thoughts on police brutality

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I recently read this article on Mic.com: The DOJ Just Released Its Cleveland Police Investigation. In case you weren’t aware, apparently the Department of Justice has been investigating nearly 600 use of force incidents which occurred in 2012 and 2013.

The author of the article, Gregory Krieg, selects 8 disturbing facts from the report and summarizes them. Sans summary, these are the facts he shared:

  1. Cleveland police officers consider themselves an “occupying force” and one station has a sign calling it a “forward operating base.” (as in an occupying military force)

  2. More than 100 patrol officers chased a single car through city streets speeds surpassing 100 mph for about 25 minutes.

  3. Officers twice “drive-stunned” a suspect they had on the ground in handcuffs. (that apparently means delivering the shock from the taser without actually firing the darts. The report found that drive-stunning was used to punish rather than subdue).

  4. An officer punched a handcuffed 13-year-old two times in the face.

  5. Officers routinely violated citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights and rarely offered an explanation.

  6. A sergeant shot at a recently escaped hostage who was wearing only boxer shorts; the boy had just escaped after being held captive by “armed assailants.”

  7. Officers shot a man with his hands in the air.

  8. “CPD officers hit people in the head with their guns in situations when the use of deadly force is not justified.”

The Department of Justice is also examining use of force incidents, practices, and policies in almost 20 other police departments nationwide, including our own Seattle Police Department due to ongoing complaints of police brutality. I know of several incidents in Seattle involving racially charged police brutality … the Seattle police are kind of locally notorious for their behavior, so I’m not surprised to hear they’re being investigated, as well.

Remember, all these investigations regarding police brutality were instigated long before the Ferguson outrage. The investigations started in 2013 because of hundreds of complaints per year and backlogged complaints over the previous years. The brutality has continued nationwide, even as police departments were actively being investigated. Ferguson is not an anomaly in terms of police brutality. It is the norm. Those riots could be happening in pretty much any precinct across the country right now.

Of course, the usual suspects on social media have responded, basically saying some variation of, “Not all cops are like this,” or, “Rioting isn’t the answer,” or “What are you doing to change the situation?

First off, the “not all X are like this,” is a stupid and reductive argument that I despise. It’s a pointless and obvious thing to say. Of course not all X are like whatever the current conversation is about. The sole reason for even making that statement is just to detract from the original discussion by starting a related argument about semantics and nuance.

Not all men are rapists. Not all feminists are misandrists. Not all misogynists are serial killers. Not all cops are racist bullies. Not all gun owners are irresponsible fuckwits. Thank you for stating the obvious. The normal, sane, non-discriminatory, responsible, nice people are not the problem under discussion. The issue under discussion is the crazies messing it up for everyone. I hate it when someone (myself or someone else) brings up a perfectly valid point, ie:

It is not the right of cops to be judge, jury, and executioner, and we need to stop bad cops from abusing their power,

and a disturbingly loud contingent of the population responds,

Cops are heroes! Not all cops abuse their power! How dare you! Don’t act guilty if you’re innocent! Cops are heroes!

And it’s just like … uh, thank you for completely fucking missing the point. We’re not having the same discussion here. Nuance exists. Here’s a mindblowing thought: It is possible for a police force to have both good, heroic, kind officers and cruel officers who abuse power and are violent. It is also possible for good, kind officers to turn a blind eye to cruelty and abuse of power because they fear repercussions to themselves or their families. We need to change the policies that allow abuses of power to perpetuate and give cops a bad name.

Second, that rioting isn’t the answer: Again, shut the fuck up. Don’t be a fuckwit. In one of my classes at Evergreen, we had this namby-pamby idiot hippie who was preaching love and peaceful response in one of our seminars. It was MLK day, and we were talking about the peaceful protests MLK promoted. You know what this quivering ballsack said? He said that MLK and his associates were no different from the Black Panthers and terrorists. He said that peaceful protests — counter sits and the bus boycott and whatnot — were still acts of aggression because they were a form of resistance and resistance is inherently aggression. Then he suggested that a truly peaceful way for MLK and his allies to change the world would be to plant a garden in their neighbors yard.

I shit you not. Plant a fucking garden. To end racism and discrimination.

Now you tell me, if your neighbor is a racist, homophobic, sexist fuckwit, you think having a queer woman of color going in to plant a garden in his yard is going to help matters? I don’t think so. I think the type of person who thinks another person is worth less because they happen to be queer or a woman or a person of color is the type of person who will get all aggressive and angry about trespassing on their property. I think that if civil rights activists tried to go onto their neighbor’s property and plant a garden, that would also be seen as an act of aggression.

