Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, September 27, 2016 8:21 pm

The trade publication Law Enforcement Today is making the Internet dumber

You can’t make this up, y’all. This is an editorial by Jim McNeff that was posted today on the LET website:

With the NBA season around the corner, and more athletes indicating they plan to join the “sit-in” during the National Anthem, I feel compelled to send a message to athletes and coaches alike, since peace officers are asked to provide protection, security, and traffic related functions at these events. And ironically they are ultimately protesting the institution of law enforcement, but track with me for a minute.

The ultimate authority in America is the United States Constitution. The Bill of Rights are part of this authority. The First Amendment, which grants us the right to protest, is part of the Bill of Rights. The American flag is the foremost symbol of America and the ultimate governing authority—the Constitution. The Star Spangled Banner is the National Anthem, which declares our support and allegiance to the flag, our Constitution, and the United States of America.

Consequently, I believe anyone who protests the American flag, or the National Anthem, is actually protesting the right to protest. It’s illogical.

Son, please. That sauce wouldn’t pass muster in any sixth-grade debating club. You are conflating tangible symbols with intangible values, and you’re not even particularly clever about it. I read this passage to my wife, who once taught at Yale and was a Fulbright Scholar, and she paused and said, “That made my brain hurt.”

He goes on to say:

If someone wants to protest oppression, real or imagined, that is fundamentally American. But shaking a fist at the symbols representing the rights being exercised is a misunderstanding of civics and demonstrates a principal lack of knowledge and understanding.

Uh, no, just the opposite, as the Supreme Court has found in numerous cases, including its 1989 Texas v. Johnson decision finding flag burning constitutionally protected speech. Damn, son.

Oh, but he’s not done:

One problem we have in America is that we’ve lost a sense of reality regarding governmental oppression. I am pictured in the photo below with a group of people that have experienced human atrocities at the hands of their respective governments and terrorist organizations. I worked with these people (refugees) for a short time in Mullheim, Germany. I had a chance to hear their gut wrenching stories from Afghanistan, Syria, Gambia, and Eritrea. I am not trying to sensationalize my experience. I simply want you to know, the people in this picture would literally sacrifice their life if it meant family members would be able to enjoy the rights and privileges that are taken for granted in the U.S.

This dimwit is literally arguing that violations of constitutional rights in this country don’t matter because people in other countries have it worse. I’d like to know which Supreme Court ruling or statute he’s basing that opinion on, because it sure as hell isn’t found in the Constitution.

He also appears to be presuming that everyone in the U.S. takes their rights and privileges for granted. But not everyone does. Why not? Because not everyone can — particularly not when U.S. law enforcement has engaged in patterns of abuse for years that recent, widespread availability of hand-held video technology is only now bringing to light. No, not every cop does it, but too many do, and too many more remain silent about what they observe.

Law enforcement has a public-relations problem because it has a behavior problem that is so bad that even relatively safe, relatively content conservative middle-aged white guys like me have taken notice. Publishing takes like this that evince utter ignorance of the law that officers swear an oath to uphold is not going to increase public trust and confidence in law enforcement; to the contrary, it will provide at least circumstantial evidence that many of the bad things that people are saying about cops are true.

Cops have a dangerous enough job as it is without allowing people like Jim McNeff to make them look foolish. So the National Police Association, which posted a link to this piece on Facebook, and the people who run Law Enforcement today ought to think long and hard about who speaks for cops and whether those individuals understand the first damn thing about what they’re writing about. Because Jim McNeff doesn’t; what he writes makes cops look absolutely stupid. That stupidity will result in a loss of already-fragile public trust in law enforcement, thus making a dangerous job even more so.

Besides, it makes the Internet dumber, and nobody should be allowed to do that.

 

 

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Friday, March 6, 2015 8:11 pm

Odds and ends for March 6

America has a cop violence problem. And, as is so often the case with America, we have to admit we have a problem before we can fix it.

One of the reasons you don’t order people to commit war crimes is because of the damage it does to those who must carry out those orders … as Israel is now finding out.

The Republican National Committee is only allowing “conservative” news outlets and personalities to cover the 2012 GOP primary debates. Of course, with that clown car, “conservative” probably means “batshit.”

Arkansas State Rep. Justin Harris might just be the worst person you’ll read about all year.

When the UNC Board of Governors met in closed session to fire Tom Ross, they voted for a resolution that they wouldn’t talk about the firing and would refer all questions to board chair John Fennebresque, who appears to have gotten his P.R. degree from the Iraqi Ministry of Information. Only one board member voted against the resolution: Greensboro’s Marty Kotis. Thank you, Marty.

