I used to trust police. I used to think that ‘to protect and serve’ was a motto that was uttered more or less free of irony. In other words, I used to be a blinkered fool (which is not to say that I am not still – just less so about this). One of the first albums I ever bought was Public Enemy’s classic Apocalypse ’91: The Enemy Strikes Black. I nearly wore that casette out listening to it over and over again. Before I knew anything about hip-hop music, before I knew about any music really besides classical and whatever my parents listened to, I knew the lyrics to ‘Get The Fuck Outta Dodge’:
Even then, I didn’t really absorb the full implication of what Chuck D was talking about: racial profiling and abuse of power by law enforcement. It didn’t filter through. After all, I was brought up to have a very different understanding of the relationship between civilians and police. Police were there to catch bad guys, to protect regular folks like me, and were who you called when you needed help. And maybe that’s true for some people, but I’m not so naive anymore to think that it’s the case for everyone.
It certainly wasn’t the case for Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.:
Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., a 68-year-old African-American Marine veteran, was fatally shot in November by White Plains, NY, police who responded to a false alarm from his medical alert pendant. The officers broke down Chamberlain’s door, tasered him, and then shot him dead. Audio of the entire incident was recorded by the medical alert device in Chamberlain’s apartment.
Some of y’all are sensitive, and prone to react emotionally to disturbing descriptions, so I won’t link to the full account of what happened. I like to think of myself as being sufficiently steeled through my own skepticism and cynicism to not let stuff get to me, but I couldn’t read this story without being sick. The brief synopsis is that Mr. Chamberlain accidentally rolled over on his medical alert pendant in his sleep, which triggered an alarm sending emergency responders to his home. Police arrived first, and despite being told by Mr. Chamberlain and members of his family that everything was fine, kicked in the door. After failing to sufficiently appease the officers, Mr. Chamberlain was tasered, then shot to death.
This is not the deep south, where we can blame “racists”. This is not 50 years ago, where we could say “it was a different time”. A man was murdered by cowboyed-up cops who burst into his home and, for reasons that beggar understanding, shot him to death in his underwear. He was not carrying a weapon, he had broken no laws, and the police had no warrant. There have been no charges brought against the police officers involved, and the case is nearly 6 months old. This is despite the fact that the entire encounter was caught on a live microphone in the form of the medical alert device.
Now as we discussed yesterday, it’s always at least partially the victim’s fault they got shot, right? After all, police are trustworthy and honourable law-enforcement professionals who simply wouldn’t just burst into an old man’s home and kill him for no reason. He wasn’t wearing a hoodie, nor did he attack the officers (who would be hard pressed to find a mortal threat in a half-naked 68 year-old). He wasn’t wandering ‘suspiciously’ around the neighbourhood, and he hadn’t been suspended from school for an empty dime bag. We are sadly unable to level the same type of blame at Mr. Chamberlain as we could at Trayvon Martin.
Nor, it seems, can we blame an unnamed black Englishman whose vehicle was stopped by police, and who was strangled and subjected to racist abuse by police officers. He had committed no crime.
Nor, it seems, could we level those same criticisms at Yao Wei Wu, who was dragged out of his home at gunpoint and beaten nearly unrecognizable by two Vancouver police officers. These officers were responding to a domestic call and went to the wrong address.
Nor, one would imagine, could we blame Manjit Singh, a 51 year-old resident of Vancouver who was thrown to the ground and kicked repeatedly by police officers investigating a bank robbery. Mr. Singh was taking out the garbage in front of his home when police happened upon him. There was, in fact, no robbery.
In all of these cases, the police officers involved with physically abusing completely innocent civilians (in one instance fatally) due to the police’s own incompetence faced no charge. Two of these cases involved the Vancouver Police Department, which is one of the more progressive police forces I’ve seen or heard described. We cannot find common geography, offense, mitigating factors, or history to link these ‘bad apple’ cases together, nor can we find any reasonable explanation for why none of the perpetrators have been charged with assault.
The only explanations we can find are unjust ones – police are immune from prosecution because they are the arbiters of the law. And because of attitudes like the one I once held, we blithely grant the police an undeserved level of respect. We treat them according to the myth that they are protectors and guardians of the peace, rather than recognizing that this is an image airbrushed over a cartel of wanton thugs who are subject only to their own authority. Provided they can put on a sufficiently clean public face to charm enough of the populace into believing that people like Mr. Chamberlain somehow ‘deserve’ their treatment, they can sweep cases like this under the rug without ever having to deal with the consequences.
