Tag: cops

 An Active Crime Scene

A group of about a dozen gunmen surround a car stopped at a Miami Beach intersection and open fire, the muzzle flashes from their weapons lighting up the night. After brutally murdering the driver, and injuring four innocent bystanders, some of the gunmen start going after witnesses, assaulting them, stealing or breaking their cell phones in an attempt to cover up their actions. Detective Juan Sanchez described it as “an active crime scene.”

It was indeed. But perhaps not the type of crime scene we’ve all been conditioned to expect, since the gunmen described above were themselves Miami Beach cops. Their attempts to confiscate any incriminating video evidence of their deed is being portrayed as standard procedure in their search for suspects. Suspects? What suspects? I think all of the suspects in this case are captured in the cell phone video standing in a circle shooting (which may explain why three cops were injured as well).

One witness, Ericka Davis, whose mother is also a cop, stated that she could hear guns clicking as they continued pulling the trigger long after they had fired all of their bullets. “I think that’s excessive,” she said. Well, that’s an understatement.

The video was recorded by Narces Benoit, who was sitting in his truck with Davis when the shooting began. The video clearly shows a bicycle cop approach him with his gun drawn while another cop orders him to stop recording. Benoit was clever enough to remove the SIM card and hide it before they confiscated his phone (and allegedly broke it).

This incident just happened on Memorial Day, and obviously the investigation is ongoing, but one thing is clear from what has been reported so far. Benoit’s behavior is not that of a suspect, and the actions of the cops who assaulted him seem to go far beyond simply looking for documentary evidence. Regardless of what the driver might have done to provoke this gangland style slaying, there are certainly a few more guilty parties involved — or at least parties who are acting like they have something to hide.

 Plenty Of Blame To Go Around

You’ve no doubt seen the story by now of this Seattle police officer caught on videotape. The headline reads “Seattle officer punches girl in face during jaywalking stop,” which is a bit sensationalist, but does sum up the salient points. Watch the entire clip on YouTube, however, and you’re provided with some context for the events that transpired. I find myself having sympathy for all parties involved.

The cop is easily the bad guy in this story. Considering the entire incident stemmed from his attempt to enforce a law against jaywalking, it is especially sad. Jaywalking is not a crime, and there should be no laws against it. Choosing to cross a street at an unsafe point is foolish, but people have a right to be stupid. Just like they have a right to drive without seatbelts or motorcycle helmets. Why do we, as a society, continue to allow pointless laws such as these to be passed, and then, more importantly, why do we continue to task cops with enforcing the stupid things?

Given all of that, resisting arrest in this particular case was warranted, in my opinion. No crime occurred, no one was harmed, so no one — including the cop — has any reason to involve themselves in the lives of innocent people just trying to cross a street. Now, do I believe that these individuals were taking a principled stand against what they viewed to be tyrannical behavior on the part of the local legislature and constabulary? Hardly. I could be wrong, but I’m going to guess that their resistance was based on other factors. Nevertheless, objecting to unwarranted searches and seizures is justified, and they have my full support.

There is also the larger matter of the cop’s use of excessive force. There should be no question in anyone’s mind that punching an unarmed woman in the face, even under those circumstances, is completely reprehensible. This officer should be required to publicly apologize to all parties involved, and then promptly be fired from his job. Having said that, I can certainly recognize that he found himself in a very difficult and stressful situation. His training seems to have kept the situation from escalating any more than it did. But just like the folks who chose to cross the street, he made a choice too — when he decided to enforce an unjust law. So the situation was largely his own making. Maybe next time he will think twice about attempting to enforce a stupid law, and maybe they will think twice about their own safety.

[Update: pretty good discussion on this one going on in the forum]

 May You Live In Interesting Times

Thought to be a curse of ancient Chinese origin, the title of this essay is appropriate for life in America today. A new report by the Pew Research Center is in the news today — just the latest data showing that most believe our government is broken, echoing results from a similar CNN poll conducted in February. But you don’t need poll numbers to notice the downward spiral we find ourselves in — simply watch the news. I’m not sure that the frequency of these incidents is increasing (although it seems like it to me), but they are certainly becoming better documented (thanks to the internet) and more widely known.