As the GOP Klown Kar of batshit presidential candidates barrels down the road, one of the Klowns, Ben Carson, is named to speak at the Pope-Civitas Institute’s Conservative Leadership Conference. You may know Carson from such hits as “People go into prison straight and come out gay” and, “No, really, fellow Republicans, I am NOT crazy.”

Not content with screwing with Greensboro’s City Council districts, state Senate Republicans are now mucking with the Wake County Commissioners’ districts in the wake of a throw-the-bums-out election in November in which a Democratic slate sent a bunch of GOP incumbents packing. Coincidence? Like Gibbs, I don’t believe in coincidence. (Full disclosure: One of those Dems, John Burns, is an online friend of mine and fellow Davidson grad to whom I have given campaign contributions, and I’ve got two sibs who live and pay taxes in Wake County.)

State Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin recently told the legislature that the state’s courts are in very bad shape and need $30 million to fix. (Hell, their computer system was antiquated back when I was still a reporter, and that was six years ago.) So Gov. Pat McCrory’s new budget? Provides only $6 million in new money.

Former UNC offensive lineman Ryan Hoffman is living on the street, plagued by problems that might well be the result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy — brain injuries — from playing football. Ironically, some of the most cutting-edge research on CTE and brain injuries is being carried out at UNC. Here’s hoping they can help the player they once exploited.

 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014 12:41 pm

Anti-police? Or pro-police, pro-public?

One would like to think that a guy who worked his way up from Drug Enforcement Administration agent to assistant director of that agency, a guy who served as both head of witness protection and associate director for operations of the U.S. Marshals’ Service, a guy who served as both fire commissioner and police commissioner for the City of New York, a guy who now gets paid very high dollars to do security consulting, would be able to face a little criticism without soiling his drawers.

One would like to think that.

But one would be wrong.

Howard Safir, the guy who has held all those positions, is crying hysterically that the criticism police now are facing in the U.S. is unmatched in the past 45 years.

He is wrong. Factually, objectively wrong.

He writes, “We have seen nothing but police bashing from some of the highest offices in the land.” In fact, nothing that President Obama or New York Mayor Bill diBlasio has said can rationally be construed as “police bashing.”

He writes that Eric Garner and Michael Brown died resisting arrest. Garner was doing nothing of the sort when he was slain with an illegal choke hold. And even if one accepts that Michael Brown tried to reach into Officer Darren Wilson’s car and was justifiably shot and wounded for doing so, there is no credible evidence that Brown posed an immediate threat to Wilson or other civilians when Wilson fired the final, fatal shots.

He writes that current levels of “anti-police rhetoric” are unparalled in the past 45 years.  However, anyone who was around in the late 1960s and early 1970s recalls that violent clashes between police and protesters were commonplace. And the protesters were raising hell about that, often in very intemperate language.

Today? There have been some clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere in which the language has been intemperate, but on nowhere near the scale of decades ago.

No, what’s going on today is something different — something pro-public and, I would argue, pro-police. I don’t mean “pro-police” in the mindlessly jingoistic sense, but pro-police in the very practical sense of making law enforcement officers’ jobs safer and easier.

People are asking for the police to be open about and accountable for their actions. They are asking for law enforcement to stop discriminating against African Americans, which research shows it indubitably does. And they are insisting that the police be bound to obey the same laws the rest of us must.

Now unlike some people, I don’t think police are any worse-behaved today than they’ve ever been. In fact, they’re arguably much better behaved in most jurisdictions. But when everybody with a phone has a camera, police malfeasance is much more likely to be publicized than it used to be. And the larger number of reported incidents, with greater detail, reaching more people on social media, with accompanying demands that police be held accountable, looks, to the casual observer, like it might be anti-police.

It isn’t. People are insisting, rather, that cops restore “to protect and serve” to a phrase of some intellectual and moral value by behaving themselves, by treating everyone fairly including minorities who long have been treated disproportionately more harshly by law enforcement, and by being subject to the same administrative discipline or criminal punishment as anyone else would be who had misbehaved similarly.

There are some good reasons why law enforcement should want to do those things — and not only because they comports with the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment and with the Golden Rule.

Comporting with those standards is important for its own sake. But when cops behave openly and appropriately and transparently, and are publicly disciplined when they don’t, the public’s trust in and respect for law enforcement grows. And that growth has two major practical benefits for law enforcement.

