The United States Department of Justice has released a prosecution memo explaining how it decided not to bring federal charges against Ferguson Police Department Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown.
The report is 86 pages long, with 28 footnotes. The report's summary of relevant federal law — what charges are available, what it would have to prove to convict Officer Wilson, and the landscape of use-of-force law — appears correct. I can't evaluate whether the Department has misrepresented what witnesses said or the circumstances of their statements, but the report's evaluation of the credibility of witnesses is convincing: it is based on inconsistencies in statements, inconsistencies with scientific analysis of physical evidence, and other factors that I would use as a defense attorney to attack a prosecution witness. The Department's conclusion that it can't prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is likely correct. Its conclusion that there is no credible evidence supporting prosecution, because there is no credible evidence contradicting Officer Wilson's account, is arguable.
Were I still a federal prosecutor, I wouldn't recommend prosecuting the case, and were I Wilson's defense lawyer, I would like my chances much better than the prosecution's chances. I don't disagree with the factual or legal analysis. But I find it remarkable, both as a former prosecutor and as someone who has practiced criminal defense for 15 years.
I find it remarkable because most potential prosecutions don't get this sort of analysis. Most investigations don't involve rigorous examination of the credibility of the prosecution's witnesses. Most investigations don't involve painstaking consideration of the defendant's potential defenses. Often investigators don't even talk to potential defense witnesses, and if they do, don't follow up on leads they offer. Most investigations don't carefully weigh potentially incriminating and potentially exculpatory scientific evidence. If an explanation of the flaws in a case requires footnotes, you shouldn't expect it to deter prosecution.
Instead, I'm more used to the prosecution assuming their witnesses are truthful, even if they are proven liars. I'm more used to contrary evidence being cynically disregarded. I'm more used to participants in the system stubbornly presuming guilt to the bitter end. I'm more used to prosecutors disregarding potentially exculpatory evidence that they think isn't "material." I'm more used to the criminal justice system ignoring exculpatory science and clinging to inculpatory junk science like an anti-vaxxer.
Why is this case different? It's different because Darren Wilson is a cop. Cops get special rights and privileges and breaks the rest of us don't. Cops get an extremely generous and lenient benefit of the doubt from juries. Nearly every segment of the criminal justice system operates to treat cops more favorably than the rest of us.
The Department of Justice report didn't say "we can't prove this beyond a reasonable doubt, particularly because juries defer to cops." It didn't need to. It's understood. The Department of Justice also didn't have to worry about being called out for inconsistent approaches to other reports. That's because when you're a black guy who shoots a white law enforcement officer in self-defense, they don't write an 86-page memo with 28 footnotes about it. They just prosecute you.
It's not unjust that Darren Wilson gets the benefit of the doubt. It's unjust that nearly everyone else doesn't.
The Broken Windows Theory led to an era of aggressive policing of petty offenses — which in turn led to increased confrontation between police and civilians.
The theory depends upon the proposition that tolerating bad conduct, however petty, sets social norms, and that bad conduct steadily escalates to meet those norms.
Second, at the community level, disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence. Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in rundown ones. Window-breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing.
Let's take this as true for a moment.
If tolerating broken windows leads to more broken windows and escalating crime, what impact does tolerating police misconduct have?
Under the Broken Windows Theory, what impact could it have but to signal to all police that scorn for rights, unjustified violence, and discrimination are acceptable norms? Under Broken Windows Theory, what could be the result but more scorn, more violence, and more discrimination?
Apparently we've decided that we won't tolerate broken windows any more. But we haven't found the fortitude to do something about broken people. To put it plainly: just as neighborhood thugs could once break windows with impunity, police officers can generally kill with impunity. They can shoot unarmed men and lie about it. They can roll up and execute a child with a toy as casually as one might in Grand Theft Auto. They can bumble around opening doors with their gun hand and kill bystanders, like a character in a dark farce, with little fear of serious consequences. They can choke you to death for getting a little mouthy about selling loose cigarettes. They can shoot you because they aren't clear on who the bad guy is, and they can shoot you because they're terrible shots, and they can shoot you because they saw something that might be a weapon in your hand — something that can be, frankly, any fucking thing at all, including nothing.
