Irrational Vindictiveness

PoliceVindictiveness

No, dispatchers don’t really scan your social media profile, and even if they did, it would be illegal for them to refuse you aid because of your sentiments vis-à-vis having sexual relations with police officers.  This meme is pure fantasy, which raises the question: What twisted, dark, depraved mind fantasizes about a world in which a person can be abandoned to die for exercising his or her Constitutionally-protected freedom of speech on social media?

Apparently, The “Rational” Party does.  I looked up rational in the dictionary, and this meme isn’t it.  This meme is petty and vindictive, and those are its best qualities.

Imagine a scenario where you are angry, frustrated, maybe even fearful enough to write “F*ck the police” on your favorite social media outlet.  What could have driven you to do so?

Some people – the aforementioned “Rational” Party, perhaps – would say that only criminals fear the police, but that’s myopic and wrong.  If you’ve followed the news recently, you know that many people who have committed no crime nevertheless have a valid reason to fear the police.  I’m not only referring to black folks; Hispanics, poor people, and the mentally ill have also born the brunt of unjust police aggression. Any one of a number of disadvantaged minority groups could express their fear, distrust, and disdain for law enforcement officers, and I would understand their position.

There are also the supporters, by which I mean non-minorities who see what’s happening and find it disturbing.  A sympathetic soul – unlike a member of the misnamed “Rational” Party – might also post a derogatory meme about police officers, and by extension, the culture that allows them to be abusive toward minorities.  Our hapless victim might not be a member of a minority group at all; he may simply have had enough.  Who can blame him?  Who can look at the various ills that plague the justice system and not be disgusted to the point of profanity?

Let’s not lose sight of the most important point, though.  Whether the caller was justified in his social media rant or not, the police are not absolved of their responsibility to serve and protect.  That may be the most concerning problem with this meme.   Police officers swear an oath to uphold the law, and that oath does not include the words “unless the guy hates cops.”  Could you imagine if a doctor refused a life-saving procedure because he found out that his patient tweeted about how much he hates doctors?  Of course not!  That doctor would be justifiably booted out of the medical profession!  So what makes it such a funny fantasy to imagine a police officer or dispatcher doing the same thing?

As always when I write about police brutality against minorities, I feel compelled to reassure my readers that I know the problem isn’t endemic to all, or even most police officers.  But there’s a culture of protection for crooked cops that does stain all police officers.  That culture is maintained by people like the “Rational” Party, who, instead of acknowledging the problem and working to fix it, would rather blame those most affected by it.  Seriously.  F*ck the “Rational” Party.

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A Labelling Dilemma

Thugs

I haven’t updated this blog in a long while, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I was ever going to update again.  For one, my real-life job left me with little energy or motivation to write.  Also, it seemed as if I were beating my head against a wall.  While I do receive a number of friendly comments from like-minded people, or at least from people who are willing to respectfully disagree, I also get a lot of nasty comments from people who are just itching to tell me how wrong I am.  Well, that’s okay.  I don’t expect to sway those people’s opinions, just as I hope they don’t expect to sway mine.  If it makes you feel better to tell me what a moron I am, speak your peace and then get ye gone.  I’ve no more patience for trolls.

I encountered this meme on the Facebook wall of a friend who is typically pretty left-leaning, like me; a person whom the right would derisively call an SJW or social justice warrior.  If the meme contained only the second sentence, there wouldn’t be much to complain about; after all, Flying Spaghetti Monster knows we could stand more teamwork and unity.  But the first sentence is full of culpability shuffling, and there’s a nasty word that adds an extra dose of irresponsibility.  Can you spot it?

Before we get to that word, I’d like to talk about the hazards associated with saying “Not all _____ are _____.”  Even if the statement is true, there’s an obvious but oft-unstated follow-up clause: “Although some are.”  And it’s in this clause that social infection festers.  “Not all cops are bad.”  That’s very true.  There are lots of good, decent cops who would never dream of killing an unarmed man.  “But some are.”  And it’s the responsibility of the good cops to break the blue code of silence and speak out against the minority of police officers who abuse their power.  The justice system bears the onus of breaking through the shield that protects police officers who unjustly kill people.

