Sunil Dutta Tells It Like It Is About American Policing
Sunil Dutta, a "professor of homeland security" at Colorado Tech University, was an LAPD cop for 17 years. Today, the Washington Post ran his column explaining how citizens should interact with the police.
First, Dutta talks about the challenges cops face from rude civilians:
Working the street, I can’t even count how many times I withstood curses, screaming tantrums, aggressive and menacing encroachments on my safety zone, and outright challenges to my authority. In the vast majority of such encounters, I was able to peacefully resolve the situation without using force. Cops deploy their training and their intuition creatively, and I wielded every trick in my arsenal, including verbal judo, humor, warnings and ostentatious displays of the lethal (and nonlethal) hardware resting in my duty belt. One time, for instance, my partner and I faced a belligerent man who had doused his car with gallons of gas and was about to create a firebomb at a busy mall filled with holiday shoppers. The potential for serious harm to the bystanders would have justified deadly force. Instead, I distracted him with a hook about his family and loved ones, and he disengaged without hurting anyone. Every day cops show similar restraint and resolve incidents that could easily end up in serious injuries or worse.
Note how Dutta unsubtly conflates genuinely dangerous things — like threatening to set off a gas bomb — with curses, "tantrums," and "outright challenges to my authority." This sleight-of-hand miscategorization is how cops convince us they need the power to order us to refrain from gathering in one place to protest or put away that menacing cell phone or stop being developmentally disabled around them. See, cops know what is dangerous, and if you say they shouldn't be able to tell you not to do whatever they say is dangerous, you're really saying you should be allowed to set off gasoline bombs at the mall.
We are still learning what transpired between Officer Darren Wilson and Brown, but in most cases it’s less ambiguous — and officers are rarely at fault. When they use force, they are defending their, or the public’s, safety.
"Rarely" is an empirical term; Dutta does not cite evidence. Certainly cops are very rarely deemed responsible by the justice system for use of force. But a rather rather large number of people are killed by police every year; we don't know exactly how many, and we have no reliable resource to test law enforcement asserts that the killings are justified. Never mind lesser violence, like tasing and pepper spraying people, or things not classified as uses of force, like forcible torture and rape of suspects under the guise of "investigation," or situations where police got innocent people killed through idiocy.
But this is Dutta's main point:
Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?
Note now nicely this dovetails with Dutta's first point. First, Dutta gets to decide what is dangerous and what he can order you to cease doing. Because gas bombs! Second, if you keep doing it, that's a tasing. Or a beating. Or a shooting.
Dutta's message is this: a cop can always tell you what to do, and you have to take it, or else. (The "else" is violence.)
We have a justice system in which you are presumed innocent; if a cop can do his or her job unmolested, that system can run its course. Later, you can ask for a supervisor, lodge a complaint or contact civil rights organizations if you believe your rights were violated. Feel free to sue the police! Just don’t challenge a cop during a stop.
This is either blissfully naive or breathtakingly dishonest. Do we have a justice system? By name, yes. Is it effective in deterring cops from abusing citizens or punishing them when they do? No. If you go and ask that supervisor to lodge a complaint, better have a lawyer's phone number, because you may get threatened and harassed. If you hope the cop will be charged criminally for misbehavior, you're going to be waiting a very long time for no result. When it comes to breaking the law, the system treats you one way and cops another.
But Dutta's rationales are mere window dressing. His core message is this:
Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you.
The outrageous thing is not that he says it. The outrageous thing is that we accept it.
Would we accept "if you don't want to get shot, just do what the EPA regulator tells you"? Would we yield to "if you don't want your kid tased, do what the Deputy Superintendent of Education tells you"? Would we accept "if you don't want to get tear gassed, just do what your Congressman tells you?" No. Our culture of individualism and liberty would not permit it. Yet somehow, through generations of law-and-order rhetoric and near-deification of law enforcement, we have convinced ourselves that cops are different, and that it is perfectly acceptable for them to be able to order us about, at their discretion, on pain of violence.
It's not acceptable. It is servile and grotesque.
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