Mr. Chamberlain and his family dealt with the consequences of failing to find a way to put the police ‘at ease’ enough to not kill him in cold blood. He wasn’t being threatening, he was in his own home and the cops kicked his door down. He didn’t have a weapon, and he is on tape pleading for his life. But still, the Geraldos of the world, not able to find the magic hoodie defense, will blame Mr. Chamberlain for failing to look innocent enough, thus giving police no choice but to murder him. It’s simple: the cops kick in your door and shove a gun in your face, you’d better get down on your knees and kiss their boots and thank them for their mercy when a pistol whipping is all you get.
I used to trust police officers. Hell, I’ve had many positive interactions with the VPD. Despite that, I can no longer defend them with a clear conscience. Police are not your allies, they are not your friends, and their function is no serve and protect no-one but themselves.
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Can the victims sue? And it seems odd that the ACLU and whatever the Canadian equivalent is never seem to get involved in these cases. These are certainly constitutional issues, well within their purview…
Well at least they cops didn’t mow their lawns in their boxers that’s the real fireing offense (drips with sarcasm).
Marcus Ranum says
I sometimes argue that being a policeman is an inherently immoral job. Because, in order to swear to uphold a body of laws as a unit, unless one agrees with all of them, and intends to follow them all completely, one has to acknowledge in advance that one intends to be a hypocrite – enforcing a law one does not follow, or enforcing a law one does not believe is fair. Soldiers have a similar problem with regard to agreeing to follow orders in the abstract, though soldiers have a notion of “illegal order” and (in principle) a process whereby they can decline to follow one.
One of my acquaintances is a cop and I got to ask him how he felt about swearing to uphold laws about speeding and smoking dope against all the rest of us when he did both on a regular basis. His response was that since I’m one of the 1% I can effectively get away with speeding (by paying an amount of money that doesn’t matter to me) and could probably get away with anything short of murder as long as I spent enough on lawyers. When you throw the disparity of sentencing for the same crime between the poor and everyone else, and you realize that the judicial system is also corrupt. Again, police officers swear to uphold a corrupt institution – another moral compromise. No, they are not your friends. They are nobody’s friends.
Gregory in Seattle says
It is only a very small number of bad cops who do stuff like this. The real problem is not so much that that it happens, but that the genuinely good cops — the vast majority — stand by and let the bad ones destroy the public’s faith in law enforcement.
I have seen this in Seattle. Most of our police are honest people trying to do a necessary, difficult job. But when a few cops go bad — like officer who gunned down a deaf First Nations wood carver last year for not immediately responding to a verbal order, for example — the SPD closes ranks and protects their own. The union denounced any and all efforts to bring rogues to justice. Attempts to obtain public records drags on for years until the retention period expires and the records are destroyed. Until this “blue wall” is broken down permanently, nothing is going to change.
But if we don’t let this group of thugs rule town, another group will! And they might be worse!
steve oberski says
@Gregory in Seattle
“Good” cops who stand by and let the bad cops get away with their sociopathic behavior are not good cops.
One way to look at police forces is as socially sanctioned, publicly financed, well armed tribes or gangs provided with free uniforms and carte blanche to reenact “Lord of The Flies” in the public space.
Desert Son, OM says
I’m confused. If the “vast majority” of police are “genuinely good” then why does that vast majority stand by and let the bad police destroy public faith? How does that make the “vast majority” good, again?
Seems to me there are several real problems, including that the abuses of power happen as well as the collusion in covering for abuses of power.
@Gregory in Seattle:
Also note that the “good cops” are under pressure NOT to call out bad behavior by other cops. The case of whistleblower Officer Schoolcraft in the NYPD, for instance:
So…how do we fix it? Can it be fixed? It’s certainly broken.
They’re genuinely good in that “genuinely good Germans” sort of way. On one hand, how many of us would truly stand up and put life and livelihood at risk to stop-or even just futilely protest–injustice. On the other hand, how many of these good cops knew what they were getting into when they signed up, and signed up anyway.
Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform says
Fucking christ, am I tired of seeing this shit. Yeah, it’s only 90% of them who give the other 10% a bad name. Clue to Gregory: Protecting criminal cops makes one a bad cop.
