Police Abuse and Wrongdoing: It’s Not Specific to Ferguson


Incredible front page from the newspaper there. That’s what teargas looks like in the act of firing. Pretty incredible imagery among a slew of incredible imagery coming out of Ferguson.

I’ve been using this space on numerous occasions over the last few months to point out the wrongness of adhering to the “bad apple theory” regarding police officers. That is, most cops are good, only a few are bad and therefore, we shouldn’t generalize an entire police force as bad. That would be wrong, right? Well, I’m not going to rehash all the reasons that is misguided, but if I may, I’ll zero in on couple things. First and foremost, the accountability net to catch police misconduct and wrongdoing is nonexistent. Check out this case from New York:

Shem Walker, 49, an Army veteran, was gunned down after he tried to eject the detective from loitering on the stoop of the victim’s elderly mother’s apartment building in Fort Greene — apparently unaware that the Haitian-born narc was observing a buy-and-bust operation nearby.

Identified in court papers only as Undercover C-94, the detective fired three times on July 11, 2009, after Walker punched him in the face and both men tumbled to the pavement. No grand jury was convened by former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes or his recent successor Kenneth Thompson.

I’m going to brush aside the idiocy of the War on Drugs and focus on this case. So, we have an undercover officer sitting on Walker’s grandmother’s apartment steps. Walker wants this undercover detective — in other words, there’s no indication he’s a police officer — to move and instead, they get in a tussle and the undercover cop kills Walker.

He was unarmed.

Nothing happened to the undercover cop and the statue of limitations on the “manslaughter” has passed. Yet, the family did receive a $2 million settlement from the city. So, that’s a win, right? No.

Let’s put the formulation as clear as day:

Police officer does something wrong + taxpayers (when they say the “from the city” that’s taxpayers) = No deterrent to police wrongdoing.

There’s no risk to wrongdoing when it’s passed off to taxpayers. And this is not an unusual occurrence. Big cities like Chicago, LA, New York and so on routinely pay out millions and millions of dollars a year in settlements.

Brutal police

How about this story out of the Seattle Times?

Kalyuzhnyy was the sixth person killed by police in Seattle in 2013, an unusually high number in a year that saw a similar number of homicides (29) in the city as in the previous year (27) with four days left in the year.

The city had 29 homicides with 6 at the hands of the police. Interim Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel blames the problems attributed to mental illness and those individuals getting the help they need. Certainly, that’s a problem. Half of those killed were suffering from mental illness.

Remember not too long ago the story about the SWAT raid on a home looking for drugs and the police threw a flash grenade into a baby’s crib? The baby somehow lived, by the way:

Habersham County officials say they do not plan to pay for the medical expenses of a toddler seriously injured during a police raid.

Bounkham Phonesavah, affectionately known as “Baby Boo Boo,” spent weeks in a burn unit after a SWAT team’s flash grenade exploded near his face. The toddler was just 19-months-old and asleep in the early morning hours of May 28. SWAT officers threw the device into his home while executing a search warrant for a drug suspect.

No accountability and it continues. Check out this appalling story out of Milwaukee:

When a Sheriff’s deputy T-boned her car last year, Tanya Weyker suffered more than a broken neck. She suffered the indignity of a false arrest for driving while intoxicated.

Now, she has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit.

Basically, a cop t-boned her, then tried to arrest her for DUI and cover it up. Luckily, there was video that disproved the officer’s false report. Oh, and the Sheriff’s Office tried to cover it up:

The Sheriff’s Office knew about the video two days after the crash, but the drunk driving case continued for 10 months before a prosecutor finally decided to file formal charges.

Then there’s this recent Chicago case:

Police chasing an armed robber run into a fenced backyard, where they come across a Italian Mastiff named Castro and shoot it. “It’s like I lost a family member,” Castro’s owner, Terry Taylor, told WBBM, the CBS affiliate in Chicago. “Very difficult.” 

There was a clear, “Beware of Dog” sign on the fence. They said the dog charged them. So they shot it. Will they be held accountable? Unlikely.

Let’s get back to Ferguson. Check out this revealing photograph from the arrest of Getty photographer, Scott Olson:

National Guard Called In As Unrest Continues In Ferguson

Notice anything odd? The two officers arresting Olson have neither badges or name tags on their uniforms. As Vox says:

Reasonable people can disagree about when, exactly, it’s appropriate for cops to fire tear gas into crowds. But there’s really no room for disagreement about when it’s reasonable for officers of the law to take off their badges and start policing anonymously.

There’s only one reason to do this: to evade accountability for your actions.

And they know they can. They are God, as my uncle accurately stated. Consider this disgusting Washington Post article from a cop writing about Ferguson, “I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me.” Just that headline alone should make you go, “What the fuck?” These Tweets from Ta-Nehisi Coates sums it up:




Besides, even if these cases do go to trial, juries have long given police the benefit of the doubt. Consider this roundup of cases:

In 2009, San Francisco transit police officer Mehserle shot and fatally wounded 22-year-old Oscar Grant at a metro station. Transit police detained Grant and other unarmed young black males for suspected involvement in a fistfight. Although Grant was lying facedown on the floor, held and surrounded by officers, Mehserle shot Grant for resisting arrest. The events were captured on video and went viral, sparking a massive protest. The story was depicted in the critically acclaimed drama Fruitvale Station.

