The Police Culture is Killing US
The recent FBI raids on citizen anti-war activists and continuing reports on police killings continue in cities across the country are giving rise to new outrage over the treatment of regular folks and active dissenters – but in all the wrong places. That is, even our so-called liberal legislators and elected executives have said nothing in the wake of what appears to be the senseless violence, raids and arrests occurring among all law enforcement agencies since 9/11, and enabled by certain clauses in the Patriot Act enacted in haste following that still-questionable debacle in New York and DC.
We at TruthToTell did a three-part series on police culture after witnessing many of those abuses by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in person – either in the streets or in various locales around the Twin Cities, but especially – and frighteningly – at the Republican National Convention in 2008. We’ll deal with the FBI later, but it is the daily assault on citizens by local cops that inspires this writing.
Nothing seems to crack open the cop culture, not indictments, not the rare conviction of a cop for out-and-out assaults and murders they commit on a more regular basis than ever before.
Minneapolis’ is the worst police culture around here (Minnesota and the Upper Midwest) and one of the worst in the nation when it comes to violence, but time has worsened an already seriously corrupted 150-year-old system of violence and abuse. And it’s polluting all police forces.
Does anyone think that all those films and plays of corrupted cops and sheriffs in towns and cities large and small were based on completely conjured personalities?
No. The models were living, breathing criminals in uniform or toting badges and guns residing in every department in every jurisdiction, protected by the Blue Code and their bosses and the courts, either out of loyalty or fear or both. Such elements only tend to get worse when let off the hook as often as cops are, giving them all license to behave more and more violently against the people they’ve grown to hate the most: the poor and people of color; and hate they do.
One need only listen to the recordings of their arrests and confrontations in the streets, disproportionately men and women of color – the first step on the road to disproportionately higher conviction rates, harder sentencing and concomitant prison populations. 80% of most prisons are men of color. Similar are the populations of women’s facilities.
It all starts with the cops. Or us. We, perhaps unwillingly or unwittingly, have been too long “collaborating” with the system by refusing to hold it – and them – truly accountable for these outrages against “civilians.”
I put “civilians” in parentheses because the police have become nothing more than paramilitary units, the rest of us literally “outsiders” to them, “civilians” who never really understand these (mostly) men who feel more and more entitled by their uniforms and hardware belts to run roughshod over anyone (sometimes each other), from traffic stops to the mentally ill.
They are “the authority.” You do not disagree with them to their faces or they attack you verbally and physically for “resisting” arrest or “threatening an officer.”
Law enforcement officers lie openly on their reports when describing the conditions of an arrest and are never forced to prove their contentions that an arrestee was resisting arrest or threatening before the beat or killed the person. Never mind the absence of weapons. Words are enough for these guys to pounce on the innocent, and anything in your hand is a weapon deserving of death.
The entire criminal justice and political machinery (including arbitrators) of federal, state, local governments protect all but a handful of truly egregious violators of the law and Constitutional rights. The rest literally get away with murder.
As always, exceptions to these rules exist in the police, but their voices are quickly and effectively stifled, either by their bosses or by the Blue Code of Silence, thus enabling the worst of the worst to dominate the forces. “Violations” of the Code are redressed by shunning, perhaps even violence. Internal consciences are thus quelled and change is impossible from the inside. Internal Affairs divisions are hated, but tolerated if they don’t really cross the line into actual prosecution. And they generally don’t, leaving appeals processes to the toothless civilian review boards, themselves either co-opted by the department or by the politicians who appoint them.
The media then chime in with their compliant and complicit reporting of more visible incidents, rarely, if ever, challenging the content of police reports or the comments of a defensive police chief or spokesperson, thus tainting the potential trial jury pool either when that defendant comes to trial or the cop is called to account.
Juries want to believe cops. Judges do believe cops. Even defense counselors are afraid of the police. Afraid to challenge an arrest, they convict; or afraid to convict a cop who clearly has overstepped the law and/or the bounds of ethical performance of their duties.
For the last 60-plus years, police officers have abandoned the cities (even the counties) that hire them, no longer patrolling the neighborhoods in which they would otherwise live and pay taxes and elect their officials. Ninety percent (90%) or more of all police and fire personnel lives miles away from those jurisdictions and it’s eliminated all notion of community engagement, therefore community policing. The courts have ruled that they cannot not be forced to reside in the jurisdictions of their employers (us) and they have thus become occupying armies in the pursuit of law enforcement. They live in (often remote) enclaves – sometimes even out of state – living together in suburban and exurban cul-de-sacs where they eat, sleep and recreate among themselves – often to extremes.
Because they see themselves as consummate outsiders in a democracy, they hardly favor democracy as a check and balance on their power and authority, and increasingly they behave like it. In the streets they become judge, jury – and, too often, executioner, when they’re allowed to get away with it – and, as mentioned, they are, more often than not.