First, it makes the public more likely to confide in and cooperate with police, in both day-to-day interactions and in assisting with difficult investigations. That makes a cop’s job easier.

Second, that increased trust and respect make it less likely that a minor, routine incident will escalate into the kind of situation that could end up with a cop dead, or with a civilian unjustifiably dead and a cop’s career and perhaps life ruined. That makes a cop’s job safer.

I would think that every cop, and everyone who supports cops, would want that the job to be easier and safer.

So why would Howard Safir so blatantly mischaracterize what’s being said and done in American communities around the issue of unchecked, unaccountable law enforcement? I can only speculate.

Some possible answers: He’s genuinely uninformed in general and uninformed about how social media works in particular. He’s genuinely uninformed about the statistics showing hugely disproportionate differences between how police treat middle-class Caucasians and how they treat African Americans of pretty much any class. He is informed, but he’s locked into an outdated mindset in which rule of the police is absolute, rather than a role of community servant leadership. Maybe he just listens to too much Fox News, whose incendiary, race-baiting rhetoric is deliberately clouding the issue.

I don’t know the answer. But I do know that Safir needs to put on some clean undies and start asking himself about the best, fairest way to serve the community — the whole community.

That’s all most Americans are asking for.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014 8:42 pm

“The police are the good guys and he is a good kid, so no worries. I guess I was naive.”

To the extent I’ve gotten any respone to my postings here and on Facebook about Ferguson, it has mostly been private (which is fine), and a common theme has emerged: I need to listen to the cops’ side because I know nothing about being a cop.

And as I’ve pointed out, although I don’t, in fact, know what it’s like to be a cop, I have an idea, based on having spent several years of my career around them, often in cases in which the threat of deadly force was justified and at least once when deadly force had to be used.

But, yes, we should listen to the cops. I listened to one last night. Now here’s another one.

It’s only been a few years but seems like a lifetime ago.  I would come in to work and feel like I could make a difference in this world.  Back then when I lined up for roll call, I would look around me and see a squad room full of diverse personalities and experiences that I knew made us all more effective.  I trusted these men and women because I believed in the good we could do and the bond of brotherhood we shared.  But a little over a year ago something happened that forced me to take a hard look at the realities of the system that I had been a part of.  When I did I learned a lot about myself and finally had to accept some hard facts.

I learned that justice is not blind and there is a very thin blue line that unifies cops. I learned that Americans are not just divided by red and blue, when it comes to the law we are divided by black and white.  I accepted that sometimes we have a justice system with two sets of rules.  I had to accept that no matter how well I raise my son he will grow up in a world where I still have to be afraid for him.  Not just from criminals, but from my brothers and sisters in blue. For most of his young life all my son has ever seen is me in a uniform with a gun and a badge.  He doesn’t know to fear the police because  I have always told him he didn’t have to.  The police are the good guys and he is a good kid, so no worries.  I guess I was naive. I never thought that I would have to explain to him that despite my years in law enforcement, I’m still a second class citizen in the eyes of the law.

For his sake I have to tell him no matter how professional he looks, no matter how well he carries himself, no matter how much education he obtains, as a black male he has to meet a higher standard of submission to authority or his life is at risk. Even if he chooses to raise his right hand and swear to protect and serve this country with his life it doesn’t  change that fact.  It hurts to know that I’m going to have to give my son that talk. I tell myself that things are still like this because of ignorance and fear.  I blame it on politicians who turn fear in to resentment and the wealthy elites who exploit those resentments to satisfy their own agenda.  The hopeful part of me thinks that our differences are not really as bad as they seem.  My head tells me that time will change things. Time.  But my heart tells me that right now I just need to protect my son.

This is one of the saddest damn things I’ve read in years — years that have not lacked in sadness.

But Sean Hannity will open his big thug mouth to argue, and a good 30% of the country doesn’t give a damn about this guy’s problems anyway. And it’s not About Race, because as Charlie Pierce has pointed out, in this country, Nothing Is Ever About Race.

I know that diversity makes an organization more efficient and more credible. The fact that the Ferguson Police Department cannot recruit or retain more than 3 black officers in a city that is almost 3/4 black speaks volumes.  It takes a lot of effort to maintain that kind of imbalance.

Oh, sure, it might be coincidence. But, like Jethro Gibbs, I don’t believe in coincidences.

And yet that young man, Michael Brown, he stole some cigars from a store, didn’t he?