A decade ago, one could point to a handful of hard-core anti-government episodes (Ruby Ridge, Waco, Oklahoma City bombing) that were so conspicuous, each had become iconic in its own right. Now they seem to happen so often, that no single incident has enough time to etch itself in our collective consciousness before the next media frenzy begins:

  • Feb 18, 2010 – Andrew Joseph Stack flies his Piper Dakota airplane into an Austin, Texas office building housing the Internal Revenue Service, killing himself and one IRS worker inside. Stack left behind a manifesto expressing his anger towards the IRS and the government in general.
  • Mar 4, 2010 – Two police officers were shot and wounded inside the Pentagon subway station in Washington, DC by John Patrick Bedell. Bedell had a history of mental health problems, but also a healthy dislike of government.
  • Mar 27, 2010 – Members of a self-described “christian warrior” group called Hutaree were arrested in Michigan for plotting to kill police officers. The group has been known to advocate anti-government doctrines.
  • Apr 2, 2010 – More than 30 state governors received letters from a group called Guardians of the Free Republics demanding that they resign from office, or be removed. The Guardians are devoted to dismantling goverment.
  • Apr 6-7, 2010 – Within a day of each other, two men, Charles Wilson and Gregory Giusti, were arrested for issuing threats against their respective members of Congress.
  • Apr 15, 2010 – And of course the most vocal and omnipresent anti-government group is the burgeoning Tea Party movement, which concluded a coast-to-coast bus tour last week on Tax Day with a rally in Washington, DC to protest government oppression, in general, and taxation in particular.

Now these are just the stories that made national headlines. The assumption is that there are many, many more similar stories at the local level that go unnoticed. On February 7, 2008, for example, the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood was rocked by a shooting spree during a city council meeting. The gunman, Charles Lee “Cookie” Thornton, finally had enough of what he considered harrassment by local government officals and killed several of them. There is also the tale of Jerry Andres, who recently invoked the memory of the Kirkwood shooting when he made his own angry visit to another St. Louis area city hall. Author and columnist Vin Suprynowicz devoted an entire book, called The Ballad of Carl Drega, to documenting a number of these same kinds of local stories across the country.

It is easy to dismiss all of the actors in these stories as “wingnuts” with mental disorders. But that simply isn’t the case. Every person has a breaking point, and the tragedy is that the rest of us cannot relate to these stories because we have never been pushed to our own breaking points — but these individuals have. Now whether the oppression or harrassment is real or imagined is left for history to record, but it brings to mind the quote by a former Secretary of State:

The evils of tyranny are rarely seen but by him who resists it.
— John Hay, 1872

What all of these people have in common is their desire and their willingness to resist what they perceive as tyranny. Their courage to take a stand should be respected, even if they are misguided, or their methods are despicable. So does the increase in the frequency of these stories mean that more and more people are saying “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” or is it simply a trend that the mainstream media is temporarily willing to indulge? Needless to say, my hope is that it is the former.

 Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come For You?

I like to periodically cover the topic of misconduct by law enforcement, and my story archive continues to grow (now over 130 stories). But a couple of stories since my last update deserve attention.

First, the year began with one of the most heinous examples of police brutality in history when multiple cell phone cameras caught the cold-blooded murder of Oscar Grant in a crowded San Francisco subway station. The officer responsible fled the state soon after the incident, but was apprehended and now faces murder charges.

A New Jersey woman named Sheila Stevenson was beaten in another instance of what has now become the iconic police dogpile, fists and batons flailing, all caught on dashcam video. Another example of the dogpile is Anthony Warren’s beating by Birmingham police, also caught on dashcam video, and covered up by the department for over a year. This video is especially disturbing since the five cops viciously attacked the unconscious man after his body was thrown from his vehicle on the side of the road. Stay classy, Birmingham!

The latest taser saga has a relatively happy ending, since the family of 23-year-old victim Stanley Harlan were awarded $2.4 million in damages after police in Moberly, Missouri killed him with a taser gun during a suspected DUI stop. The lawsuit claims police refused to allow Harlan’s mother or other bystanders to help him when he stopped breathing. Aren’t tasers supposed to be non-lethal weapons?