Despite the prosecution’s call for second-degree murder, a jury only convicted Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter and he was sentenced to the minimum of two years with double credit for time served. Mehserle’s defense hinged on the fact that he believed he was using a Taser instead of a gun. The police union raised money and paid for Mehserle’s $3 million bail as well as his defense fees.


In 2011, Officers Wolfe, Ramos and Corporal Cicinelli brutally beat Fullerton, CA homeless man, Kelly Thomas, who was unarmed during the encounter and had a history of mental illness, which at least one officer was aware of at the time. During the officers’ arrest of Thomas for suspected car vandalism, Thomas “resisted arrest” by slowly backing up after being verbally threatened by one of the officers. The officers, who had Thomas surrounded, relentlessly beat him with their flashlights and Tased him until he was put into a coma. Thomas died of injuries relating to the beating. The incident went viral when a 35-minute video of the beating while Thomas helplessly cried out for his father was released.

Prosecution called for the officers’ conviction of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Officer Ramos and Cpl. Cicinelli were acquittedat the same trial while a pending case on Officer Wolfe was dropped after the others’ verdict. The officers’ defense attorney proclaimed, “These peace officers were doing their jobs… They did what they were trained to do.” The officers’ defense and bail were paid through a union-sponsoredlegal insurance fund in addition to donations received from sympathetic officer associations.


Four New York City plain-clothed officers shot unarmed 23-year-old Guinean immigrant, Amadou Diallo, 41 times outside of his apartment building in 1999. The officers stopped Diallo on the suspicion that he matched the description of a wanted rapist. Once officers approached Diallo and asked him to show his hands, a confused Diallo ran up the steps towards his apartment and attempted to pull out his wallet and identification from his jacket pocket. Mistakenly believing that Diallo pulled a gun, the four officers opened fire.

The NYPD’s internal investigation found that the officer had acted within policy. Although the Bronx District Attorney’s Office called for second-degree murder and reckless endangerment, a jury acquitted the officers on all charges. Again, the defenses main argument was that the officers were just carrying out the regular duties of an officer and reacted according to department policy.

All officers were allowed to remain on the force. Officer Boss is still on the force and had his gun license reinstated a few years ago.

So, hypothetically, if Officer Darren Wilson, per the investigation and the grand jury and the prosecutor and all of this, is taken to court for killing Michael Brown, there’s no reason from case precedent and the perverse accountability formulation I showed above, to think that “justice” will be achieved in any real way. That doesn’t mean precedent can’t be broken, but there’s a helluva lot of room for skepticism.


Yeah, but isn’t a cop’s job extremely dangerous? I mean, they are risking life and limb to go out there and uphold the law, right? Shouldn’t we give them the benefit of the doubt? Shouldn’t we want to take their word over the word of a so-called thug, a criminal? Well…

Check out this graph from FEE:


Even with a rudimentary ability to comprehend graphs, it’s clear what this one demonstrates: Police officer fatalities are down a lot. You may muse: Well, wouldn’t we expect to see this because of better policing methods, better protection, better weapons, and so on? That’s a fair judgment to make. And I’m far from a criminologist, but consider that all violent crime, whether against police officers or not, is down. And if you look at the graph, the only two times the fatalities really spike is at the beginning of two respective periods of prohibition (first for alcohol and then all drugs). Which you would expect. As Radley Balko said about this:

Assaults on police officers have been dropping, too. This suggests that bigger guns, more aggressive tactics, and even improved body armor may not necessarily be responsible for the drop in fatalities. It isn’t just that people are less successful at killing cops, it’s that they’re less likely to try. The public may be more willing to criticize police, and cell phone videos and cop watch sites may be exposing and bringing new attention to bad cops, but it’s all being done peacefully. There’s no evidence that this heightened public scrutiny is leading to violence.

The real cause for the drop is probably related to whatever trends are responsible for the drop in overall crime over about the same period. Criminologists are still putting out theories for that, but have yet to come to a consensus.

Additionally, as FEE says:

In 2013, out of 900,000 sworn officers, just 100 died from a job-related injury. That’s about 11.1 per 100,000, or a rate of 0.001%.

Policing doesn’t even make it into the top 10 most dangerous American professions. Logging has a fatality rate 11 times higher, at 127.8 per 100,000. Fishing: 117 per 100,000. Pilot/flight engineer: 53.4 per 100,000. It’s twice as dangerous to be a truck driver as a cop—at 22.1 per 100,000.

Another point to bear in mind is that not all officer fatalities are homicides. Out of the 100 deaths in 2013, 31 were shot, 11 were struck by a vehicle, 2 were stabbed, and 1 died in a “bomb-related incident.” Other causes of death were: aircraft accident (1), automobile accident (28), motorcycle accident (4), falling (6), drowning (2), electrocution (1), and job-related illness (13).

Of course, they still stress that it’s still a dangerous job coming into contact with the people police routinely come into contact with, but the point is, it’s not uniquely dangerous in the sense that that justifies the usual fear-mongering and especially having fucking tanks.

As they imply, isn’t this reason for celebration? This is a good thing and it should lead us back to the model of community policing.

In sum, there is no systematic accountability for officer wrongdoing, our culture too often defers them the benefit of the doubt and as such, we’ve lost sight of the community policing model in favor of police militarization, all of which is built upon the fear-mongering that an officer’s job is uniquely dangerous when it’s not.


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