As a cop I learned that it’s usually best to wait until you know as much information as possible before you go on the record so I’ll be completely honest;

I don’t know why an unarmed 18 year old was shot multiple times.
I don’t know what that police officer felt in the seconds before he pulled the trigger.
I don’t know why the Ferguson Police chose to withhold details about this shooting.
I don’t know why this police chief decided to have SWAT teams on foot patrols.
I don’t know why this police chief deployed Armored Vehicles and Snipers to this area.
I don’t know why police officers were locking up reporters.
I don’t know how a community that is 67% black has a police department that is 96% white.

But here are a few things that I do know. … I know that a robbery in any jurisdiction is a felony.  That means when that call comes in to 911 it should be dispatched as a high priority call. That dispatcher should alert everybody that the crime has just happened and give a BOLO with a detailed description of the suspect, and what direction they were last seen headed. If an officer sees a person fitting the description of the suspect that officer should advise dispatch what they have, THEN make a FELONY stop.  If that is what happened the day that Brown was killed then there should be a dispatch recording of the robbery call and of the officer stopping Brown.

Now I know this having never set foot in Ferguson Missouri. Whatever their intent was, the way that the Ferguson Police department has handled this situation has seemed incompetent, petty, and disrespectful to the community that they are supposed to serve.  I don’t even live there and I feel insulted. You can’t just drop into black churches during the day and then drop the hammer on black people at night.  It’s ridiculous to believe you can withhold details about an officer involved shooting victim then release a video of that person committing a crime and believe nobody will figure out what you are doing.  Even from an investigative standpoint the decision to release that video served no logical purpose.  If it was Brown, the robbery case was solved the minute they positively ID’d him. You don’t prosecute a crime when the suspect is deceased, you just close the case. Other than just sheer vindictiveness I can’t see the legal purpose in releasing that video.  So either this chief has no clue, no control of his command staff or he doesn’t care.

But he was 6 feet 4 and resisted arrest! At least, that’s what I heard!

 If I saw two guys walking in the road when there was a perfectly good sidewalk, I would probably have told them to get out of the street.  If they were knuckleheads they might tell me to [expletive] off.  Now I could choose to either ignore it or I could engage them.  At this point I’ve got enough probable cause to charge them with pedestrian in the roadway but that’s pretty much it.  If I decided I wanted to make that charge I could give them each a ticket and a court date or I could put handcuffs on them and take them to jail.  Either way I would have had to physically get out of my patrol car and make contact with them.  Once an officer decides to make contact in a situation like that things can go from OK to very bad in seconds.  Right now we don’t know what happened once that officer got out of his patrol car.  We don’t know what Brown did or what the officer thought he was about to do, but going from a pedestrian traffic charge to lethal force is a very steep climb.  Once that officer’s gun comes out it’s hard to climb back down from that. Officer Wilson has to be able to articulate how he got to that level of force with an unarmed person. If not he’s in trouble. There is no way around it.

It doesn’t matter if your subject looks like the Hulk, is talking [expletive] and refusing verbal commands, that’s not enough for deadly force.  Even if you are trying to put the hand cuffs on him, he jerks back and pushes you off to get away, that’s not enough.  It doesn’t matter how angry the guy makes you. It doesn’t matter if he embarrassed you. It doesn’t matter if he told you what he was going to do to your wife and kids. All that matters is at that moment: was the suspect armed? Did he have the ability to seriously hurt you? Did he pose an imminent threat to use that ability? Were you convinced that you were in immediate mortal danger?

Just resisting the police does not meet the standard for deadly force.

Even when a suspect has gone from simply resisting you to actively fighting you, once he complies with your commands and can be taken into custody he should be taken into custody. Once the threat has stopped, then your need to use force stops too.   Even if you respond to a call and a suspect has just shot and killed dozens of people in a movie theater, once he throws down his weapons and puts up his hands, and you can safely take him into custody, then you take him into custody.  You don’t execute him because he’s a mass murderer.

But … but … but … RIOTS!

I know what it’s like to walk around in a Kevlar helmet, gas mask, shield, and baton dressed in riot control gear. It’s hot, it’s frustrating, and most of the time you are just standing around waiting.  I know that Protests and Riots are not the same thing and just because someone is protesting the police does not make them a “thug“.  I know that the criminals that are using this situation to loot and cause havoc should be arrested and prosecuted period.  I know that whether you are a rapper, a teacher, a nun, or a congressman you should have the same rights. I know that if your police department continues to let the community’s questions go unanswered for days while you post armored vehicles and snipers in their neighborhoods you might not get a very positive outcome.  I know that if your unofficial departmental policy is to ignore the underlying problems in a community and never address their actual issues don’t be surprised if protests become riots.