If you have any examples of police misconduct in your local news that you would like to share, please let me know and I’ll be happy to add these stories to my collection.

 Cops Is Smart

If you’ve seen my story archive, you know that I collect stories documenting the misconduct of police officers. While this story doesn’t really qualify as misconduct, it does serve to illustrate another potential reason why cops suck.

It seems the New London, Connecticut, police department doesn’t like their officers to be too smart. They give all of their applicants a standardized IQ test, and if you score too high, like Robert Jordan, you are rejected. Now IQ tests are not a terribly accurate predictor of a given person’s mental faculties, but if they are going to go to the trouble of administering the test, you would think they would set a minimum score criteria, not a maximum score.

I can only speculate on the reasons behind this policy: smart people ask too many questions. If you want someone to blindly follow your orders, you are better off hiring less intelligent folk. And if you know that your department is, from time to time, engaged in activities that raise certain legal and/or ethical questions, you don’t want a precinct full of geniuses second-guessing your command. Perhaps my bias in this area is showing, but I really can’t think of any other explanation, can you?

 And Tear Gas For All

The frequency with which these types of stories are appearing is disturbing. If you read Radley Balko’s Overkill, you are left with no other alternative than to believe that the use of paramilitary raids by local law enforcement is not only on the rise, but is reaching epidemic proportions.

This story illustrates the chaos and pain that was caused for Kayla Irwin when cops raided her apartment, which turned out to be the wrong address. Over a month later, she still has not been compensated for the damage to her property. Almost everything she owned was ruined by their canisters of CS tear gas that were lobbed through her windows. Covering her apartment with shattered glass and a film of noxious dust.

Can a free society that claims to respect not only the rule of law but the individual’s right to be secure from illegimate searches and seizures really continue to tolerate these kinds of tactics?

My meager story archive no doubt represents only a very small percentage of incidents like these that go on every day in this country. I would wager that most never get reported in the news. And of the ones that do, few make it onto my radar. But I will continue to collect the ones that cross my path, to serve as evidence that the cost of maintaining police goes way beyond the tax dollars that are wasted. The cost to individual liberties is much higher, and much more devastating.

 The Actions of a Few

This has been a great week for cops, not just in the St. Louis area, but all around the country. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether they are off duty or not.

The biggest story, of course, that everyone is talking about is Brett Darrow and Sgt. James Kuehnlein who was fired this week for showing his true colors as a so-called “law enforcement” officer. You see, the law is whatever Sgt. Kuehnlein says it is. As out of line as Kuehnlein was, I suppose Mr. Darrow is at least lucky that he didn’t get hit with the taser.

Heidi Gill found out what that was like. So did Andrew Meyer. Was this National Taser Week and somebody forgot to tell the citizens of America? As much as getting tasered hurts, it could be worse.

You could be bar owner David Gaulden, who had the crap beat out of him by six St. Louis area deputies who have subsequently been fired. Jefferson County Sheriff Oliver Boyer asked that “you not judge us by the actions of a few, but by the history of many.”

Unfortunately for all of us, these are no longer the actions of just a few. The number of stories and videos whizzing around the internet are merely the percentage of “the few” who have been unlucky enough, or stupid enough, to be caught and have their actions documented in the public eye. How many more are engaged in this activity, that we never hear about? Logic would suggest there are many, many more. And as for the “history of many,” my own story archive and others like it, are all the history I need to know.

 Cops Are Criminals, Scalpers Are Fine

Yesterday the Post Dispatch reported on ten St. Louis cops who are under investigation for… well, no one seems to be sure what they did wrong. Except for me, of course.

They allegedly used World Series tickets last fall that had been confiscated as evidence from so-called scalpers, and then returned the tickets to evidence after attending the game. The Post Dispatch reports, “As the department considers discipline, legal minds ponder what crime might have been committed, and who the victim might be.”

This is actually a very realistic approach, and I think I’ll use it. Let’s identify the victim first, and that should tell us what crime was committed. Let’s start with the person who was selling his tickets outside the stadium. Some people call them scalpers because they think they have a natural human right to attend baseball games for what they think is a reasonable price. In reality, they have a right to freely contract, just like every other human — including the one selling the tickets.