Desert Son, OM says
That is basically why I decided against joining the police dept. I grew up expecting to either join the police dept. or the fire dept. However, when I eventually became old enough to take a path, I just couldn’t reconcile the idea of arresting people for doing something that I was also doing (like enjoying pot). In the many years since turning away from the police dept. as a career path, I have been so happy that I decided against it. While there are lots of exceptional men and women police officers, IMHO, the police are more and more just thugs of the state/rich (their historical role?).
I’ve always thought the relationship between the police and society was a pretty good indicator of the health of the society. In my dreams the police are unarmed and wear tall goofy hats so a citizen in need can pick one out of a crowd. In my nightmares the police carry military weapons, appear frequently in “plain clothes” so you never know who is police, and treat everyone as a potential criminal.
Good article. Thanks for sharing.
Not only do we need to “do something” about this crooked behavior but we also need to know how to protect ourselves in the meantime.
I get police alerts from nixle.com for crimes and advisories going on in my general area and whenever there’s a shooting it’s usually done by the police and not by the suspect. EACH AND EVERY alert states, “The suspect reached down to his waist. Fearing for their lives officers opened fire.”
We’re talking about opening fire on suspects before police even have the notion of endangerment and this happens all the time. So, honest to goodness keeps your hands up and communicate each and every movement with the officer if you’re ever in a confrontation. Though it’s being bullied it could save ones life.
If anyone has any ideas on how to incorporate more stringent regulations on a group that may be biased straight through I’d like to hear it.
Desert Son, OM says
As Marcus Ranum points out at #3, the confluence of human complexity and the totality of law intersect to make problematic circumstances. It’s probably not enough to reform the people (the police); it requires attending to the police, the citizens, the legal system itself, the culture around police and policing, and the larger society.
Reform of laws about drug possession and use, as just one example, might help alleviate some of the moral/psychological burden of the police-as-hypocrite, and might also free up some resources to pursue things like violent crime prevention and treatment. There would still need to be reform and education at the individual and cultural level, though, because even if police work was only about trying to prevent or confront violent crime, the problem of things like response times (when they happen at all) to minority neighborhoods remains.
There would have to be evidence of behavioral change among police and the system, and there would also have to be one hell of a public relations campaign to combat the roared fear-mongering and distortion cries of “Soft on crime!” likely to erupt from certain sectors.
How to do some of that? At least one part involves calling attention to it, such as efforts to support laws about recording the police, protections for those who do record or blow whistles on bad behavior, and increased incorporation of police into communities where they have vested interests. The more people that see bad police behavior – coupled with the knowledge that bad police behavior is not ok – the harder it is for the institution to keep justifying or protecting bad behavior.
Another component: de-mythologizing the police, the legal system, and police work. Education about police, and police work, and the legal system, needs to be in-depth, comprehensive, and unvarnished. I’m not saying get rid of cop shows as entertainment, but there has to be enough real, evidence-based information distributed to (especially to) the people who think the police are, default, “the good guys.” I grew up with the police are “the good guys” image, and I’ve even eaten that up as part of fictionalized representations in media. I was taught in early elementary school that the police are here to help. But I grew up white and upper middle class, and I grew up with the myth of the “good guys.” I’m the kind of person that needs more information like posts by Crommunist about these issues, because my early education didn’t encompass the reality of complex humans, diverse behavioral and social influences, systemic bigotry, and jobs of power.
I lost all respect for them nearly 20 years ago for a combination of reasons, these two among others:
(1) David Milgaard, Donald Marshall and Guy Paul Morin, all wrongly convicted due to corrupt and lazy police. It’s lucky Canada gave up the “death penalty” in 1976.
(2) I worked my way through college as a security guard, evenings and weekends. I saw so many instances of the RCMP forcing prostitutes to have sex, of abuse and violence, of drug use, of speeding and dangerous driving, that I couldn’t help but stop believing the myth of them as “public servants”.
The police of today are no better than they were a hundred years ago, an unprofessional mob of Keystone Kops with immunity and a willingness to commit violence and abuse their authority. In reality, such abuses of power have always existed (e.g. Bloody Sunday), some are just less well known.
Broken? No, it’s working exactly as intended.