Yeah, but those people didn’t get treated any differently from how anyone else would have been treated!

Just contrast what has happened in Ferguson Missouri to what happened last spring in Bunkerville Nevada. In Ferguson we had the police reaction to protesters.  In Bunkerville we had the protesters reaction to police. Two different groups of citizens with ostensibly the same 1st amendment issues but two drastically different reactions by the citizens and law enforcement.  Based on what I saw of the operation on TV it looked like a tactical nightmare.  I lost count of the problems that the agents faced when they went in to enforce a court order there.  Mostly I believe they gave this guy Bundy too many chances for too long.  When the BLM cops finally decided to go in there they weren’t committed to whatever the plan was. That indicates a major leadership issue.

I was completely stunned to see those officers surrounded by screaming people with assault rifles, a police dog getting kicked, and open defiance of verbal commands.  But when I saw that those officers had sniper rifles pointed at them I could not believe my eyes.  Snipers. On live TV.  Let me repeat that:

On the Bundy Ranch, armed protesters were violently obstructing law enforcement from performing their duties.  Sniper rifles were pointed at those law enforcement officers. Then those “snipers” openly gloated about how they had the agents in their sights the entire time. And what was the police response?  All out retreat.  Nobody was arrested. No tear gas deployed. No tanks were called in. No Snipers posted in the neighborhood. No rubber bullets fired. Nothing. Police officers in mortal danger met with heavily armed resistance and no one had to answer for it. Could any reasonable person look at scenes coming out of Nevada and say they looked peaceful?

Nobody called the armed protesters at the Bundy Ranch who threatened police thugs.

Nobody told them the government was supreme so they should just let the system work it out.

Nobody told them to just shut up and do what they were told. …

The press didn’t call what those people did to those officers in Nevada a riot. But I haven’t seen any protesters in Ferguson hanging the American flag upside down, or renouncing their citizenship. I haven’t heard of any protest leaders on the street in Ferguson Missouri calling for the overthrow of the city council or the removal of the mayor by force. What about those “2nd amendment remedies” that politicians were hinting at 5 years ago? Just imagine if there were 150 black folks walking around Ferguson with assault rifles right now. Imagine if a couple of them took up sniper positions on the tops of buildings with their rifles pointed at the police officers.  Take a quick guess at how that story ends.

Oh. Um. Well.

So, there, I listened to another cop. And so, by way of reading this piece, did you.

Pop quiz: Did you hear him?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 9:18 pm

Time to yank a knot in the thin blue line

It’s time to get law enforcement in this country back under meaningful civilian control.

You think it already is? Then just read this remarkable piece by a Los Angeles police officer, published in The Washington Post:

Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?

That’s just one small section from a long piece that makes clear that the writer believes it’s his world, a world that belongs to his fellow cops, and that the rest of us just live in it.

Now, I’ll grant him right up front that he does offer one piece of advice that anyone, irrespective of circumstances, should take to heart unless you’re badly hurt and/or desperately need help: “Don’t even think of aggressively walking toward me.” And even if you are badly hurt and/or need help, if you’re going to walk toward a cop at all, shouting, “Help! Police!” until the cop responds to you would be a very good idea.

With that out of the way, let’s unpack the rest of his imperative.

He starts by stating that failing to “do what I tell you” could get you shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground.

He does not allow for the fact that he might be issuing these orders while lacking relevant information, perhaps even information pertaining to his own safety. He does not allow for the possibility that his orders might be given on shaky, if not nonexistent, constitutional grounds. “Don’t argue with me,” he says. Unconditionally.

But, you say, cops never, or almost never, give orders they don’t have the right to give.

Horseshit, say I. In 25 years of daily journalism, I lost count of the number of times I was ordered off public streets, sidewalks, or other property by local, state and federal authorities. I don’t mean ordered back behind police lines or barricades. I mean ordered off property on which I had a perfectly good legal and constitutional right to be.

The example that sticks out most in my mind was during televangelist Jim Bakker’s fraud trial, 25 years ago this summer. Early in the trial, Bakker had what later was revealed to be an anxiety attack. Court was recessed and Bakker and his lawyer went to his lawyer’s office. But the judge had other ideas and ordered Bakker taken into custody and taken to the federal mental hospital in Butner for observation. So the assistant U.S. marshals went to the lawyer’s office, which was in a restored old house. Naturally, reporters and producers jammed the sidewalk — but it was a public sidewalk and the agents had all the access they needed.