What are we doing about this? Are we pushing back against unwarranted uses of force and deprivations of rights, to prevent them from becoming self-perpetuating norms?
No. We're not pursuing the breakers of windows. If anything, we are permitting the system steadily to entrench their protected right to act that way. We give them second and third and fourth chances. We pretend that they have supernatural powers of crime detection even when science shows that's bullshit. We fight desperately to support their word even when they are proven liars. We sneer that "criminals have too many rights," then give the armed representatives of our government stunning levels of procedural protections when they abuse or even kill us.
Do we really believe in Broken Windows Theory? If we do, how can we be surprised at more casual law enforcement racism, more Americans dead at the hands of police, more matter-of-fact violations of our constitutional rights? We left the windows broken. We helped set the norm. They're just following it.
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.
Last Friday, as the killing of Mike Brown continued to roil Ferguson, Missouri, the Ferguson Police Department released a police report and surveillance video showing a young man shoving a protesting convenience store clerk and leaving with merchandise. Mike Brown's family lawyer confirmed that the video showed Brown, but decried its release as an irrelevant smear. Later Ferguson's police chief later admitted that officer Darren Wilson did not seek to detain Brown based on the robbery, but because Brown was walking in the street.
Would the alleged robbery1 matter, in any case brought against Darren Wilson for the death of Mike Brown?
It might matter legally, but only for narrow reasons. It does matter practically, but shouldn't.
I was all set to write a post making this point: it's offensive and irrational for the police to say "we have to protect the identity of a cop who shoots a citizen, for safety" when the criminal justice system routinely names suspects and defendants — either openly or by leak. People are accused of horrible crimes all the time, and does the system hold back their names out of fear that they or their families will face retribution? No.
But Kevin Williamson has already done a great job writing that post:
Here’s a microcosm of the relationship between state and citizen: We know the names of the nine people charged with felonies in the Ferguson looting, but not the name of the police officer at the center of the case.
Here's what I want to add to Kevin's observations: this particular piece of special pleading for cops is not unique; it's part of a pattern.
If you are arrested for shooting someone, the police will use everything in their power — lies, false friendship, fear, coercion — to get you to make a statement immediately. That's because they know that the statement is likely to be useful to the prosecution: either it will incriminate you, or it will lock you into one version of events before you've had an opportunity to speak with an adviser or see the evidence against you. You won't have time to make up a story or conform it to the evidence or get your head straight.
But what if a police officer shoots someone? Oh, that's different. Then police unions and officials push for delays and opportunities to review evidence before any interview of the officer. Last December, after a video showed that a cop lied about his shooting of a suspect, the Dallas Police issued a new policy requiring a 72-hour delay after a shooting before an officer can be interviewed, and an opportunity for the officer to review the videos or witness statements about the incident. Has Dallas changed its policy to offer such courtesies to citizens arrested for crimes? Don't be ridiculous. If you or I shoot someone, the police will not delay our interrogation until it is personally convenient. But if the police shoot someone:
New Mexico State Police, which is investigating the shooting, said such interviews hinge on the schedules of investigators and the police officers they are questioning. Sgt. Damyan Brown, a state police spokesman, said the agency has no set timeline for conducting interviews after officer-involved shootings. The Investigations Bureau schedules the interviews at an “agreeable” time for all parties involved, he said.
Cops and other public servants get special treatment because the whole system connives to let them. Take prosecutorial misconduct. If you are accused of breaking the law, your name will be released. If, on appeal, the court finds that you were wrongfully convicted, your name will still be brandished. But if the prosecutor pursuing you breaks the law and violates your rights, will he or she be named? No, usually not. Even if a United States Supreme Court justice is excoriating you for using race-baiting in your closing, she usually won't name you. Even if the Ninth Circuit — the most liberal federal court in the country — overturns your conviction because the prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence, they usually won't name the prosecutor.
And leaks? Please. Cops and prosecutors leak information to screw defendants all the time. It helps keep access-hungry journalists reliably complaint. But leak something about an internal investigation about a shooting or allegation of police misconduct? Oh, you'd better believe the police union will sue your ass.
Cops, and prosecutors, and other public employees in the criminal justice system have power. It is the nature of power to make people believe that they are better than the rest of us, and entitled to privileges the rest of us do not enjoy.