“Not all whites are racist.”  In general, I agree with this statement.  To be sure, I think everybody occasionally has thoughts that would qualify as racist – that’s ingrained in us by our tribal roots –  but a reasonable person recognizes those thoughts for what they are, and declines to give them voice.  And he certainly never acts on them.  He tries to understand where those thoughts come from.  He doesn’t tweet them as if they are Truth Revealed, then marvel at the social backlash.

“But some are.”  Some whites are racist, and it is no longer enough for the rest of us to be non-racist.  We should aspire to be anti-racist.  We should speak out against people who lack a racist filter.  We may never convince them that their thoughts, words, and actions are wrong, but at least we can show them that they will not be accepted in a civil society.

Now let’s address the elephant in the room.  “Not all African Americans are thugs.”

“But some are.”  Do you see the problem?  The word thug has become a racist code word; a stand-in for the N-word.  In fact, this meme may as well have simply used the N-word, because the effect is the same. People who use the word thug in this context don’t just mean “folks who break the law”.  They mean “black folks who break the law”.

Now if you’re one of those white people who are thoroughly marinated in privilege and oblivious to racism, you might wail: “Political correctness strikes again!  We can’t ever say that black people commit crimes!”  But that’s rubbish, and you know it.  It’s okay to acknowledge that people of every race break the law and hurt others, but how easy would it have been to select a word that isn’t racially charged?  “Not all African Americans are criminals.”  “Not all African Americans are rioters.”  “Not all African Americans are looters.”  Any of those would have been preferable, because none of those words pack the same racist connotations as the T-word.  And you could reasonably follow any of those statements with “But some are, and they should be held accountable for their crimes, just as a person of any ethnic background would be held accountable for the same crimes.  They should not be punished more harshly than a white person would be, nor should they have a reasonable fear of being killed before they even see a jury.”

I’m all for unity, but this meme doesn’t inspire it.  It almost makes it seem as if the good cops and non-racist whites must condescend to acknowledge the non-thug African Americans.  Unity isn’t unity when one group thinks they are doing another group a favor by including them at all.

On Police Brutality, Part 2

Wonka Cops

I found this execrable meme on the Facebook wall of a physician.

A physician.

If this is an indicator of the depths of his compassion, may you never find yourself under his care.

How stupid, how uncompassionate, how hateful is this meme?  Let me paint you a picture: If stupidity were a skyscraper, this meme would be the Burj Khalifa times five.  If naïve privilege were a lizard, this meme would be Godzilla.  If an utter disregard for due process were a puddle, this meme would be the Noachian Flood.

I think you get my point.  This meme sucks.  Allow me to explain why.

You’ve probably seen a lot of news lately about folks who have died while in police custody as a result of police actions.  I think that qualifies as “being treated poorly by police”.  Contrary to this meme’s implication, many of these victims had broken no law prior to their encounter with an overly aggressive police officer.  Sure, some did break laws, but their infractions were typically minor.  In each of the cases labeled “police brutality” – excuse me, where the suspect was “treated poorly by police” – the police response was far in excess of what was called for.

Most people have heard about Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old Baltimore man who was arrested for possessing an illegal switchblade*.  Gray was loaded into a police van after an arrest that witnesses described as unnecessarily violent.  He may have been injured at this point, but at least he was still alive and breathing.  Less than an hour later, however, Gray was in a coma, having suffered severe injuries to his head, neck, and spine.  A week later, Gray was dead.

A follow-up investigation into Gray’s death revealed that his injuries were probably sustained during a “rough ride”.  A rough ride is when a prisoner is placed into a police vehicle without a seat belt, although his hands and possibly legs are bound.  The vehicle is then driven recklessly, with lots of violent starts, stops, and turns.  The prisoner is prey to his own inertia; his body is flung around like a rag doll, and in his handcuffed state he is powerless to prevent it.

