gamer. If a tool, then not responsible. But if not responsible, then who pulled the trigger? In all the arguing, there will still be a dead man to be accounted for, after all. The police have actually become more like their trained dogs. A dog can be trained in just about any way. A dog can be trained to be very aggressive when given the signal by its handler. A dog can be trained to become aggressive when receiving certain signals from a suspect, such as dropping his or her hands to waist level rather than holding them always high in the air as ordered. A dog will bark and snarl when it sees that, baring its teeth and straining at the leash held by its handler. A dog cannot understand that the suspect may only be confused.

The suspect may not necessarily see himself the same way as the police officers crouching by their vehicles with guns drawn, who see him as a suspect, and a dangerous one at that. He is, after all, innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Until a few minutes ago, he was relaxing at home with his family, minding his own business. Seeing flashing red and blue lights outside, he opened the front door to check what all the commotion was about. From the police perspective, orders and training and cop culture kicked in after that. But what does that have to do with him, Andrew Finch? Didn’t he have the right to a reasonable expectation for human beings in positions of authority and trust in the community to behave with more discretion, more empathy, and with more judicious discernment of the real situation than a dog would? In the end, the dog goes free, and that’s as it should be because the dog only reacts according to its training and its handler’s signals. But we hold human beings to a different, and higher, standard than dogs, don’t we? Possibly the courts will address this case similarly, and in so doing force a change for the better in police culture and training.
― Ed.

 

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Put Away That Gun

 

Recently a U.S. District Judge sentenced former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager to 20 years in prison on the charge of second degree murder in the shooting of Walter Scott. It’s an extremely rare occurrence when a police officer gets convicted for killing a citizen. It’s a rare occurrence when a police officer gets held accountable in any meaningful way.

Talking Heads perform “Slippery People” in the 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense.

 

Cops spend far too much time at the firing range and not enough time learning to de-escalate a situation. Shooting a gun vents the effects of testosterone. De-escalation requires calmness and patience. When calling a cop to help resolve a situation, it’s a roll of the dice whether that cop will spin things out of control or resolve it peacefully, the way a peace officer should. In some neighborhoods, calling for a cop is absolutely the last resort, because the cops can’t be counted on to behave professionally and with restraint.

Carolina magazine (serial) (1921) (14589564829)
The New Negro, a 1921 pen and ink drawing by Allen R. Freelon (1895-1960).


The Staple Singers had a hit with their cover ofSlippery People” in 1984.

 

One police officer convicted. Police kill over one thousand citizens each year. Are over 99 percent of those killings entirely justified? If even 50 percent of the killings were justified in the eyes of the law, when will the other 500 or more killers who acted outside the law be convicted, even though they carried a badge? A badge is not an excuse to hide behind, it is a public trust to be borne with solemn consideration of the responsibilities the citizenry expects the bearer to uphold. Whose streets? The people’s streets.
― Vita

 

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There Oughta Be a Law*

*Hey, whadya know, there is a law:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Salt Lake City Police Detective Jeff Payne may not know the law, but on July 26 at the University of Utah Hospital he was determined to do the bidding of his watch commander, Lieutenant James Tracy, who also does not know the law (making his order illegal), to draw a blood sample from the unconscious victim of a two vehicle crash so that police could determine whether he was impaired by drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash. Payne and Tracy were prevented from violating the constitutional rights of patient William Gray by Head Nurse Alex Wubbels, who informed them that it was against hospital policy, which follows the law, to allow police to draw blood from a patient without the patient’s consent, or without a warrant or the patient being under arrest. Ms. Wubbels’s line of legal reasoning did not set well with Mr. Payne, who grew frustrated with not getting his way and finally gave in to the temptation to abuse his authority by arresting the nurse, roughly slapping handcuffs on her, and frog marching her out to his squad car.


University of Utah Hospital in 2009
University of Utah Hospital in 2009. Photo by University of Utah Health Care.