Police officers, almost to a man or woman, are hard-right conservatives, perhaps even tea-partiers out of uniform, but certainly more likely to be anti-tax (unless it’s spent on public safety), anti-government (even though that’s who pays them), anti-politician (despite being protected by politicians across the political spectrum) and anti-gay, not to mention racist and sexist in the 19th-Century mode.
This is a group, among several professions, with a statistically high rate of suicide, alcoholism or abuse, drug use, infidelity and the concurrent rage and behavioral issues that follow those. And we ask these dysfunctional humans, more often than not trained in war either as MP’s or combat-infected soldiers, to patrol our communities. These are men (mostly) who return just as often as the rest of the military with serious head trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who find a home in police departments where they’re pretty much allowed to do what they did in Iraq or Afghanistan or Vietnam: kill, maim, degrade and dehumanize as they or their buddies were.
And this gets to the crux of it: While some of these guys join a force with all the naïveté of a child growing up wanting to be a policeman or fireman, dedicated to preserving the community peace and always “helping people,” too many are coming in without the education and emotional stability it takes to patrol “civilian” communities and mete out their power and justice on an even keel, treating everyone as the laws and Constitution insist they do: as charged, but not convicted human beings, no matter how serious the crime, but to treat everyone with the respect all humans deserve, no matter their flaws and mistakes, no matter how much you may disagree with their speech and behavior.
We are not really recruiting community police officers who, while armed, should rarely need to draw their weapons and who, when they stop a potential traffic violator, treat them as flawed humans, not the scum of the Earth they often portray violators of all kinds. We need master’s graduates who may eventually become hardened by some of the terrible crimes committed, but who don’t lose sight of the fact that not all of humanity is as bad as this drug dealer or that drugged-up and drunk perpetrator of robberies and domestic assaults. They must stop thinking that because we “outsiders” have not adequately addressed the conditions that spawn all this crime, we’re going to tolerate this outrageous violence inflicted on victims and perpetrators alike.
We need officers vested and invested in their communities, not just in themselves, and in their profession as professionals, not as street cleaners with weapons at the ready and the paranoia that comes from seeing a mortal threat behind a nasty word or a cry for help and responds with verbal and physical abuse.
We need chiefs who demand the highest order of professionalism from patrol to reporting and elected officials who will hold the hiring authorities accountable for their inability to control their people.
We need voters who elect candidates willing to hold their charges accountable and responsible for legal and professional exercise of their authority, not the cowboys who feed off each other’s hatreds and jitters to commit crimes as heinous as those they’re supposed to solve or stop.
And we need our elected officials from the President on down to dogcatchers to stand up and curtail the unconstitutional assaults on our citizens based on skimpy evidence and questionable connections to “terrorist” groups, foreign or domestic, especially when the term “terrorist” is far too readily assigned to those who disagree with this nation’s and this administration’s wartime, foreign and domestic policies – and say so publicly and loudly in a variety of forums. These dissenters are not terrorists. They are the same types of Americans who have invoked change over the centuries – the loud, the boisterous, the dissenters – tea-partiers on the other end of the spectrum (maybe), as it were.
Where is the FBI when stickers adorn the backs of trucks and SUVs showing a giggling kid pissing on the name of Obama? Those stickers all but threaten the President, as do the accompanying statements of “patriotism” when these stated tea-partiers laugh at challenges to their threatened violence against this man, Obama, whom they see as the anti-Christ. Where is the Patriot Act in quashing these dissenters from national policy as well as pissing on the President? Where are the raids on these people who are at least as dangerous or more so than the AntiWar Committee that openly opposes US prosecuted war on other nations, peoples and domestic dissenters? Where are Betty McCollum and Amy Klobuchar and other elected Democrats in expressing outrage over the FBI’s wanton linking of long-time anti-war and anti-racism dissenters to Hamas? Political dissenters empathize and identify with those victims of our neglect – and that’s what seems to threaten the system more than anything. But insisting on equity and adherence to American principles should not be fodder for continued oppression or arrests or raids, either. Why is free speech limited to those on the right or to corporations or to law enforcement itself?
We are all responsible for a civilized society that recognizes that crime – and dissent – often grows out of oppression and poverty and the subcultures that grow to survive in such conditions and be come criminal in the process. Crime cannot survive long in a climate of adequate food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, clean air and water, nondiscrimination, and equal opportunity.
And none of that should be excluded from any resident of this nation, this state or this city.
Andy Driscoll is producer/host of TruthToTell, airing live 9AM CDT on KFAI Radio in the Twin Cities and on your computer at www.KFAI.org. Podcasts are heard or downloaded later from www.TruthToTell.org/archives. Driscoll’s email address is: andydriscoll[at]TruthToTell.org.