Jesus shit. Also telling is that I’ve never even heard about this before. (You can put some of this on me for not being a newshound, but this should have been loud enough for me to notice.) Certainly, stuff like this gets buried all the time, and it would probably be impossible to keep up with bullshit police violence and intimidation everywhere, but Chamberlain’s story, at least, should have reached me before.
Growing up white in white suburbia, where bored white suburban cops roam free, I never really trusted the police from an early age (although some officers have surprised me since, being at least rational or friendly). Cops will be assholes over the smallest, most inconsequential things. They’ll give shit to people trying to be good citizens.
I never want to have to rely on cops in a high-stakes situation. Especially when they create it, like they did for Chamberlain.
I think you have to blame authoritarianism. Robert Altemeyer (an American professor who worked at a Canadian university) did some excellent research on authoritarian personality types and why they act the way they do. It turns out that a lot of people would rather be on the side of authority than on the side of right. I really recommend Dr. Altemeyer’s work: http://assessmentlinkbc.bcassessment.ca/bceid/cgi-bin/cognosisapi.dll
It’s a 200-page paper on authoritarianism, and how it leads to intolerance, racism, religion, being a police officer, etc.
Thanks for writing this. I hadn’t even heard of most of these cases. I don’t know what to say.
So what? I’m middle aged, politically connected and rich. As are many other people on FTB. Time to make the system work the way we want it to, no matter what the original intent was.
Then they’re not good cops. They’re bad cops aiding in the abuse, harassment and murder of civilians. That’s who they are. That’s how the law would treat someone not in uniform doing this. That’s how the law should treat them.
Ditto. I trust them to discourage the other thugs and that’s about it.
I used to trust cops.
I’ve been framed by one, and spent a lot of money I could not spare defending myself. She lied to me, then tried to lie to the judge (my complete weasel scumbag attorney exposed her), and was eventually slapped on the wrist for her lies. No penalty at all for her, only attorney’s fees for me.
I don’t trust cops any more. Not like I used to.
And I have no reason other than personal. People who look like me (eight arms, two tentacles) are not regularly treated as suspects. I do not envy those who cops view as “the usual suspects”.
Holy shit. I read the horrors of the Chamberlain tragedy at Pharyngula and I’ve felt sick about it all week. I have to confess I had a little “thank jeebus I’m Canadian” feeling that Ian and company just pulled the plug on.
My daughter is 14 and she’s wanted to be RCMP since she was 10. I was/am proud of her. We have friends in both the police force and the RCMP, my daughter’s sensei, a woman I have utmost respect for and who is a wonderful mentor to my daughter, is a police officer. All of them are stand-up people I would trust with my life. Yes, I’m white, and so I’m rarely confronted with the ugly face of racism or racial profiling, but some of these cop friends are minorities themselves.
Now I don’t know what to think. Certainly it casts a worrisome light on my kid’s dreams… Am I an anomaly? I don’t doubt the related stories are true, I just don’t know how to square my experiences with the suggested 90% rotten police force. (btw, I completely agree standing by silently as a crime is committed by a fellow cop makes anyone unquestionably guilty.)
Oh, and great article. Thank you for regularly hauling my head out of the sand.
Setár, self-appointed Elf-lord of social justice says
I’m currently reading George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (it’s about Orwell’s service in the POUM militia during the Spanish Civil War), and at one point Orwell writes the best line I have ever seen to describe the role of the police:
Setár, self-appointed Elf-lord of social justice says
I think you copy/pasted the wrong link. The one you probably were looking for is this: http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/
A lot of these stories have been around for a while, but are just now getting widespread attention as echoes of the Trayvon Martin killing. This particular one was only noted in the local papers as “cops regrettably had to shoot mentally disturbed man who came at them with a knife”. How many of THOSE have we seen?
N. Nescio says
All of the above is blood-boiling reading material. Most of the cops I know are decent, hardworking people who truly want to serve their community and uphold the law. They have morals and families and lives and are trying to do their best in a difficult, sometimes dangerous and largely thankless job.
Grown-up schoolyard bullies playing John fucking Wayne are the ones that scare me to death. What troubles me further is that given enough of this kind of behavior by a largely militarized force, somebody eventually is going to “stand their ground” and defend their right to personal safety (or act on the incorrect belief that defense/resistance was necessary), and people, some of them innocent, are going to end up dead.