Nurse Wubbels had to sit in the squad car for twenty minutes while police and hospital administrators sorted everything out, and then the cops let her go free. Ms. Wubbels held a press conference on August 31 with her lawyer, Karra Porter, where she showed portions of the police body camera videos from the July incident. The Salt Lake City police department placed Mr. Payne and another officer, probably Mr. Tracy, though they wouldn’t say, on paid administrative leave the following day. A paid vacation for behaving badly, usual police department internal procedure. Apparently the department hadn’t sought to discipline Mr. Payne at all before August 31, beyond temporarily taking him off the blood draw unit. If Wubbels and Porter hadn’t held their press conference and released the body cam videos, the police department and Payne and Tracy would most likely have gone about business as usual in short order. Now, because of all the stir this incident has belatedly created, they’ll have to wait a little longer. Ms. Wubbels has not yet pressed charges for assault and unlawful arrest.

Detective Payne apparently was claiming the right to draw blood without a warrant from the unconscious Mr. Gray under implied consent law, a police procedure which had been disallowed in Utah since 2007, and primarily used by police to gather evidence in drunk driving cases. Additionally, the Supreme Court of the United States in 2016 rolled back the part of implied consent relating to blood samples as too invasive. Police can still take breathalyzer samples without express consent. Payne and Tracy were either unaware of the change in the law or were so accustomed to rolling over hospital staff that the situation of a nurse challenging their authority had never presented itself to them before. In either case, the cops were in the wrong, making Detective Payne’s reaction even more outrageous.

A scene from the early 1960s television series Car 54, Where Are You? The dim witted Officer Gunther Toody, played by Joe E. Ross, is unimpressed by the discussion of high culture between his partner, Officer Francis Muldoon, played by Fred Gwynne, and the ride along cop in the back seat.

As a case of police brutality and abuse of authority this is small potatoes compared to what police perpetrate elsewhere around the country every day and without accountability. What makes this case notable is firstly the video evidence from the cops themselves, and secondly how the obtuseness of Mr. Payne leads him to escalate to violence what should have been a simple administrative procedure. Would it be too far fetched to ask that law enforcement officers know and understand the law? Is it too much to ask that they behave with adult restraint when they don’t always get their way? Who will ultimately pay the price for Mr. Payne’s ignorance and unwarranted belligerence other than the citizens and taxpayers of Salt Lake City?

Most likely he won’t have to pay a price, considering the way police are not held personally accountable. He may even get away with pleading ignorance of the law, an excuse the Supreme Court has recently ruled can be valid for police, even though anyone else who claimed ignorance would get laughed out of court. That’s why cops like Mr. Payne behave the way they do, because at the back of their minds they know they will get away with it. His accomplice in ignorance, Lieutenant Tracy, has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Columbia College of Missouri, and he is currently studying to earn a master’s degree in the same subject from the same school. Payne himself attended college at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, where he became certified as an emergency medical technician. Maybe these schools are diploma mills, or maybe Payne and Tracy are uneducable beyond passing tests necessary to jump career hoops.

Near the end of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, Frank Morgan as The Wizard grants a diploma to The Scarecrow, played by Ray Bolger, while the other members of the adventure look on. Despite his newfound brainpower, The Scarecrow still recites a famous mathematics theorem incorrectly.

Or they could just be stupid. Mr. Payne also works as an emergency medical technician for Gold Cross Ambulance. In one part of the video from Mr. Payne’s body cam, he is chatting amicably with other officers, apparently unconcerned over how his bullying has made Ms. Wubbels distraught as she sits in the police cruiser several feet away, and he remarks “I wonder how this will affect my Gold Cross job. I bring patients here.” And another officer says “Yeah, I don’t think they’re [who? the hospital staff? Gold Cross? probably both] going to be very happy with it.” Mr. Payne then declares “I’ll bring them all the transients and take good patients elsewhere.” There’s a 2012 nonfiction book by the philosopher Aaron James that Mr. Payne could read in order to further his studies and perhaps gain some insights into himself, and it’s called Assholes: A Theory.
― Ed.

 

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Just Following Orders

 

For the second time in a week, the current President, the Thug-in-Chief, made despicable assertions in a speech before an organization of uniformed members, bringing them down to his level, though in the case of the cops and cop cadets he addressed on Friday, they did not have as far to fall as the Boy Scouts he spoke to on Monday. In his Friday speech at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood on Long Island, New York, the current President advocated police brutality in the treatment of criminal suspects in custody, to cheers and applause from his audience. It’s impossible to excuse either the statement or its reception, but in the President’s case disrespect for the rule of law and for basic decency is to be expected, while the cops and cop cadets should know better.

