May 4th 2015

A Troubling Response to Brutality

by Jeff Schweitzer

Jeff Schweitzer is a scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in marine biology/neurophysiology

The news on both left and right has been awash with stories of police troubles, each of course with a different angle. On the left we have exposés of police abuse, brutality, corruption and the deaths of suspects in custody or being arrested; on the right the focus is on street riots, lawlessness and violence against the police. We have seen stories from Ferguson, Albuquerque, New Orleans, South Florida, Baltimore,Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle. The number of cases seems to grow daily; perhaps we are simply witnessing greater exposure due to heightened awareness and the ubiquity of cellphone cameras, or perhaps the problem is escalating, or perhaps the reality is some combination of those two factors. In any case, we have a problem that demands attention.

We need police; society would quickly descend into dystopian chaos and anarchy in their absence. Most police are honorable, and the majority of officers go to work each day with the idea of protecting the public with integrity. Police have one of the toughest jobs on Earth, waking up every day to the threat of violence and danger. But that fact is no excuse to ignore or protect those bad apples who abuse their power and bring shame to law enforcement.

Nobody should be shocked that we find abuse and corruption in police departments; that is a natural part of the human condition. We must always be vigilant against this, and we constantly need to minimize and weed it out, but we should always expect our darker side to reveal itself in every institution. None of us should be surprised that racism is a problem in law enforcement; racists exist in nearly all human enterprise. Even while offering condemnation, no one could claim astonishment that unhappy residents resort to violence and inexcusable attacks on fellow citizens in the face of abuse that seems to go unpunished.

No, nothing about these stories is particularly unexpected, even in their inherent tragedy and sad commentary on our society. But the extraordinary nature of law enforcement's insular institutional blindness and the triumph of tribalism among police demand more attention. We see little emphasis on what might be the most important aspect of the right-left divide over the nature of police power.

Left and right bring with them bias that is deeply flawed. On the left, protestors tend to paint all police as corrupt and abusive, failing to isolate the bad from the good. On the right, conservatives defend the police no matter the transgression, failing to excise the bad from the good, while accusing the left of hating the police because they wish to cull the bad. Even in the face of extraordinary polarization in our society, this divide is a bit bizarre because in the end both left and right could agree, even for different reasons, that bad police should be removed from the force.

Alas, extremism has triumphed once again, and we hear tone-deaf statements fromGene Ryan of the Fraternal Order of Police concerning the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Remember, to put the following comments in context, Gray died in custody from a severe spinal cord injury; he was healthy when arrested. Video cameras caught Gray, who was not committing a crime, being handcuffed and dragged and thrown into a van by police, while screaming in pain. This is not an isolated incident: Baltimore has settled more than 100 cases of misconduct against the police department; even if a substantial portion were bogus or trumped-up, there is a trend that cannot be ignored.

With that in mind, consider that Ryan asserted that there's "no indication of any criminal activity whatsoever." That claim does not pass the smell test. There's nothing suspicious or worthy of investigation when a handcuffed suspect dies from a violent spinal injury in the hands of the police? Ryan went on to complain that the protestors wanted cops "imprisoned immediately" without due process -- not recognizing the terrible irony in that Freddie Gray, without committing a crime, was going to be "imprisoned immediately," as is routine after an arrest. The due process so adamantly (and correctly) insisted on by Ryan was not provided to Freddie Gray, cut short by an untimely death. Ryan went on to say that arresting the officers suspected in causing Gray's death "set a bad precedent" and a rush to judgment. Arresting suspects of murder is a bad precedent? Is not every arrest by nature a rush to judgment since the arrestee remains innocent until proven otherwise? Is arresting suspects only a bad precedent when they are police officers? And if so, under what circumstances would it ever be acceptable to arrest a police officer accused of a crime? In a conservative world keen on law and order, it is a bit outrageous to claim that arresting crime suspects is a bad precedent, whoever they may be.

There was also the implication from law enforcement leaders that the arrest of the officers in Baltimore was politically motivated. Well, yes, that is almost certainly the case. But a decision not to arrest those officers would also be politically motivated as well, culling favor with conservatives; lamenting politics impacting an issue so charged with emotion and headlining the nightly news is hardly interesting. Let's concede that political considerations overlay the entire issue. That does not make the arrests any less righteous.

Chuck Canterbury, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the following:

Nobody hates bad cops more than other cops, and the FOP doesn't have any sympathy for a cop who crosses the line. That being said, every U.S. citizen, including cops, teachers or, heck, even politicians, have a right to the presumption of innocence and to due process.

Initially, this seems entirely reasonable. But if the FOP hates bad cops, why do we see such a paucity of examples of the FOP or police departments publicly condemning a bad cop? What exactly would trigger this response against a bad cop? How about the death of a restrained suspect who suffered a severe spinal injury? Shooting an unarmed man, on the ground on his knees? Shooting an unarmed suspect in the back while running away? If not that, what would be sufficient for the FOP to acknowledge that a cop was actually bad, not just concede in theory that a bad cop should go? What happened to the presumption of innocence and due process for the folks who died at the hands of rogue police officers?