Nonetheless, they and local officers started ordering reporters off the sidewalks. But I had an ace in the hole: Next door to the lawyer’s office was my father’s office condo. So I stepped across the property line — and was promptly told to leave. Dad, who had noticed all the commotion, came out of his office to see what was going on and, visibly irritated, told the officer I had every right to be where I was. The officer looked him up and down and, apparently deciding that a dispute with a 59-year-old white man in a $500 suit was not one he was likely to win, walked away, looking back over his shoulder at me as he did so. (Dad then sighed and said, “When are you going to get a real job?” before walking back into his office.)

“Don’t call me names.” Really? Really? Officer, did your mama never teach you that sticks and stones might break your bones but names will never hurt you? Especially when you’re behaving badly on the public dime?

“Don’t tell me that I can’t stop you.” Sorry, but if I’m where I’m allowed to be and am breaking no laws, particularly if I’m functioning as a journalist (and you DO NOT have to be working for a mainstream news outlet to be doing so; freedom of the press belongs to the people), if you want to stop me, you’re going to have to arrest me. And the odds are very good that I’m going to have some kind of recording device, perhaps more than one, going as that happens.

“Don’t say I’m a racist pig.” Fair enough; don’t act like one. Over the years, I heard more than a few white cops say racist trash, knowing that I could hear it and knowing that I was a newspaper reporter. And if there were more than a few who felt comfortable enough to talk like that with a reporter around, I wonder how many more were saying stuff like that when I wasn’t.

“Don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge.” Read another way: Don’t threaten to hold me legally accountable for my actions, even though that’s your perfect constitutional right.

“Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary.” Deal, as long as you’re not screaming at me when I tell you. Because it’s relevant. It matters. You are a public servant, not King of the Goddamn Streets.

I am not a law enforcement expert by any means. On the other hand, having spent a lot of time with cops over the years as a reporter, having seen some of what they see and smelled some of what they smell, having even witnessed a perfectly justifiable use of deadly force by sheriff’s deputies to prevent an armed man from harming others, I do know a little more than the average civilian. I get that it’s a tough, dirty and potentially dangerous job even on a good day. I get that cops are underpaid. I get the politics. I get the trickiness of the public relations and the even more important community relations. And I have a lot of respect for good cops.

Too much, in fact, to have any at all for bad ones. And there are some bad ones out there, including the writer of this Post article. The writer says no cop goes to work wanting or planning to shoot someone, which, the very rare very corrupt cop aside, is probably true. But he glides right over the fact that short of killing, a nontrivial number of officers wouldn’t mind very much if they got to get into a fight. You can deny it, but I’ve seen and heard it myself.

That attitude, that overweaning sense of entitlement, is problematic on a number of levels, but perhaps the most important one is that it’s simply un-American. It is exactly the kind of thing that the men who wrote the Bill of Rights were seeking to protect us from and that Supreme Court majorities in cases from Gideon and Miranda to U.S. v. Jones have said is impermissible.

And the Bill of Rights and those court rulings and more are incontrovertible evidence that the American people have never entered into a social contract that makes a cop on the street the absolute arbiter of anyone’s life and freedom of movement. More and more people, sick and tired of being sick and tired, are rising up and telling cops that in no uncertain terms. And they ain’t all black, either.

To be sure, the state of policing today is not all the cops’ fault. A lot of corporations made a lot of money selling military equipment to the government, and then when the government began donating surplus equipment to states and localities, were the cops going to say no? And after 9/11, a lazy but pervasive mental shorthand took hold: We’re in a war on terror, terror could strike anywhere, so we’ve got to be prepared to do battle. But in too many cases, the requisite training on how and when to use that military equipment didn’t accompany the goods. And thus we were faced last week with the sight of a Ferguson, Mo., police officer in an armored vehicle pointing a machine gun loaded with live ammunition at peaceful protesters.

Now, when I was no older than 5 and going dove hunting with Dad and some other relatives (I wasn’t actually hunting, but I did get to hold and carry a shotgun), he distinctly told me never to point a firearm at something unless you intended to shoot it. I bet your dad told you the same thing. So if you’re a resident of Ferguson, protesting peacefully or maybe not even doing that much, and a cop who supposedly has sworn to protect and serve you is pointing a machine gun at you, what are you supposed to think?