Rough rides are not officially sanctioned by the Baltimore Police Department (or by any police department, one hopes), but it has been an unspoken part of police procedure for several years.  Gray is by no means the only person to be seriously injured in a rough ride, not even in Baltimore:

  • In 1980, John Wheatfall suffered a broken neck and became paralyzed in a police van.  He sued the department for $3 million, but was only awarded $20,000.
  • In 1997, Jeffrey Alston‘s neck was broken during a rough ride, paralyzing him.  Seven years later, a civil jury awarded Alston $39 million.  Alston settled with the city for $6 million, but unfortunately died in 2005 from complications related to his injuries.
  • Also in 2005, Dondi Johnson Sr suffered a broken neck in a police van.  Johnston died two weeks later from pneumonia associated with his injuries.  His family successfully sued the BPD for $7.4 million; the award was then reduced to $219,000.
  • In 2012, Christine Abbott was allegedly assaulted by Baltimore police officers responding to a noise complaint.  The officers arrested Abbott, whose clothing had been torn during the scuffle and who sustained minor injuries, and threw her in a police van for a rough ride.  Abbott described the experience as being “like a roller coaster”, although presumably not in a fun way.  Abbott was further injured during the ride and later sued the police department.

And sadly, there have been numerous other people harmed by excessive police violence.  It’s not an easy list to read, but it’s something we have to acknowledge.  It’s something the creator of this meme sorely needs to acknowledge:

  • Phillip White of Vineland, New Jersey, died on March 31, 2015, while being arrested by police for being disorderly and resisting arrest.  According to witnesses, White was already handcuffed and unconscious when police let their dog out of the car to attack him.
  • Victor White III of New Iberia, Louisiana, died under suspicious circumstances on March 2, 2014.  Here’s the story: A Sheriff’s deputy was responding to a report of a fight between two black men in a gas station parking lot.  He spotted White about six blocks away, and since White matched the extremely detailed description of the combatants, the deputy asked if he could perform a pat-down search.  White agreed, and was found to be carrying a small baggie of cannabis.  That’s all…just weed.  White was arrested and transported to the police station, where he allegedly refused to get out of the police car.  At that point, according to police reports, White produced a gun (that the deputy had somehow missed during the pat-down) and proceeded to shoot himself in the back…all while his hands were cuffed behind him.  The autopsy ruled his death a suicide, but said that the bullet had entered his chest instead of his back.
  • Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic man in Fullerton, California, died on July 10, 2011, five days after being severely beaten by police.  His crime: looking into car windows and pulling on their handles.  A bystander recorded the brutal assault by multiple police officers, during which Thomas can be heard frantically apologizing to the police and begging for his father to help him.  On at least one occasion, Thomas moans “They’re killing me.”  Heartbreakingly, he was correct.
  • Jorge Azucena ran a red light and led police on a chase on September 6, 2013, in Los Angeles.  When he was finally apprehended, he suffered from a severe asthma attack.  He tried to tell police that he could not breathe; they ignored him.  By the time he reached the station, he was too weak to walk.  Officers dragged him into a holding cell and began to process him; his heart stopped before help could arrive.

And what about the completely innocent people killed by police?

  • On March 7, 2006, Joseph Hamley was shot and killed by Arkansas State Trooper Larry Norman, who mistook him for escaped convict Adam Lee Leadford, despite the fact that Hamley was four inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than Leadford.  Norman plead guilty to negligent homicide and served 54 days of a 90-day sentence.  He was later granted a full early medical retirement at the age of 40.
  • On October 7, 2009, a 15-year-old special-needs student named Marshawn Pitts from Dolton, Illinois, was slammed against lockers and the floor by his school’s safety officer, resulting in a broken nose.  Prior to the altercation, the officer reprimanded Pitts for not having his shirt-tail tucked in, a requirement of the school’s dress code.  Pitts allegedly made a rude comment to the officer, then tried to walk away.  In the aftermath of the incident, the officer resigned his position.
  • Back in Baltimore, a Marine veteran named Tyrone Brown was shot and killed on June 5, 2008, by off-duty police officer Gahiji Tshamba, after Brown allegedly made inappropriate sexual advances at Tshamba’s girlfriend.  Tshamba pushed Brown away, drew his service weapon, and shot Brown…twelve times.  Tshamba would later claim that Brown caused him to fear for his life, but witnesses at the shooting say that Brown had turned to leave when Tshamba shot him.  Tshamba was convicted of manslaughter and is serving a 15-year sentence.
  • On April 2, 2005, police from Golden Valley, Minnesota, handcuffed, pepper sprayed, and arrested Al Hixon for a local bank robbery, despite numerous reports that the suspect was a white man driving a white van, and Hixon was a dark-skinned black man driving a Jaguar.  Although no officers were charged in his false arrest, Hixon was awarded the largest police brutality damages in Minnesota history.

