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.

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


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.


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 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.