The issue of police brutality has been in the news these days. My local newspaper the Plain Dealer on Sunday February 15, 2015 had an excellent special section dealing with all the lawsuits filed against the Cleveland police department that has resulted in $8 million being paid to those who sued them. This investigation was sparked by the killing of the young boy Tamir Rice and the harsh indictment by the Justice Department of the way the police act here, saying that it has a habit of using excessive force. The stories and photos of the bruised victims should be an eye-opener for people here.
I was struck by one story, not because it is the worst one in the series in terms of brutality, but because it was illustrative in what it revealed about how a mere traffic citation escalated because of the attitude of the police that people should grovel before them.
An altercation over a parking ticket ended with Mariah Crenshaw’s arrest and a night in a cold, wet jail cell.
This is what happened, according to a 2002 lawsuit Crenshaw filed in federal court: Crenshaw was inside her home on the afternoon of March 3, 2002, when she noticed a police car parked out front. The officers, Margery Gerbec and Michael Sclimenti, were investigating why a car was stopped on the wrong side of the street. Crenshaw explained to them that her pregnant daughter had stopped to drop off her baby and would be moving the car soon.
Gerbec yelled at Crenshaw to get back inside her house and ”shut up,” threatening to arrest her if she didn’t comply. Crenshaw, stunned by the treatment, went inside and called the district police station to complain about Gerbec’s behavior and threatening manner. Crenshaw was told she could come to the station to file a complaint.
She immediately got ready to leave with her husband. But as Crenshaw was getting into her vehicle, Gerbec grabbed her and shoved her into the patrol car.
Crenshaw said in a recent interview that Gerbec was out of control and verbally abusive. Crenshaw said the officer spoke with racist undertones when she said: ”You people will learn that I am the authority, and when I tell you to do something, you need to do it.” [My emphasis-MS]
The news story goes on to describe the demeaning treatment that Crenshaw received once she was taken to the precinct.
Such altercations are common. We had the ghastly story of an elderly Indian man who was visiting his son in Alabama who is now partially paralyzed because someone in the neighborhood reported a strange man of color was wandering around in their suburban street. Police arrived but when the man did not respond to their questions (he did not speak English) they threw him face down to the ground causing spinal injuries. The video is appalling.
Then there is a Texas woman who had three ribs broken by the police because they say she showed disrespect to them and used profanities. Then we had another case of a woman being arrested for yelling expletives at a police officer while riding past on her bike. She won $100,000 in damages. And the man who was Tasered by the police when he asked them for identification.
The problem is that there is no check on what goes into the police reports that have to be filed by officers after every incident. This article describes a website where police officers exchange tips and information. You find them saying how to write false reports and plant evidence such as cocaine and heroin residue on unsuspecting victims who refuse to ‘cooperate’ (i.e., grovel) before them, and how their superior officers support these practices. Hence they feel that they can get away with anything.
As cartoonist Tom Tomorrow says, just because they have guns and Tasers and the presumption that they are acting lawfully, police seem to think that no one has the right to question them. They now also want to classify attacks on police as hate crimes. If that happens, citizens voicing contempt or anger at the police could have the charges against them enhanced.
People should have the perfect right to voice their feelings to police officers without fear of physical retaliation. What I would like to see as part of police training is for them to be subjected to long periods of contempt, anger, and verbal abuse to see if they can remain calm and objective in the face of it. Those who cannot do not have the temperament to be trusted with the use of force. Another way to stop the abuse is if more and more lawsuits go against the police, requiring them to pay large damages to their victims, because money carries the most authority.