And this brings us to the most surprising aspect of the entire story: I agree completely with Canterbury that nobody should hate bad cops more than good cops -- but in spite of the rhetoric, they do not. They inevitably rally, personally and institutionally, to the defense of any cop no matter the transgression or how heinous the alleged crime. And that is a huge mystery, even given the natural urges of tribal loyalty. Good cops should absolutely despise a bad one; good cops should acknowledge that in any human enterprise there will be bad eggs, and that such rot should be vigorously cleansed. Recognizing the problem and acting on it does not reflect badly on law enforcement; indeed, a bit of transparency would go a long way towards creating good will among the public. The existence of brutality and corruption by themselves do not condemn a police force; these failures are found everywhere. Instead, it is the urge to protect the bad apples, to cover up, ignore or diminish the brutality and corruption that leads to distrust, animosity and anger.

Unfortunately, police have a tendency to adopt a siege mentality, circling the wagons on every occasion of potential wrongdoing. Then they wonder why the public has a growing distrust of police departments, even as they defend the indefensible. Police must stop defending criminals in their midst if they hope to regain the public support they should so clearly have. The public rightfully reacts with alarm when those entrusted to protect instead harm. What recourse is there other than peaceful protest? The reaction would be quite different, and the urge to violence much diminished, if police accused of crimes were arrested like any other suspect -- and given due process, just like the rest of us should be.

Hypocrisy in the ranks also contributes to diminished public trust. By definition, police work depends on the idea that good people respect legitimate authority. That notion is why most interactions between police and civilians work well. We respect the authority of the state and our government institutions represented by the badge and uniform. Yet we saw not long ago an example in which police blatantly flaunted their disregard for authority even while asking us to accept theirs.

At the memorial services for fallen officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in New York, hundreds of police officers turned their backs on their ultimate boss, Mayor Bill de Blasio. This in spite of a specific request from Police Commissioner William Bratton to refrain from such protest at the funeral. So those who turned their backs defied their immediate supervisor and his superior, showing an astonishing disrespect for authority. And the impetus for the protest is itself revealing about the insular siege mentality mentioned earlier. The protesting police were incensed that, earlier, Mayor de Blasio had not, in their opinion, condemned with sufficient rigor public protests over encounters between police and unarmed civilians. One such encounter had led to the death of Eric Garner. Again, the irony of the police insurgence against their own bosses while lamenting lack of public respect for police authority in the face of a suspicious death was apparently lost on much of the rank and file.

If police wish to gain the trust of those they are sworn to protect, there is a simple initial step. To the police I say: Respect the lives of private citizens as much as you hold dear the lives of your comrades. Freddie Gray was not convicted of a crime; he was an innocent civilian who, by dying in custody, was deprived of the due process so passionately called for by the police for those officers charged with killing him. Just as you came out in large numbers in solidarity for police officers killed in the line of duty, at least try to understand that the death of a civilian evokes in us a similar response. Take the emotion and angst that is felt from the loss of Officers Ramos and Liu, and understand that we civilians feel not only the loss of those fine officers as you do, but also equally for the loss of Gray, Phillip White, Kelly Thomas, Jorge Azucena, Jesus Huerta, Herman Jaramillo, and every one of the multiple dozens who have died in custody or while being arrested. By definition, no matter if these people meet or not our criteria for good or bad, they are innocent because none had yet been proven guilty in our courts and, like the police officers arresting them, deserve due process. And if good cops really hate bad cops, then you should stand tall with us in asking that the police officers responsible for the death of civilians in custody be held responsible for their crimes, just as you wish those who harm police to be held responsible. You should see no difference between the two.

Developing an "us-vs.-them" mentality is understandable given the daily depravity that police witness. There is an endless supply of nasty, mean, dangerous, horrible, violent, degenerate human beings out there, and interacting with the worst of us every day cannot help but lead to deep bonds with fellow officers, creating a profound and lasting camaraderie not shared by or understood by civilians. We do not deal with the dregs of our society, because police do so on our behalf. But this offers no justification for police taking the law into their own hands; it is their special burden to administer justice in the face of witnessing daily injustice. That is their job, and those who violate that responsibility must be held responsible.

Arresting police officers accused of a crime is not a "bad precedent" at all; it is the right course of action, and an essential step in establishing public trust in law enforcement. We could avoid almost all our problems if the police would apply the same standards of response to violence against police as they apply to police violence against suspects in custody. Fairness, equal treatment under the law and mutual respect are not radical concepts, and not too much to ask from those who protect us.



To follow what's new on Facts & Arts please click here.