“Why are you pointing your gun at me, Officer?” could have been the last thing this guy said, because a beat cop didn’t know the law he was supposed to be enforcing: http://jonathanturley.org/2012/02/17/aclu-files-on-behalf-of-gun-owner-abusively-arrested-by-philadelphia-police/
I should also point out, to folks wanting to help, we can help immediately by pressuring the departments involved in these cases to investigate them properly. Public pressure is the ONLY reason Chamberlain Sr.’s case, or even Trayvon Martin’s case, are being investigated at all.
The problem with the police is that they aren’t really accountable to the rest of society – if they abuse their power or do something that is clearly wrong, they end up facing no meaningful consequences.
Cops have guns. They have power. I think that any cop, if the public has reason to believe that the person cannot be trusted, should be removed from the police force. The public gets to elect other government officials – it may not be feasible to ‘elect’ cops and I’d worry about say, a popular white cop getting elected on support of the white vote patrolling a Black neighborhood but the public should not have to tolerate anybody having a badge and a gun who has given the public any reason to doubt that they should have that privilege.
The public should be able to have any cop fired from the force for life if the person does not do his or her job in a manner that shows respect to the community.
A friend of mine told me that the when she lived in another state, the cops would stop her when walking, demand that she show an ID and ask where she was going. She said that she was terrified they were going to rape her, and being cops they’d get away with it, and that they obviously did not seem to want to do more than show her who had the power. I mean, is walking from place to place a crime? This woman was white too, so it wasn’t even racial profiling. I mean, I can’t believe how it has to feel to be Black and have the cops stop you. You might end up tortured and being forced to confess to crimes that the police themselves have done.
But yeah, the cops – there is no accountability. If there exists one single video of a cop behaving in a way that the public feels is questionable, that cop needs to be permanently removed from any and all law enforcement jobs, period. I’d call something like that progress.
Setár, self-appointed Elf-lord of social justice says
I have no idea how anyone can look at a police officer who is failing to uphold the law and call them a “good cop”.
People like you sicken me. If the “good cops” are closing ranks to protect one of their own who has been accused of breaking the law, they’re not good cops anymore. Cops are supposed to uphold the law; any cop who fails to do so for any reason is a bad cop and deserves to have hir ass fired and forfeit all benefits.
And if all the cops are doing it, then all the cops are corrupt and we need to fire the lot. The only thing preventing us from doing this is assholes like you who, for some reason, think that it’s okay for cops to defend their own, or even that cops still should be considered inherently trustworthy despite not upholding their law when one of their own runs afoul of it.
Key words: natural enemy. Police officers are not here to protect the common person — they’re here to protect the established system, and only protect the common person insofar as it works towards protecting the established system.
And if you don’t believe me, try comparing police reactions to gun-waving Tea Partiers protesting government spending to police reactions to Occupiers setting up tents and protesting corporates buying off the the government. The former did not receive violence and the latter did — because the latter directly challenged the established system and brought to the forefront that it is creating profit for a tiny few at the expense of everyone else. If the police really were here to protect us, they’d be breaking up foreclosure auctions and arresting fraudulent bankers rather than evicting Occupations and arresting peaceful protesters.
This smells a lot like corruption and incompetance creep, but because it is the police, the **authoritarianism** and power involved make it manifest in horrible and direct ways.
Incompetance and corruption creep is unavoidable in large organizations of any kind, and takes a lot of energy to slow down and huge amounts to reverse. Given time incompetance (either from new blood or tired bones) and corruption (from those looking for the easy way) work their way in. Unfortunately, those engaging in the activities have the motivation (and time) to band together and protect these activities while those not involved are usually too busy actually getting work done than to play the game of risky politics. Eventually things take hold, and the activities spread roots (racial profiling, authoritarianism, unreserved bigotry, etc.).
One of the worst things to do is to label the whole organization as corrupt. Even in the case this is largely true, it puts up walls and allows the rot to thrive on the expectation of corruption. It gives power to the corrupt and weakens the resolve of would-be heroes. It is better, though harder, to push for change with help from within. We should expect that there is at least one good person on the inside, or at least one that is redeemable, and we need to provide them with the systems of support and mechanisms they need to help clean up the organization. It is better to cry “You’re better than this!” than to say we expected as much, even when distrust is reasonable. Appeal to a person’s honour so that they may become honourable.