 

January 20 riot cops D.C.
Police in riot gear blocking a checkpoint into the Washington, D.C. parade route at George W. Bush’s second presidential inauguration on January 20, 2005; photo by Jonathan McIntosh. Militarization of the police effectively circumvents the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.

 

The presumption of innocence is not stated outright in the United States Constitution, but it is implied in Article I and in several of the Amendments. There is also a long history of the presumption of innocence in common law, and in judicial precedent in the United States. The current President thinks he knows better, and is prepared to act as judge, jury, and executioner whenever he feels the urge, and now he has encouraged the police to do the same. In May 1989, he took out a full page advertisement in the New York City papers inflaming the populace against the Central Park Five, teenaged males who were suspects in the brutal rape and near murder of a female jogger in Central Park two weeks earlier. The five youths were convicted in 1990 and sent to prison.

 

Eleven years later a man stepped forward, claiming he was the lone perpetrator of the assault. After an investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney, the convictions of the Central Park Five were vacated by the New York Supreme Court the following year, in 2002. The Central Park Five, now free men in their thirties, sued the city for $250 million, ultimately settling for $41 million in 2014. Through all these investigations and the subsequent lawsuit, in which it became clear the young men’s confessions were coerced by the police, the vulgarian who became president of the country in the 2016 election not only refused to apologize for his inflammatory rhetoric against them, but refused even to acknowledge he had been wrong. As for his blanket call in his full page ad for the police to exercise overly broad, even illegal authority, it’s obvious from his recent remarks that he hasn’t changed his noxious opinion.

In the 1960s TV show Dragnet, the Los Angeles police detectives Joe Friday and Bill Gannon, played by Jack Webb and Harry Morgan, respectively, may be corny, but they display a better grasp of the rule of law and basic decency than the current President. Perhaps if they had known what was in store for our country, they might have talked to him in this video clip. Still, it’s doubtful any of it would have sunk in.

 

Rhetoric encouraging police brutality, when it comes from the head of the executive branch of the federal government, the branch entrusted with enforcing the nation’s laws, is unfathomably irresponsible. At a time when incidents of police brutality, non-judicial executions, and trampling of citizens’ Constitutional rights are making headlines nearly every day, such stupid remarks from the Vulgarian-in-Chief grant permission for cops all over the nation to do more of the same without fear of repercussions, indeed to do so with the excuse that they were just following orders. That’s an excuse with an old, despicable history, and if it becomes acceptable here then we will at last have shut the door on our free society with an echoing, prison cell clang.
― Vita

 

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Watching Out for Number One

 

After numerous high profile cases of questionable use of deadly force by the police in the past few years, the cry has gone up from the public and from politicians for more widespread use of police body cameras to augment the already prevalent use of dashboard cameras in police cars. The technology does not present a difficulty since data storage capacities have skyrocketed and battery strength in a compact device has increased enough to allow recording over an eight hour shift. The difficulty is with how human beings implement the technology and whether the technology will improve how police interact with citizens.

 

There is evidence that when police wear body cameras the incidences of police violence and abuse of authority declines. That is, the incidences decline when a rigorous protocol for the use of the body cameras is instituted and enforced by civil authorities and police management. In some places, the police have body cameras but their use is left too much up to individual officers, and that naturally leads to the officers recording only the encounters that they calculate will make them look good. A lax protocol like that amounts to none at all. The American Civil Liberties Union has put out an excellent article detailing the best ways to deploy police body cameras and the drawbacks their use may entail.
Barney Miller cast 1974
1974 cast photo from the television series Barney Miller. Clockwise from left: Ron Glass (Ron Harris), Jack Soo (Nick Yemana), Hal Linden (Barney Miller), Max Gail (“Wojo” Wojciehowicz), Abe Vigoda (Phil Fish) (back toward camera). The show took place in the fictional 12th Precinct in Greenwich Village, New York City. Over the years since its initial airing in the 1970s, police have praised the show as a more realistic portrayal of day to day police work than many higher octane TV shows and movies.

 

It’s not surprising that police behave better when they know they’re being watched. The question is why they bear watching. Certainly police work isn’t like warehouse work; police work is often stressful, with the ever present possibility of a dangerous encounter, and by its nature the work involves dealing with other people every day in an environment that can be hostile. That’s the job they volunteered to do. No one drafted them. The fact that it’s not relatively placid like warehouse work is therefore no excuse for police officers acting like dangerous loose cannons when the going gets tough, and definitely not when they feel like going off on someone for some piddling reason that they will later claim “made them fear for their life”. As the saying goes, you knew the job was dangerous when you took it.