Want to know the saddest thing about this list?  It wasn’t that difficult to compile.  I literally had hundreds of cases to choose from, and that’s what makes it so baffling that anybody could create or pass on a meme like this one.  It should be so obvious that our country has been plagued, especially lately, by unjust arrests and police brutality.  We can no longer afford to believe that every arrest is called for, that every use of force is justified, that every shooting is necessary.  We can no longer blame the victims.  We can no longer assume that everybody who falls under a group of police officers’ punishing clubs is in fact a hardened criminal.  We have lost the luxury of naïvety; now we must be realists.

Lest you think I’m calling for the total expulsion of police officers everywhere, that is certainly not the case.  Police serve an invaluable purpose when they do their jobs well.  In an ideal situation, police are the knots that hold society’s threads together.  But there is a lot of power in those knots, and the rest of us must be hyper-vigilant and critical of the people we trust to wield that power.  And so should the police.  The police must clean up their own ranks if they want to regain the full trust and good faith of the public they serve.  It would benefit them well to do so.  No more excuses.  No more cover-ups.  No more lies.  Police departments must acknowledge the cancer that is slowly devouring the public’s faith in them, and then work to excise it, swiftly and totally.  Whenever a police officer ignores or excuses the problem, instead of acknowledging it and dealing with it head-on, he endangers himself and all other honest cops.  He increases the likelihood of difficult encounters between the police and the public.  By refusing to treat the wound, he allows it to fester.

I’ll close by amending the meme that inspired this post:

Antipolice


*For what it’s worth, Freddie Gray’s knife was deemed legal in the state of Maryland, although a police task force claimed that it was illegal within Baltimore city limits.

Missing The Point Entirely

Police Lives Matter

Of course they do!  You won’t hear any argument from me that police lives are less valuable than the lives of other folks.

So what makes this a Stupid Bad Meme?  Well, it’s a play on the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which started in 2012 following the death of Trayvon Martin and gained steam when Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black citizens, were killed by law enforcement officers in 2014.  The phrase “Black Lives Matter” isn’t meant to suggest that other peoples’ lives don’t matter; it’s meant to draw attention to an issue that is sorely pressing – namely, the fact that black people are, on average, more likely to be the victims of police brutality than are people of other ethnic groups.  Furthermore, there is shockingly little accountability handed to the police officers who take the lives of unarmed black citizens.

The words “Black Lives Matter” form a statement that should be obvious, but apparently is not universally accepted.  The statement calls attention to the fact (and yes, it is a fact) that black lives are undervalued by the modern power structure.  Police brutality against unarmed minorities is just one symptom of systemic racism.  If we, the nation, will claim to be founded on the twin pillars of justice and equality, then we have to stop this.  We cannot continue to ignore or downplay the value of black lives.  That’s what “Black Lives Matter” is all about.

But wait, you ask, don’t police lives matter too?  After all, they’re in a dangerous job and anti-police sentiment seems to be boiling over lately.

Yes, police lives do matter.  Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful for police officers who protect and serve, just like it says on the badge.  But the value of a police officer’s life is largely accepted without question; ergo, the “Police Lives Matter” meme is wholly unnecessary.  This is reminiscent of the “Straight Pride” meme.  Somebody has taken an important message and corrupted it to support something that hasn’t been maligned.  In doing so, they have diverted the focus away from a major problem, and in doing that, they have become part of the problem.

On Police Brutality

Police Victim Avoidance

I’m willing to bet that Justin “Master Chim” Garcia has never been on the receiving end of an unjust police beatdown. Fortunately, neither have I; still, I’m not rushing to lay the responsibility of a beating solely on the shoulders of the beaten.

I have no doubt that this meme was inspired by recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. In case you’ve been avoiding all news, the trouble started with an altercation between an unarmed 18-year-old named Michael Brown and Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Eyewitness and police reports vary regarding what happened next, but within minutes of the start of the fight, Brown was dead with six bullets in his body. The community was outraged, not only at the apparently unnecessary death of a teenager, but also because the subsequent police response may have been tinged by racism. The citizens of Ferguson took to the streets: some protested peacefully, while others erupted into riots and looting.