Ultimately though, we need to cry out louder and harder whenever transparancy and accountability are suppressed. The worst part of these stories is not the events themselves, as disgusting as they are, but that nothing was done to prevent them from happening again. That needs to change.
I think you have to go all the way back to the source, and reform the hiring selection process to filter authoritarian and violent people (including those with mere tendencies, not necessarily an actual record).
The key problem is that hiring policy is usually set by the department itself, which means that changing the makeup of the force essentially requires replacing the entire structure from top down. It doesn’t seem to be coincidence that it works this way.
Yes, the police striking first is a very serious issue itself. They get off trivially in cases which, in any other context, would be regarded as a minimum manslaughter and more probably murder. It’s not self defense to attack first, especially with deadly force and when you out-number the “enemy”.
Sometimes they are no witnesses whatsoever to police killings, because the suspect is dead and no one else was actually at the scene. These situations are especially ripe for abuse.
Oops. Thank you for pasting the correct link. Now I feel like a noob.
Though there may be some decent cops, the entire system is built on a lack of transparency and accountability. I place less faith in a few heroes than on remaking the system for greater accountability. I tend to think that people are only as good as the accountability or incentive system they are in. The system as it is is based on the police avoiding any real accountability, and is likely designed to make sure that a few ‘good cops’ who want to ruin the party for the corrupt will never have the power to do much of anything about it.
I just think the whole system needs a total overhaul.
More examples of blatant police lying contradicted by taped evidence, thanks to Maro Singham:
That article follows up by citing multiple examples, and links to an earlier article on the importance of citizen recording to expose police abusing their powers, going all the way back to the beating of Rodney King in 1991.
Quote source: http://jonathanturley.org/2011/11/08/the-right-of-citizens-to-videotape-police/
A little much-delayed justice in the Katrina-aftermath Danziger Bridge shootings:
The guy on whom cops tried to pin the blame, saying he was shooting at police? Guess what color his skin was.
N. Nescio says
It probably had more to do with the tea-partiers being armed and generally being willing to use force to resist police. Kicking the shit out of some ‘hippies’ is far easier than going up against a group of angry people with firearms.
Alex Lifeson of Rush was assaulted and “arrested” by the police in Naples, Florida back in 2004, a hundred miles from Coral Springs. I don’t mean to suggest that what happened to Lifeson and his son compares to those who have been murdered by police, but many similar events happened: police lying in “sworn testimony”, fabricated evidence, attempts to coerce witnesses (hotel employees), etc.
And similar to another recent case, the hotel staff exaggerated reports of Justin Zivojinovich’s (Lifeson’s son) action, leading police enter with the intent to commit violence, to respond far in excess of what was necessary.
John Horstman says
Ugh, I saw a report on this; it’s appalling. I, too, used to think the police existed to serve and protect; eventually I figured out they exist to serve the privileged and protect property, pretty much to the exclusion of everything else. Even if, as the claim goes, it’s a smaller percentage of officers who directly engage in abusive/illegal behavior, the problem is systemic. Non-reporting by fellow officers enables abuses of power, as does a disinclination on the part of prosecutors to prosecute even clear abuses, while selection bias among those pursuing law enforcement jobs guarantees a much higher percentage of people who enjoy exercising direct power over others (and are thus prone to abuses of power). Ideally, police forces would consist entirely of people of a self-sacrificing, socialist nature, who really do want to put their own well-beings on the line to protect the average citizen, and who were not required to enforce bad laws. Sadly, the reality is skewed heavily toward the opposite.
What REALLY pisses me off, though, is the idea that police should be able to get away with crimes committed “in the line of duty”. If anything, the people with whom we’re trusting the state’s capacity for violence, whom we’re trusting to execute our laws properly, should be held to a much HIGHER standard of scrutiny and behavior.
An update in the Chamberlain case, via BoingBoing and DemocracyNow: the officer in the shooting has been named and is facing trial for civil rights violations from 2008:
This is so hard for me because my dad is a cop. And he’s a good guy…he became a cop because he truly wanted to help other people.
