Respect my authoritah!


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.

Comments

  1. says

    Oh, you missed one of the juiciest tidbits.

    In 2010, the Seattle Police Department was involved in the shooting of a Native American woodcarver and the vicious assault of several Latino suspects. These prompted an investigation by the Department of Justice, which found a pattern widespread systemic problems, with almost 20% of police interactions with the community involving some form of excessive physical or verbal abuse. In May 2012, the DoJ issued a list of required reforms that included better training, improved supervision, more accountability and the creation of a civilian oversight board. Two years later, more than 100 SPD officers sued the city of Seattle and the Department of Justice, claiming that the reforms “unreasonably restrict and burden Plaintiff’s right to use force reasonably required to protect themselves and others from apparent harm and danger, in violation of the Second, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution.”

    Yes: a group of Seattle cops, representing about 10% of the force, claimed in federal court that they had a constitutional right to abuse, assault and murder.

    Chief U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman was assigned the case, and she issued a summary rejection in October, 2014. In that rejection, she noted that the Second Amendment only guaranteed the right to bear arms, not use them, and she pointed out that it was a gross mischaracterization of the Fourth Amendment to claim that it protected those in authority against ordinary citizens. Last I heard, the plaintiffs in this case will be filing an appeal, which will hopefully go nowhere. But still, it would be very difficult to find American cops who are more arrogant and self-righteous about their authoritah.

  2. says

    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.

    That wouldn’t do any good: the subjects would remain as calm as they had to, because they’d know it’s just a test they have to pass. The only thing that would work is greater accountability for actual on-duty performance.

    One of the many things I find both strange and despicable about this whole issue, is the utter silence of libertarians, in the face of an issue that should be red meat for them: the oppression of innocent people by people in authority. Seriously, why aren’t libertarians rising up, as a unified self-proclaimed libertarian front, against this? Why aren’t they threatening to desert the Republican Party and all their constituent interest-groups who support police-state tyranny?

    And the answer is obvious: the only solution to police misconduct that’s known to work, is more government oversight of the security forces. And libertarians hate government oversight far more than they love liberty.

  3. says

    Yes: a group of Seattle cops, representing about 10% of the force, claimed in federal court that they had a constitutional right to abuse, assault and murder.

    Did the NRA have anything to say about that?

  4. says

    @Marcus Ranum #2 – I believe it was Plato who said that wanting power should automatically disqualify one from holding power.

    @Raging Bee #4 – Not to my knowledge. If they had, I suspect it would have been about citizens’ right to use assault weapons against an out of control police department.

  5. says

    If they had, I suspect it would have been about citizens’ right to use assault weapons against an out of control police department.

    …while still calling themselves “friends of the law-enforcement officer.” And, of course, happily seizing on yet another excuse/opportunity to sell more guns to both sides in an armed conflict.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    Raging Bee @ # 4: One of the many things I find both strange and despicable about this whole issue, is the utter silence of libertarians, in the face of an issue that should be red meat for them…

    Check out Freedom’s Phoenix, an Arizona-based website with strong wingnut credentials (ammosexuality, Ron Paul-atry, gold/silver fixation, birther flirtation, “Kent Hovind: Political Prisoner?”, more) which nonetheless highlights police abuse against all races. So far as I know, they stand alone among libertarians in that regard.

  7. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Anyone who wants to be a cop shouldn’t be allowed to be.

    An argument for the conscription of police officers, perhaps.
    I read somewhere that at one time when South Korean students rioted regularly and conscription was universal in South Korea, students were conscripted as riot policemen between their second and third years at university. It helped make both sides behave better in disturbances.

  8. says

    Thanks, Pierce, but your link led to a page full of dodgy-looking adverts and a mishmash of standard gold-buggery, Fed-bashing, and other BS in no particular order. If there’s a specific proposed SOLUTION to police misonduct in all that rubbish, I’d like you to link to it directly.

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    Raging Bee @ # 9 – If you scrolled around on that page, presumably you did find stories expressing outrage at, well, outrageous police misconduct.

    As for solutions – I did say they maintained a lot of teabagical street cred. Do you want them to blow all of that, just to satisfy you? Why do you hate America?

    dysomniak… @ # 10 – Thanks for the tip. Now we know of two libertarian projects showing awareness of police racial brutality!

  10. JPS says

    I can’t remember the context, but I heard about a police supervisor telling his officers as they were readying to patrol a demonstration “We will take anything verbal”. This was a decade or two ago. Obviously that is not the universal situation now.