I’m thinkin’ there’s one cop who needs to lose his badge.

So you’ve got a nontrivial number of cops out there who think the Constitution doesn’t apply to them, that your civil rights don’t matter, and who have lots of very dangerous toys but no real idea when deploying those toys might do more harm than good. (The writer of the Post piece, with his emphasis on wanting to de-escalate situations, would be more believable if he acknowledged the reality that people in Ferguson, Mo., and many other places in America want a police force and not an occupying army.)

At no point in its history has the kind of policing the writer embraces above ever been part of the formal social contract. Oh, sure, it happened, but it did so in violation of the country’s own contract with itself. And it needs to stop. The police themselves will benefit from a population that doesn’t have so many examples of cops behaving badly to look at.

So how do we get there? We start requiring federal, state and local law enforcement to operate in a state of complete transparency with respect to how they do their jobs. We decide that no such person is entitled to any right of privacy with respect to his performance of his official duties. We make it all public, good and bad. We mandate independent investigation at the federal level of all officer-involved shootings.

Yeah, it’ll take a little time and money. Worse, it will require changing some attitudes that are generations old and baldly used for political purposes today.

But if we go that route, I can pretty much guarantee that law enforcement officers’ relationships with their communities will improve, and as a result their jobs will become at least a little bit safer and easier. And I think we can all agree that that would be a good thing.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 9:05 pm

“Those police officers are free now. How free do YOU feel?”

Digby writes about two California police officers acquitted of all charges after their beating to death of a mentally ill homeless man (himself the son of a former police officer) was caught on video. Read the whole horrible thing, including watching the embedded videos and following the links. Discussing a different case, she concludes:

I realize [cases involving mentally ill people] are tough situations for the police. Dealing with people who cannot comprehend your orders — or the stakes in refusal — makes it even tougher. But ask yourself why that officer couldn’t have walked behind the man rather than demanding that he turn around and shooting him full of electricity in the chest when he didn’t. The man’s hands are up, he’s presenting no threat. So often these things end up being a battle of wills rather than a means to an end. It’s one thing if thing if the person is clearly threatening, but too many times it’s police needing to demonstrate their authority. Needing to do that with people who are hearing lots of voices in their heads telling them all kinds of things already, is just pathetic.

Mentally ill people often live horrible lives in the streets of our towns and cities. They face danger from the elements, criminals and each other. And they often end up in police custody for a variety of reasons. Tasers (and worse) are cruelly used against them. It’s medieval.It goes without saying that without cameras taping this incident there would not be a trial.

In just such a case a few days ago in southeastern North Carolina, a police officer shot and killed a mentally ill, 90-pound teenager whom two other officers were holding down on a bathroom floor — after he had been tased. The two officers on the floor with him, one of whom had just tased him, were from the community, were familiar with the kid, and had pretty much talked him down from whatever rage he had been on when the third officer, from another jurisdiction, stormed in, and, within 70 seconds and reportedly after saying, “We don’t have time for this,” shot the kid and killed him in front of his horrified father. (And thank God the bullet didn’t go through the kid, ricochet off the floor, and kill or injure one or both of the officers holding him.)

Handling mentally ill people appropriately requires training, and the training that law-enforcement officers get — which primarily and for good reasons involves getting control of people and situations — needs to be adapted to include mentally ill people who pose no threat or a minor threat (the 18-year-old was holding a screwdriver) so that we don’t end up tasking our officers with executing the mentally ill.

In the case of the California cops acquitted of the beating death, I think the video, which you can find if you follow the links, is damning. The North Carolina case is just days old and it’s not clear yet whether any charges will be filed, although both the cops on the floor with the kid have officially been cleared.

But in both of these cases, if the cops have any consciences at all, they’ll be haunted by what they did for the rest of their lives. And that’s where the rest of us come in.

The job inevitably requires some cops to do things that will have that result. We owe it to our mentally ill brethren to balance the safety of others (including cops) against their well-being. And we who hire, train and pay cops owe it to them to train them well enough that if they ever have to use deadly force, the justification will be so clear that their consciences will be offered legitimate respite from what comes afterward. This is not an outcome that the current overmilitarization of U.S. law enforcement is likely to yield.