  

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jan 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "Gibson’s diagnosis is supported by international attitude surveys. One found that most Americans rarely think about the future and only a few think about the distant future. When they are forced to think about it, they don’t like what they see. Another poll by the Pew Research Centre found that 44% of Americans were pessimistic about what lies ahead. But pessimism about the future isn’t just limited to the US. One international poll of over 400,000 people from 26 countries found that people in developed countries tended to think that the lives of today’s children will be worse than their own. And a 2015 international survey by YouGov found that people in developed countries were particularly pessimistic. For instance, only 4% of people in Britain thought things were improving. This contrasted with 41% of Chinese people who thought things were getting better."
Jan 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "........while over 80% of the ECB scheme buys government and other public sector bonds, a huge chunk still goes into corporate bonds and other assets. At the time of writing, the ECB holds €263 billion worth of corporate bonds – a very significant amount in relation to individual firms and the sectors in question. According to the ECB, 29% of these bonds were issued by French firms, 25% by German firms and 11% each by Spanish and Italian firms. As at September 2017, the sectors they came from included utilities (16%), infrastructure (12%), automotive (10%) and energy (7%)."
Jan 17th 2020
EXTRACT: "Thanks to cutting-edge digital technology, cars are increasingly like “smartphones on wheels”, so manufacturers need to have access to the latest patented 4G and 5G technologies essential to navigation and communications. But often the companies that hold the patents are reluctant to license them because manufacturers will not accept the high fees involved, which leads to patent disputes and licensing rows."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Recent polling from Pew Research demonstrates how the public’s attitudes toward the US and President Trump have witnessed sharp declines in many nations across the world. In Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East favorable attitudes toward the US went from lows during the years of George W. Bush’s presidency to highs in the early Obama years to lows, once again, in the Trump era. And in our Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling we found, with a few exceptions, much the same trajectory across the Middle East."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "In the absence of a declaration of war against Iran, the killing of a foreign official – by a drone strike on Iraqi territory – was possibly illegal. But such niceties do not perturb Trump. The evidence is that Trump’s decision was taken without consideration of the possible consequences. The national security system established under Dwight D. Eisenhower, designed to prevent such reckless measures, is broken to non-existent, with ever-greater power placed in the hands of the president. If that president is unstable, the entire world has a very serious problem."
Jan 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "It is possible that Trump’s reverential base won’t be sufficient to keep him in the White House past 2020. But such ardent faith is hard to oppose with rational plans to fix this or that problem. That is why it is so unsettling to hear people at the top of the US government speak about politics in terms that rightly belong in church. They are challenging the founding principles of the American Republic, and they might actually win as a result."
Jan 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "If anything has become clear in our recent Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling in Iraq, is that most Iraqis are tired of their country being used as a playground for regional conflict, especially the conflict between the US and Iran. In fact, our polling has shown Iraqis increasingly upset with the role played by both the US and Iran in their country. Majorities see both of these countries as having been the major beneficiaries of the wars that have ravaged their nation since the US invaded in 2003. "
Jan 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "Under his [Suleimani's] leadership, Iran helped Hezbollah beef up its missile capabilities, led a decisive intervention to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported the Houthi rebels who have been waging a war against Saudi-led forces in Yemen, and backed a wave of resurgent Shia militias in Iraq. According to Gadi Eizenkot, who completed his term as the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of general staff last year, Suleimani had plans to amass a proxy force of 100,000 fighters along Syria’s border with Israel."
Dec 31st 2019
EXTRACT: ".....stunning technological progress during the 2010s makes it possible to cut GHG emissions at a cost far lower than we dared hope a decade ago. The costs of solar and wind power have fallen more than 80% and 70%, respectively, while lithium-ion battery costs are down from $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to $160 per kWh today. These and other breakthroughs guarantee that energy systems which are as much as 85% dependent on variable renewables could produce zero-carbon electricity at costs that are fully competitive with those of fossil-fuel-based systems."
Dec 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "Predicting the next crisis – financial or economic – is a fool’s game. Yes, every crisis has its hero who correctly warned of what was about to come. And, by definition, the hero was ignored (hence the crisis). But the record of modern forecasting contains a note of caution: those who correctly predict a crisis rarely get it right again. The best that economists can do is to assess vulnerability. Looking at imbalances in the real economy or financial markets gives a sense of the potential consequences of a major shock. It doesn't take much to spark corrections in vulnerable economies and markets. But a garden-variety correction is far different from a crisis. The severity of the shock and the degree of vulnerability matter: big shocks to highly vulnerable systems are a recipe for crisis. In this vein, the source of vulnerability that I worry about the most is the overextended state of central-bank balance sheets. My concern stems from three reasons."
Dec 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish power have a long history. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery published in 1903, popularized the notion that Jewish bankers and financiers were secretly pulling the strings to dominate the world. Henry Ford was one of the more prominent people who believed this nonsense."
Dec 13th 2019
EXTRACT: "In previous British elections, to say that trust was the main issue would have meant simply that trust is the trump card – whichever leader or party could secure most trust would win. Now, the emerging question about trust is whether it even matters anymore."
Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."