But I know cops, through him. And I know what he’s become over the years. I’ve seen cops band together to defend a known rapist and predator in their department, listened as female officers talked casually about how to avoid their Captain who would fondlde and harass them, like it was just another part of their day (and it was). I hear how my dad talks about people murdered by the police, the cruel jokes he makes, how he insists they must have deserved it. I hear how he dismisses whole populations as trash…addicts, those who’ve been to jail, gay people, people of color. And I don’t know how to reconcile that with the man who raised me, who loves me unconditionally and is always there for me.
I still used to trust the police, though, and believed my parents when they insisted that all stories of police brutality and corruption were made up by criminals and liberals who hated cops. And then I was raped.
From the moment I reported it, I was treated disdainfully by the police detectives who investigated. I can’t go into the details, but it was more traumatizing than the actual assault. They ended up droping the case because they were convinced I made it all up. (I have a mental illness and went to rehab for an addiction to pain medication, so of course I couldn’t have been raped.) This is despite a multitude of physical evidence. After a half-hearted investigation that dragged on for a year, they finally called me into the station. They put me in a tiny interrogation room and wouldn’t let me see my advocate. They interrogated me for hours, cruel, unrelenting, threatening. By the end, I would have done anything to escape. The detective said, “Just tell us you made the whole thing up. Then you can go.” I told them I made it up. They were able to close out the case. (And called the newspaper to tell them I was a liar. I got hate mail. I sure wasn’t going to call the cops and tell them about the threats I recieved.)
So, yeah, I know people make false confessions. I know the police aren’t your friends. I know they break the law and violate civil rights without any reprecussions. I know they destroy lives (sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally).
I’m ashamed that it took something happening to me before I realized this. I’m ashamed that I didn’t listen to friends who had their own horror stories, asuming that they must have instigated it. I’m ashamed that I blindly believed my father when he said that Rodney King deserved it, that Oscar Grant deserved it, that the media hates cops and so they hide the truth and portray the police as the bad guys.
Thank you for your post. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people will continue to justify and ignore evidence of police wrongdoing, prefering to believe the cultural myth, until something happens to them or their loved one. I just wish there was a way we could clean up the system and prevent tragedies like this, but I really can’t see how.
Bruce Gorton says
The big problem I think is popular media portraying the cowboy cop as the ideal – thus police applicants tend to be cowboy cop wannabes.
And macho bullshit along the lines of “doing what it takes” – tends to correlate quite strongly with racist/sexist bullshit.
And it doesn’t actually reduce crime, it increases it as the community starts seeing cops as just another criminal gang and thus stops being so cooperative. More often than not there is a reason the book the by-the-book officer follows got written.
What I wonder about the Chamberlain case, is why the police showed up with full riot gear, ready for a fight to begin with. Were they warned that the man was black, possibly wearing a hoodie?
I’m not trying to say it didn’t happen because of racism, because fucking christ that seems like the main factor, but I guess what I wonder is how this kind of thing actually happens, and if it’s possible that there’s more to it. What is the ecology of racism within police departments, and how deep exactly does it run?
Does this sort of thing happen because of overt racism within the department, or because of a series of racially influenced bad decisions? It’s hard to say really, because the information isn’t all that available.
Ogvorbis (no relation to the Ogg family) says
Words fail me.
I’m so sorry, and in your debt for posting about it. All I have is words, and maybe this:
Police chief resigns over mishandled rape case
Dr. Audley Z. Darkheart, purveyor of candy and lies says
How much of this problem links back to the public’s perception that these incidents are “isolated” or that white people need to be convinced that these crimes are racially motivated?
I’m definitely not trying to excuse the police– what I’m saying is that the public’s denial of the truth of these situations gives the police a shield.
My grandfather was a cop, so I know a little of what you mean with trying to reconcile the good person with the stereotyped statements.
I’m so sorry you went through that. No one should have to go through what you did, in any way.
One more aspect of popular media portrayals of the cops that makes it easier for this shit to happen: Internal Affairs is almost always portrayed as “the bad guys”, as if they exist only to make life hard for the cops to do their jobs
I also posted this over on TET, fyi:
In case y’all hadn’t heard the lovely news from Tulsa:
Of course not.
Y’know, after hearing “he was acting strange” about Trayvon, and “he was mentally unstable” about Chamberlain Sr., when those were used as reasons to justify shooting and killing THEM, I’m REALLY not inclined to listen to “he wasn’t in his right mind” justifying a white assassin.
“…tall goofy hats…”
You mean like in the UK?