Scalping is not a crime, because there is no victim. Both the seller and the buyer enter into the transaction voluntarily, and they both mutually benefit from it (or presumably they wouldn’t go through with it). No one’s rights are violated, and both parties get what they want. To put it simply, there is no crime.

Once you look at the story from this perspective, it is easy to see who the victim was: the person or person(s) who had their property stolen by police under color of law. What the police did with the stolen property after the fact is irrelevant — the crime had already been committed.

But, of course, you won’t hear anyone at the Post Dispatch report on that. They’ll ask the question, who is the victim? But they don’t really want to know the answer.

 Cops Continue To Suck

It’s been almost four years since I first wrote about why cops suck, and you know what? Nothing has changed. In fact, it seems these stories are only becoming more prevalent. I have over fifty examples in my story archive, and I don’t really go out of my way looking for them. Some sites have started similar archives, like Bad Cop News, for instance. Others, like The Newspaper just collect stories related to driving, which obviously often involve cops — this one in particular is interesting since it includes video.

So does all of this mean that these incidents are becoming more frequent, or that there are just more people paying attention? I’m not sure, but my guess is the latter. I’m sure officers such as Richard Perrone wished that there weren’t so many people watching. Recent internet buzz surrounding his story shamed him into reconsidering pressing charges against a couple who documented his own speed limit violations. Bloggers everywhere are asking the same question: are cops above the law?

Of course they aren’t, but it’s not always the cop that is to blame. Sometimes the laws are just stupid. This story about Police Chief Richard Knoebel writing himself a ticket serves to illustrate how ridiculous victimless crimes are. Kudos to the cop for being honest, but let’s be realistic. No one was harmed by his actions, therefore there was no victim. Without a victim, there can be no crime. If there was no crime, should he have to pay a fine? No. And neither should anyone else that might receive a ticket for commiting the same act.

So here’s an all points bulletin: be on the lookout for stories about cops found to be abusing their power and let me know about them. If we continue to talk about them, document their actions, and make them pay for their behavior, maybe it will start to be less common.

 Why Cops Suck

Remember that time when you got pulled over for speeding? The cop started to write you a ticket, but stopped when you told him that your dad was a cop.

Or maybe he wrote you the ticket, and then you went home and called your brother-in-law or your buddy from high school (who is also a cop) and he “took care of it” for you. Incidents like these probably make you feel pretty good about cops in general, don’t they? Yeah, well, they shouldn’t. Incidents like these just serve to illuminate one of the many reasons why cops suck.

Reason #1: Cops believe they are above the law

They may not all believe this from day one (although many do), but eventually they all become affected by it. They come to view themselves as members of a class above the average citizen — and maybe in some respects they are, because we as a society put them there. But the fact remains that all men are created equal and are therefore equal under the law. We are happy when a relative or friend who is a cop is successful at bending or breaking the law for our benefit, but then we turn around and demand punishment of cops that bend or break the law to the detriment of others. Why the double standard? Why is it okay for Uncle Joe to “fix” your speeding ticket, but not okay for some anonymous cop on the news to drop a dime bag in the back seat of a car he is searching? I think we rationalize it by telling ourselves that the driver of the car was probably a gang member or a drug dealer, and that we trust the officer’s judgement.

I think the danger in this mode of thinking is obvious. Not only do we establish a dangerous precedent of allowing cops to also be judge and jury, but we subjugate ourselves to them and their decisions. Combine this with the fact that the average cop spends his days answering calls from those that he already perceives as weaker than himself, and we run the risk of establishing or simply reinforcing some kind of “Superman” complex in a cop’s mind. I’m not at all surprised that this mindset develops in cops over time, and I’m not even placing all of the blame on them. Human nature being what it is, I would expect it to happen to virtually anyone in the same position. But the point is that it is immoral and does not serve the best interests of society for us to breed a segment of the population that does not feel it is subject to the same rules as the rest of us.

Reason #2: Cops are ignorant of the law

It is unacceptable to me, and should be to everyone else, that cops are ignorant of the very laws they are charged with upholding. We used to refer to them as “peace officers.” They had a duty to be informed of what the laws said in order to act as impartial third parties in resolving disputes. Keeping the peace was their primary function. At some point in the not-so-distant past, they ceased being peace officers and became instead “law enforcement” officers. Their duties changed along with their name. A peace officer could never be asked or expected to conduct a no-knock raid on a private residence — that is hardly a peaceful endeavor (not to mention all of the individual rights it violates). But today’s modern law enforcement officer is all too happy to participate.