 

Fort Apache Police Precinct, 2007
The former 41st Precinct Station House at 1086 Simpson Street in Foxhurst, The Bronx, New York, in the summer of 2007. The building was formerly known as “Fort Apache” due to the severe crime problem in the South Bronx; photo by Bigtimepeace.

The real problem is lack of accountability for officers who behave criminally, and a police culture that from academy training onward instills an “Us vs. Them” mentality. Body cameras are all well and good, and as a purely technological answer to the problem they are excellent, providing privacy issues for both the officers and the public are addressed. But body cameras will take the solution only halfway, if that. Until the public demands that criminal police officers face the kind of punitive and fiscal penalties everyone else in society must face, we’ll continue to see the same violent, bullying behavior from some cops. Paid administrative leave (a paid vacation for being a jerk!) and penalizing the taxpayers with a fine is not going to do it. How could anyone in their right mind, excepting a police union boss, expect otherwise?

The matter of police culture is harder to address. It starts with training and continues with taking away all the militaristic toys police departments have acquired in the past forty years, and most of that in the past twenty. No, you are not a soldier on garrison duty in a hostile foreign country. You are a police officer – a peace officer, if you will – at home amongst your fellow citizens, friends, and neighbors, vile as some of them may seem to your law abiding heart. Playing dress up in GI Joe gear with full body armor and intimidating your fellow citizens with armored personnel carriers and other cool stuff should not be part of the job description. Changing that macho police culture won’t happen, however, until the public stops living in fear of every little thing, handing over far too much authority, money, and blind obedience to a group of men and women meant to be our servants and not our masters, some of whom unfortunately respond to the situation by puffing themselves up with arrogance and steroids, looking and acting like goons any sensible person would run away from, rather than the friendly cop on the beat, a fellow citizen instead of an overseer.
― Techly

 

 

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How Dry I Am

 

Last Friday the Justice Department released their report on abuses committed by the Chicago police. At a news conference held by US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Chicago Mayor Rahm “#%*@!” Emanuel, and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, Emanuel said he found the report “sobering.” Are we to infer from his remark that he was smashed out of his gourd when he allegedly colluded with the Chicago Police Department to suppress the dashcam video of the 2014 Laquan McDonald shooting while he sought re-election in 2015?

Grawlix
Grawlix within a speech bubble,
by Myresa Hurst.

Police brutality has never been a secret to poor and minority communities in this country. A few things have changed in the last generation, however, to bring that brutality up front where the larger community can no longer ignore it. Foremost is the prevalence of cell phone cameras which allow citizens to document abuse as it happens. While the existence of photographic evidence seems to have had little effect in seeing that abusive police actually get jail time, it has had the effect of waking up the populace to the abuse.

Secondly is the “Us vs. Them” culture which has taken hold in police departments across the country. Police often behave now as if they are soldiers in an occupying army rather than civil servants pledged to “Protect and Serve” their fellow citizens. They shoot first and ask questions later, if at all, and do so with impunity because they know their union and the rest of the police department “has their back.” The local district attorney will file charges and investigate police brutality with reluctance because he or she needs the daily cooperation of the police in resolving other cases on the docket.


Rahm Emanuel, official photo portrait color
Infamously foul-mouthed
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

A third and often overlooked factor is steroid use by some cops. Steroids can lead to hostility, hyper-aggressiveness, and poor judgment, all of which are prominent factors in police abusing their authority. Instead of defusing a situation, a cop on steroids is just as likely to escalate it by being confrontational and by issuing impatient demands for a suspect to obey orders, however irrational and impetuous.

There are ways to confront and remedy at least some police misconduct other than the standard police department method of placing an officer on administrative leave – a paid vacation – while they conduct an internal investigation until they hope everything blows over and everyone has forgotten about the incident in question, at which point the officer and the department can return to business as usual. It is police culture that is at the root of the problem, and until we address that, we should understand that adjudicating individual incidents of police brutality is merely playing at whack-a-mole. Along with Mayor Rahm “&+#!!” Emanuel, we need to sober up and hold cops accountable if we expect them to behave with accountability. Every good parent understands this principle.
― Ed.

 

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