The question is this: are we so addled by generations of "law and order" and "war on crime" and "thin blue line" rhetoric that we'll accept it?
Thomas G. Smith made a fundamental error: he assumed that as an American he had a right to use blunt language to criticize the police.
Legally, he was right. Practically, he was wrong.
Back in November I wrote about David Eckert of New Mexico. As you may recall, City of Deming police officers stopped Eckert for running a stop sign, and together with Hidalgo County Sheriff's Deputies concluded that there was probable cause to think that he was smuggling drugs in his anus. As I wrote back then, that conclusion was based on the following fanciful chain of supposition:
That his hands were shaking and he avoided eye contact during a traffic stop;
He refused to consent to a search of his person;
He stood erect with his legs together;
No drugs were found in his car or in a pat-down of him (police pat-downs for weapons often turn up drugs, which mysteriously feel like dangerous weapons when touched by police, or which are immediately identifiable as drugs when touched by police);
A drug dog (with no information given about the dog's training or qualifications or success rate) "alerted" to his car seat (though no drugs were found in his car); and
An unidentified Hidalgo County K-9 officer asserted, without any specificity, that Eckert had previously hidden drugs in his anus.
Based on those "facts," and with the approval of Deputy District Attorney Daniel Dougherty, the police sought and obtained a warrant to search Mr. Eckert's anus. The following rape and torture — and I use those words deliberately and advisedly — followed:
1. Eckert's abdominal area was x-rayed; no narcotics were found.
2. Doctors then performed an exam of Eckert's anus with their fingers; no narcotics were found.
3. Doctors performed a second exam of Eckert's anus with their fingers; no narcotics were found.
4. Doctors penetrated Eckert's anus to insert an enema. Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers. Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool. No narcotics were found.
5. Doctors penetrated Eckert's anus to insert an enema a second time. Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers. Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool. No narcotics were found.
6. Doctors penetrated Eckert's anus to insert an enema a third time. Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers. Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool. No narcotics were found.
7. Doctors then x-rayed Eckert again; no narcotics were found.
8. Doctors prepared Eckert for surgery, sedated him, and then performed a colonoscopy where a scope with a camera was inserted into Eckert's anus, rectum, colon, and large intestines. No narcotics were found.
No. No narcotics were found.
Are there consequences to that sort of conduct? Sort of. Eckert has settled with the City of Deming, the County of Hidalgo, Officers Bobby Orosco and Robert Chavez, and Deputies David Arredondo, Patrick Green and Robert Rodriguez. He has agreed to dismiss his lawsuit against them. he will be paid $1.6 million — it's not clear how that is apportioned between the City and the County, but you can assume that New Mexico taxpayers, not the law enforcement officers who engaged in a conspiracy to commit torture and rape, will foot the bill.
Deputy District Attorney Daniel Dougherty has a motion to dismiss pending. He will probably win it. Prosecutorial immunity is most likely broad enough, under current law, to cover approving a transparently ridiculous warrant application seeking to torture and rape a man based on fluff. Nice work if you can get it and you are in to that sort of thing, I suppose.
Doctor Robert Wilcox of the Gila Medical Center — who played the "bring out the gimp" role in this rape and torture scenario — has also filed a motion to dismiss, which in part argues that he is entitled to immunity because he was following orders — the orders of the police and the judicially approved search warrant. We'll see how that works out for him.
The $1.6 million was offered and accepted quite swiftly. That's a substantial amount of money for a case not involving death or dismemberment, especially during times when local governments don't have a lot of money. It suggests to me that the City and County thought they had a terrible case. It makes me even more suspicious that the key "fact" of the warrant application — that some unspecified deputy told the affiant that Mr. Eckert had smuggled drugs in his anus at some unspecified time before — was knowingly fabricated by somebody in the chain.
This case sickened me. But I can't say that it surprised me. The only thing out of it that would surprise me is if any of the individual police officers or sheriff's deputies faced any genuine significant consequences arising from it.
Whether or not you agree with my legal criticism of the sufficiency of the warrant application, bear this in mind: because of the mindset promoted by the Great War on Drugs, these cops, this deputy DA, this judge, and this doctor all reached the same moral conclusion. Their moral conclusion was that because they posited that this man had drugs in his anus — necessarily the small amount that could fit there — it was necessary and appropriate and acceptable forcibly and repeatedly to probe his anus, forcibly to give him an enema, to x-ray him, to sedate him, and to perform a colonoscopy on him under sedation. That's the mindset of the Great War on Drugs. It's perverted and despicable. It's subhuman. Do you support it?