How many times have local law enforcement officers been enlisted in raiding someone’s home under the auspices of the DEA, FBI, IRS, or ATF and some bogus search warrant? I assure you the numbers are staggering. And how many times, in all of those raids, have the local law enforcement officers asked to see the specific statute(s) authorizing the raid? Or even asked to read the search warrant? I have no idea, but my guess is that it doesn’t happen very often. If it did, you would find a lot fewer “law enforcement” officers participating in exercises that only serve to break the laws.

Police academies across this country graduate hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officers every year. They perform swearing-in ceremonies with a great deal of pomp and circumstance, during which each newly minted officer swears an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. I wonder. How many of those officers have ever actually read the Constitution in its entirety? I mean, I’m almost willing to overlook a lowly traffic cop in a small St. Louis suburb who isn’t aware that she is breaking her own state’s law when she demands that I surrender my license to her during a routine traffic stop (when, in fact, according to Missouri Revised Statute 544.045, “the person arrested may decline to deposit his license to operate a motor vehicle as security and instead deposit a bond…”). Almost.

If ignorance of an obscure state law is not sufficient for you as an example, consider this. Every person on this planet has a basic human right to self-defense, which is acknowledged in the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The Second Amendment is so often debated that no one can claim ignorance of it based on obscurity. But yet, many cops have arrested, or worse, killed, a fellow citizen simply because he or she was exercising that right. Were they upholding or defending the Constitution with their actions? Can we as a society afford to overlook a cop (indeed, hundreds of cops) that violate their oath to uphold and defend the Constitution? Is it unreasonable to expect that those charged with enforcing the laws be aware of the laws themselves? I think not. As the Supreme Court said in Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 US 800, “…a reasonably competent public official should know the law governing his conduct.”

Reason #3: Cops hide behind their badge

Every mentally competent person is responsible for their own actions. One is not excused from accountability simply because one dons a uniform and some sort of badge representing a make-believe authority. Indeed, even within the United States Armed Forces, where warriors are taught to act without thinking, a soldier is still only required to follow *lawful* orders. This principle was illustrated at the Nazi war crimes trial in Nuremburg. The defendants’ argument that they were “just following orders” did not absolve them from their responsibility for their own actions. It didn’t work for them, it doesn’t work for the US Military, and it definitely doesn’t work for a cop. Despite their job, and their alleged authority, they still have an obligation to discern between right and wrong and act accordingly.

Reason #4: Cops have no legal obligation to protect us

This is perhaps the most compelling reason yet. If you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth. The lie in this case is that “cops will protect you” and those repeating it most often are gun control lobbyists — their argument being that you don’t need to own guns, cops are there to protect you. Well, the truth, in reality and in a legal sense, is that this position cannot be defended. If you need further proof of this fact, read Dial 911 and Die.

I guess the most shocking revelation in this book, however, is the fact that numerous court cases have established that law enforcement agencies, whether they be local, state, or federal, are under no legal obligation to protect you from crime. I know that is hard to believe, but it is true. As early as 1856 (South vs. Maryland 59 U.S. 396, 15 L. Ed., 433-) and as recently as 1989 (DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189) the US Supreme Court ruled on this matter. The US Court of Appeals has ruled the same way (Bowers vs. DeVito, 686 F.2d 616 7th Cir. 1982). You would be hard pressed to find a case that found a law enforcement officer liable for not having prevented a crime against an individual.

Given this, I find it reprehensible that cops not only allow but encourage people (activists and politicians alike) to serve as their apologists and make the case for them that a cop’s job is “so tough” that we as a society must provide them the tools they need to make their job easier and less dangerous. Since they are under no obligation to perform the job in the first place, and cannot be held personally liable if they fail, how dare they demand such things from us! If a cop is truly concerned with his safety on the job, perhaps he should consider a different line of work, instead of demanding more resources be culled from the very populace that he is engaged in harassing or terrorizing.

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