  11. Holms says

    #2
    Anyone who wants to be a cop shouldn’t be allowed to be.

    An unfortunate but inevitable consequence of the fact that those applying for a position of power are likely to be desirous of power. There is no guarantee that they have the responsibility to match.

    #3
    And the answer is obvious: the only solution to police misconduct that’s known to work, is more government oversight of the security forces. And libertarians hate government oversight far more than they love liberty.

    Also, libertarians are white people that don’t give a shit about fairness, thus who cares about police brutality as it is almost always against a minority.

  12. says

    If you scrolled around on that page, presumably you did find stories expressing outrage at, well, outrageous police misconduct.

    So fucking what? A web-page full of obvious scams and bullshit is not a place where the articles can be trusted to be either honest or sincere.

    Try Reason. Radley Balko in particular has been writing police abuse for ages.

    Oooh, one guy writing articles in a magazine! Meanwhile, the entire libertarian movement have been bitterly, hatefully, and consistently opposed to Federal government regulations, such as the Miranda Rule, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, hate-crimes laws, etc., that have had visible effects in diminishing police misconduct; and have been demonizing liberals who support such regs, and relentlessly campaigning to roll them back at every turn. One guy writing articles for Reason doesn’t even begin to stack up against that long track record.

  13. Pierce R. Butler says

    Raging Bee @ # 14: A web-page full of obvious scams and bullshit is not a place where the articles can be trusted to be either honest or sincere.

    First you complain about “the utter silence of libertarians”, then you pivot to their lack of “SOLUTION”s, now you lament you can’t trust them “to be either honest or sincere”.

    I recommend you visit a mobile-home supply store for a set of ground anchors to help stabilize your goalposts.

  14. says

    First you complain about “the utter silence of libertarians”, then you pivot to their lack of “SOLUTION”s, now you lament you can’t trust them “to be either honest or sincere”.

    Well, yeah, when you point me to a place that is clearly not at all honest or sincere, I’m gonna object to the lack of honesty or sincerity. What the fuck do you expect?

    And don’t accuse me moving goalposts when you don’t even try to score a goal in the first place.

    (And yes, when an issue is all over the headlines and nearly everyone else is talking about it, just a handful of mere editorials in fringe publications is, for all practical purposes, “utter silence.” It’s nowhere near as loud as libertarians have shown themselves to be on other issues such as deregulation of business and demonizing liberals.)

  15. Pierce R. Butler says

    Raging Bee @ # 16 & 17 – I gave you an example of a libertarian project paying serious attention to racialized police violence when you said no such reaction could be detected. I did not endorse either that project or the libertarian effort as such, and I won’t; nor will I dive back into those swamps to try to find you anything worth celebrating.

    Like the Pauls whom most of them adulate, the Liberts do say things I agree with once in a while; as with Ron & Rand, not enough to earn either my support or my interest in the details of their agendae. But I don’t need to demonize them by denying any possibility they can get a little bit right sometimes.

  16. smrnda says

    I’m going to go with the idea that conscription for most police jobs would possibly solve the problem, with cops screened for authoritarian tendencies. Maybe we’d need a few professional detectives and a few specialists in different areas, but most ordinary cops would be replaced.

    In terms of accountability, the police must be made 100% accountable to the public for any and all uses of force. Using force should automatically result in the cop being, effectively, put on trial as to whether it was justified even in cases when it was clearly justified. The reason is the message needs to be sent that the cops are not trusted, that they must earn trust, and that their decisions about the use of force will always be questioned and criticized.

  17. says

    Like the Pauls whom most of them adulate, the Liberts do say things I agree with once in a while; as with Ron & Rand, not enough to earn either my support or my interest in the details of their agendae. But I don’t need to demonize them by denying any possibility they can get a little bit right sometimes.

    The problem is not that libertarians are wrong most of the time; it’s that they’re consistently dishonest and delusional, which means nothing they say can be taken at face value — especially when their words are contradicted by the longstanding pattern of their past and present actions. It doesn’t matter if they sound right a few times here and there, because they keep on acting wrong all the fucking time, and the pleasing noises they occasionally make should not distract us from their odious actions. (And no, I’m not singling out libertarians here: I treat neo-nazis, LaRouchies, the Constitution Party and other bigoted hatemongering groups the same way.)

    Also, you haven’t answered the question of what actual policies the libertarians advocate to deal with police misconduct. The most effective policies we have for that, are the ones they’ve been OPPOSING for as long as I can remember. If they don’t have a decent alternative, then, yes, the phrase “utter silence” is still applicable to them.

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