Friday, February 10, 2012 8:50 pm

Cops gone wild

One days in the mid-1980s, my brother Frank, then finishing college at N.C. State and a newly diagnosed Type 1 diabetic, went into insulin shock while driving home. As he described it later, he could see his field of vision being constricted by darkness, which must be scary as hell if you’re sitting in your living room or lying in bed, let alone behind the wheel of a moving car in afternoon rush-hour traffic.

He had no sweets with him, so he sped toward home. And got pulled for speeding.

I’m not sure whether the Raleigh police officer let him go on the spot or the charge (speeding was then a criminal misdemeanor in N.C.; it’s now a civil infraction) was later dropped, but the point is that nothing like this happened:

A Highway Patrol trooper enters the scene first, gun drawn, and kicks the driver’s window of Greene’s four-door sedan. After several moments, the trooper opens the door.

The trooper, his gun still raised, then gives Greene conflicting commands. He first tells him not to move, then tells him to come forward.

A second trooper quickly cuffs Greene’s wrist and pulls him from the car, which rolls forward until an officer stops it.

Greene flops to the ground, clearly dazed as five officers rush him. A sixth officer, with Henderson police, enters the frame late and delivers five well-placed kicks to Greene’s face.

“Stop resisting mother (expletive)!” one officer yells.

Greene doesn’t scream until a second Henderson officer knees him in the midsection — and then does it three more times. Greene was later treated for fractured ribs.

Police suspected Greene was intoxicated as he weaved among lanes about 4 a.m. on Oct. 29, 2010, and finally stopped his car near Lake Mead Parkway and Boulder Highway in Henderson.

But that wasn’t the case, which they soon discovered after they searched Greene.

“Call in medical,” one officer says in the video. “We found some insulin in his pocket. … He’s semiconscious.”

“Let’s get medical out here. He’s a diabetic, he’s probably in shock,” the officer later tells dispatch.

Click the link and watch the video (cops’ language NSFW). It’s chilling. And all I could think was, “That could be one of my brothers.”

Some of my friends say I complain too much about excessive use of force* by law enforcement (or, as they called it when I was a kid, police bruality). I politely invite them to get bent. This is a symptom of lazy or incompetent training and leadership, pure and simple, and it needs to be torn out of our law enforcement root and branch. I have too much respect for good cops to have any respect for bad ones, and I’m not alone. John Cole comments:

I’m not really sure what my favorite part of this video is — first, the warning for offensive language. Actually, [offensive language doesn’t] bother me anywhere near as much as watching some douchebag cop run in and kick a man in the neck when he is clearly restrained and not resisting. Check out that real tough guy with a badge at 45 seconds in. Any chief that keeps that guy on the force is part of the damned problem.

My next favorite part is when these morons start asking each other if they are ok. What could they hurt? Their toes on the guy’s head?

And then, of course, the laughter afterwards, when instead they should be shaken up by how bad they screwed the pooch and how poorly they handled the situation.

If you’ll notice, the [driver] has done what you are supposed to do when you get pulled over, doing so even in a diabetic shock. He’s stopped the car, his hands are on the wheel, and he waits for instruction. Yet our Rockette Rambo has to go over guns drawn, kicking the window, acting like a maniac. I always thought the point of police was to defuse a situation, not escalate it.

At this point, though, with our politicians and courts bending over backwards to negate our rights and to look the other way when cops misbehave, I suppose we should all be happy they didn’t just execute the guy on the spot. Thank god there was no dog in the car.

And by the way, in my near ten years in the military, with all the exhaustive weapon training I received on a number of firearms, never once did an instructor inform me that the proper thing to do with a drawn and loaded weapon was to kick one foot up into the air. If you did that … on any range in the world, they would kick you out and might possibly give you an article 15 [nonjudicial punishment in the military — Lex]. What would happen if his foot slipped and he discharged? What if he shot the guy because of that? Or himself? Would the other cops think he had been shot when they heard the discharge and saw him on the ground and then unload into the driver? Just terrible [expletive] policework.

My delight at the phrase “Rockette Rambo” pales in comparison to my anger at the cops, the people who trained and supervise them, and anyone who thinks this is in any way OK. It’s not. It’s not constitutional, not legal, not moral, and even, as Cole observes, not safe for the cops.

Police culture is insular, and cops tend to close ranks to defend their own. Frequently it’s admirable. In the case of brutality such as this, it’s illegal, unconstitutional and despicable, and Cole is correct: Any chief who would defend this behavior with anything short of termination is, indeed, part of the problem and needs to find another line of work before he or his minions kill someone.

And politicians who support police who engage in this type of behavior need to be flushed out of office.

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