19 April 2012

Rantings and ravings. At a moderate volume.

Like many people, I followed the course of the various occupy demonstrations. While I tended to disagree with some of their purported objects for protest (things like protesting what gets built where for instance), and especially their purported solutions to actual problems like inequality and the banking structure (which I usually found to make no sense), I did not think it was generally appropriate to squash these demonstrations with force and aggression in response and to suppress media or individual coverage of those squashings (by keeping out press, doing these things at odd hours, and confiscating or destroying cell phone cameras).

It did not surprise me that there were inevitably cases of bald naked uses of force that did squeak through the media firewalls. What is interesting is the aftermath of the most famous of these (Lt Pike's pepper spray).

There's a couple major points that come to mind.
1) Police and other authorities apparently don't care whether they are actually enforcing laws anymore. There's a lot of cases of arrest or detention for filming cops in a public space for instance all around the country. In most states this is not illegal. Almost all of them actually. In this particular instance, cops moved in to shut down a public demonstration that was not in fact violating any laws. I recognize that some of the occupy demonstrations did in fact violate various legal codes and that arrests and breaking up the demonstrations becomes a necessity. The one at UC Davis wasn't in violation of any significant laws.  Despite the lack of legal clarity, they moved in anyway.

2) They also moved in with weapons and riot gear that they weren't supposed to be using, weren't trained on its use, and so on. Again, this apparently is a minor concern. I see this often in related issues for cops dealing with pet dogs. That they tend to shoot. Why? Because most police forces do not offer training on dealing with pets. A dog charging at the officer is thus perceived as a deadly threat even though most dogs are pretty friendly or curious rather than working as trained attack dogs. And regardless of how big or small the dog is Puppies and other family pets have been executed in the same casual manner that Lt Pike used when deploying the pepper spray on a crowd of peaceful demonstrators. Proper training for dealing with difficult situations it appears isn't even a considerable help. At least for the officers who take the effort to do their jobs properly and appropriately. But the complete lack of it doesn't seem to offer much help to the general public and a sense of trust in law enforcement either.

3) Lack of respect for a chain of command. In NYC recently, there's been an ongoing scandal concerning comstat crimes disappearing. There's also been a standard practice of stop and frisk searches (which are questionable constitutionally already), which includes an entrapment practice of asking people to remove things from their pockets and thus display openly any small personal quantities of narcotics. Which are mostly "legal" in NYC in the form of having a joint on one's person for example. They become illegal when displayed or used publicly, such as on a street search location. The commissioner ordered this practice stopped. It's increased in use since he so ordered. Increased. As for the COMSTAT scandal, the cop who was the whistleblower for felonies going uninvestigated and unrecorded was detained in a psychiatric unit for two weeks (as with the above case of the officer responding to a mental health call who ratted out the two cops issuing a beat-down rather than doing their jobs. Apparently crossing the blue line is what makes a person "crazy"). I get the feeling that there's a lot of institutional "we know how to do this, fuck you boss-man/woman" aspects to policing where explicit commands get ignored or even blatantly flaunted.

4) And to boot, the people involved in this response never get punished. Lt Pike isn't going to get fired after all this. Despite being insubordinate to his command and brutal to citizenry. And apparently somewhat incompetent too. This is because this public and independent report has no bearing on his status. Only a secret internal review does. That's how this usually works. The public knows and can witness obvious criminal behavior on the part of a sworn officer of the law but can do nothing. There's a qualified immunity usually applied to the execution of their duties that allows a cop to shoot, tase, and otherwise assault human beings (and pets) and not (usually) be held criminally responsible. Sometimes people can sue the department for violations of civil rights or medical bills, or wrongful deaths, and can often win. This is fine for restoring a measure of justice to the individuals who were harmed, but does nothing to prevent or even discourage future harms by the same officers involved. Who are often serially offensive. Instead there are legal channels in place to protect their jobs, to keep them out in force, and to restrict the flow of information on officers who are abusive or destructive to the respect of law and law enforcement within the public they are intended to serve.

Police do have a difficult job, and sometimes mistakes occur. We should be able to draw a clear distinction between heat of the moment decision making that sometimes has errors or weaknesses in training and problems caused by more deliberate viciousness or brutality. There are all manner of policing tactics now in reasonably common use that are either savage ("Stop resisting" or "officer feared for his safety") or of a questionable Constitutional legality (drug dog searches and associated asset forfeiture trolling). These are legitimate protections for officers and their behavior in conducting their duties to enforce laws that are being systematically abused by some among them. And this is all tolerated.

I've come to a conclusion that at this point, one way to get this system to have some accountability to simply look for local and state officials, especially prosecutors or judges, who have received police endorsement. And then vote against them. Always. Never, ever vote for anybody who has the cops support. Unless the police institution itself has a more transparent system of civil review that permits its most egregious employees to be punished and even dismissed where needs be for serious abuses of civil liberties and physical force uses (including using pepper spray or tasers or other non-lethal weapons, as well as lethal weapons or dangerous weapons like flashbang grenades, or military grade assault rifles, up to surplus APCs and attack helicopters and drones), there's no reason to believe that a public official who has earned their endorsement is going to institute one. So why vote for anyone who has such support?
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