Since the events in Ferguson are still unfolding, including an investigation, I’m not going to say much more about it at this time (but don’t worry…I’m sure there will be plenty more Stupid Bad Memes about the Ferguson story as it develops). Instead, I would like to address this meme from a more general perspective; to wit: What should one do to protect oneself from police brutality?

Maybe we should start by forming a working definition of police brutality. Police brutality occurs when a police officer uses excessive force or intimidation in a situation that does not require it. I’m not saying police officers should never use force: if a man is running through a crowded shopping mall waving a chainsaw around in an obvious attempt to decapitate innocent shoppers, I want the police to take whatever actions are responsible, nay, necessary to neutralize the threat before more people get hurt. But if a little old lady is jaywalking and a police officer threatens to hit her with his nightstick if she doesn’t clear the intersection immediately, that’s unnecessary and excessive.

Now you might be saying that most of the recipients of police brutality are not little old ladies (although some are), but big strapping teenagers who are on the prowl for trouble. If they didn’t want to have a whole can of pepper spray directed right up their nose, they shouldn’t have been walking around, looking suspicious, right? If this is your mentality, please answer me this: how is this any different from saying “If a woman doesn’t want to get raped, she shouldn’t dress provocatively and consume alcohol”?

That’s what this meme is: victim-blaming. Let’s take a look at Master Chim’s list of brutality bait:

  1. Don’t be a Sh*tbag. This is actually not a crime. If it were, imagine how many corporate leaders would have received beatings from overzealous police officers by now. No, being a Sh*tbag is our right, and certainly not a justification for police violence.
  2. Don’t be WITH a Sh*tbag. Also not a crime, or Justin Bieber’s entourage would have been arrested long ago. (Yes, I took a shot at Justin Bieber…I feel so cheap.)
  3. Don’t run if Questioned This could actually be a problem. If you run from a police officer who has addressed you, it could be seen as suspicious behavior and give the cop probable cause to place you under arrest. Nevertheless, it does not give the officer carte blanche to lump you up. The officer should exercise the same restraint when arresting you as you should have exercised when he first spoke to you. A police officer should always be the “better person”, so to speak.
  4. Keep Your Hands OUT OF YOUR F*CKING POCKETS! Why? This is the silliest thing I’ve heard so far. I would love for somebody to explain to me how the act of putting your hands in your pockets entitles a police officer to throw you a smackdown.
  5. If “Under Arrest”…COMPLY! This is good advice in general – if you resist arrest, you may reasonably expect the arresting officer to use force to subdue you – but this still isn’t justification for him to shoot you dead, particularly if you’re not armed.
  6. Your Volume = Their Paranoia Paranoia is generally not considered to be a positive trait in a police officer. If a police officer is paranoid to the extent that he would harm somebody for loudly exercising his First Amendment rights, then perhaps the loudmouth isn’t the problem.
  7. Don’t “GO BIG” Then Act Like A Victim. I’m not sure what Master Chim means by “GO BIG”, but I assume it means to put on a big display of bravado for the arresting officer – talking trash, becoming verbally abusive, etc. As I said before, being a Sh*tbag is not illegal. Beating or shooting somebody for being a Sh*tbag is.

I don’t want to give the impression that I distrust all cops, because I don’t. I think most police officers just want to protect and serve their communities. I realize that being a police officer can be a stressful occupation, particularly in areas where crime is rampant. I respect and admire the men and women who show almost inhuman restraint when dealing with the worst society has to offer. It takes a special kind of person to wear the uniform. But I want to make this clear, I do not think we should be cutting any slack to the bad seeds who dishonor the civilized society they’ve sworn to protect. And as hateful as the public can be, we cannot afford to excuse any behavior by the police that tarnishes their reputation as the defenders of the public. When you suggest that the victims of police brutality were asking for it because of their (non-violent) behaviors or attitudes, you’re making it too easy to shift the focus away from the real problem that needs addressing. If the police are to be trusted, they must be held accountable when one of them unnecessarily robs a member of the public of health and life.