I think that riots, protests, etc. are a natural response when a community or population is pushed too far. There’s only so far you can bend until you break. History is full of uprisings. When they are successful, it is called an uprising or a rebellion, and it is cast as heroic. When it is unsuccessful (or perpetuated by people of color), it is called a riot and is cast as overreaction.

When the colonists went and raided British ships in the Boston harbor to throw tea overboard, that was a riot. That was a minority population rising up and destroying the property of the ruling class. In our history books, we call it the, “Boston Tea Party,” and laud it as the spark that lit the flame of rebellion. It has become a mythical and heroic moment; the instigators brave men who were fighting for a brighter tomorrow. At the time, it was not so cut and dry. The individual characters of the participants included men who were not wholly perfect. Some had unsavory pasts.

So what if Michael Brown robbed a convenience store? Darren Wilson didn’t know that. Wilson just shot a guy who didn’t obey his orders. The robbery did not factor into Wilson’s response or decisions. Hypothetically speaking, even if Wilson had been aware of the robbery allegations, murder is not the correct response to that situation. First, there’s just no way to defend murdering someone in response to the theft of property. No material item is worth more than human life.

Second, that was not Wilson’s job. His job, as a police officer, is to detain the suspect. The suspect is then supposed to be tried and found guilty or not guilty in a court of law by our justice system — you know, lawyers, judges, juries, that lot? Then, upon being found guilty, a sentence is determined by the court. Not cops. Wilson skipped (at minimum) like three steps in that system. He went straight for shooting. Hell, he didn’t even shoot a suspect, so far as he knew. He just shot a guy on the street who didn’t immediately obey him.

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Finally, what am I doing to stop police brutality? Well, that’s an interesting question there, and one of the reasons I think riots are starting to break out. Like many in America who have accepted the blatant reality of police brutality, I feel helpless in the face of it. Not threatened. I am a white woman, and the heart-aching reality is that I benefit from the safety of that racial privilege. And I treasure that safety. I would like that safety to be extended to all the people of color in our country.

Everyone should be able to feel safe walking down the streets in their neighborhood, regardless of the color of their skin. Every innocent individual should be able to feel comforted, or at least unmoved, by the sight of a police officer or cruiser. Not frightened, or trying to figure out how to come across as least threatening, or wondering if this is the day they die because they “looked threatening.”

But I don’t know how to change it. Police departments are not accountable to ordinary citizens. They should be, but they’re not. I can urge my elected leaders toward reform and changing legislation, but that’s a slow and ongoing process. It’s been ongoing for many years. Investigations have dragged and politicians have prevaricated, and the brutality has continued. Lives continue to pile up. In the face of political intransigence, is it any wonder that riots are beginning to break out?

What else do I do? I don’t know. I don’t live local to the places with rioting, so there aren’t protests or riots I can attend. The closest protests to me are in Seattle, which is still an hour away. So instead I post about it on social media. I discuss it online. I argue and debate and attempt to educate my fellow citizens about police brutality. I continue to write my legislators and agitate for police reform. I feel helpless and pointless, silent and useless in my empathetic pain.

As a civilian who does not have the ability to report on internal department training and work safety issues, I cannot effect change from within. How can civilians within the community change these situations? I don’t know. Obviously, contacting elected representatives and voting in politicians who favor reform is one step. But it’s a long and not always productive process, and sometimes it’s not enough to change things. So when you’ve worked within the systems allowed to you and nothing has changed, how do you call for reform then? I favor police reform, as do many. I fear that the protests and riots currently sweeping our country are a natural and even necessary response in the face of overwhelming silence for these calls for reform.

So what sort of reform do we want? Personally, I favor reform that includes strong citizen review boards comprised of community members; holding officers found guilty of unnecessary force criminally responsible for their actions; and incorporating policies (as well as legislation) that accounts for the role of unconscious bias and adrenalin in police responses.

I also favor reform that stops tying the funding and supply provisions of police departments to drug-related arrests. The war on drugs has been a HUGE player in the overall militarization of the civilian police force, and we need to enact legislation and policy changes that address this incredibly serious issue.

I am a fan of cameras on cops. I favor reform that enacts that, too, especially as preliminary studies and testing indicate it is beneficial for the the police and the community. Such cameras benefit the police by providing more context to the incident in dispute and appear to encourage better behavior and de-escalating tendencies in both the police and the community when use of them is properly implemented

Overall, I would like police in general to shift toward policies that are keyed to responding to and investigating crimes instead of trying to predict/ prevent. They’ve shown themselves woefully inadequate at predicting, preventing, and de-escalating situations, so it would be nice if they stopped trying and just focused on investigating crimes and catching actual criminals.

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