Back in September, several NYPD officers were confronted with an agitated mentally ill man in Times Square. When — according to the officers — they believed he was reaching for a weapon, they fired three shots with their handguns, missing the agitated man entirely and hitting two citizen bystanders.
Police said officers saw a man on foot weaving erratically through traffic and sometimes blocking vehicles. After approaching him, police said, the man reached into his pocket as if grabbing a weapon, and two officers fired a total of three shots. They missed him but struck a 54-year-old woman in the right knee and a grazed a 35-year-old woman in the buttocks, police said.
The women were taken to hospitals, where they both were listed in stable condition, according to police. Neither had injuries considered life threatening, police said.
The man was taken into custody after a police sergeant subdued him with a Taser. No weapons were found on him.
Police said the 35-year-old suspect was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where he was in stable condition. They described him as "emotionally disturbed."
As long as you ignore the fact that the shooting victims were innocent bystanders, hitting two people with three shots represents unusual excellence in marksmanship for the NYPD, matching another recent incident in which skilled NYPD officers were able to hit their target and nine bystanders with only 16 bullets. Overall the NYPD usually requires about 331 rounds to hit 54 targets, of which 14 will be innocent bystanders, 24 will be dogs, and 16 will be people the NYPD was actually aiming at. Statistically, if you aren't a dog, it is slightly more dangerous to be the person the NYPD was shooting at than a bystander (16 people out of 331 shots for intended targets for a 4.8% hit rate vs. 14 people out of 331 shots for bystanders, a 4.2% hit rate.) NYPD has a better success rate for other weapons, and certain factors, like shooting unarmed people in the back, tend to increase hit rates.
When NYPD officers fire 331 shots, and hit 16 targeted people, 24 dogs, but also 14 bystanders, there is a problem.
That problem is the people who are making the NYPD think they need to open fire.
That's why the District Attorney has indicted Glenn Broadnax, the mentally ill homeless man who created the disturbance in Times Square back in September.
Initially Mr. Broadnax was arrested on misdemeanor charges of menacing, drug possession and resisting arrest. But the Manhattan district attorney’s office persuaded a grand jury to charge Mr. Broadnax with assault, a felony carrying a maximum sentence of 25 years. Specifically, the nine-count indictment unsealed on Wednesday said Mr. Broadnax “recklessly engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of death.”
“The defendant is the one that created the situation that injured innocent bystanders,” said an assistant district attorney, Shannon Lucey.
This is perfectly fair. Look, Mr. Broadnax, you know how the NYPD is. They love the people of New York. They just . . . they just get stressed out and angry sometimes. Why do you have to make them angry like that? Look what you made them do now. Look what you made them do.
Carlos Miller runs the indispensable blog Photography Is Not A Crime, which documents the struggle between citizen-photographers and the cops and government officials who would like to prevent them from taking pictures of things. That's a trend we've talked about here as well — whether it's cops arresting citizens on the pretense that their cell phones might be futuristic weapons or on the pretense that they are "interfering" with police business (even when they are a safe distance away on their own property). In addition, we've talked about the ongoing legal struggle against laws that purport to prohibit citizens from recording cops engaged in their duties in public, and about how cops are attempting to suppress publication of recordings of their public activities.
Miller's campaign has gotten him charged with crimes before. Now it's happened again — because he published the contact information of the Boston Police Department's Public Affairs Officer.
So you've got kids. Maybe they are teens, maybe they are young adults living at home. They're a pain in the ass. They're disrespectful and won't follow instructions. They break curfew. They break house rules. They may be mixed up in drugs. They've been arrested multiple times, and you've had to bail them out. You worry that they aren't getting any better. You worry they are getting worse. Sometimes you're a little afraid of them.
You've also got a neighbor. Some people think he's swell — brave, with the right values, someone who serves the community. But he's violent. He hits people. He hits people a lot. He gets away with it, because of his connections. He's shot someone and gotten away with it, because everyone thinks that if he shot them it was probably for his protection — and because his friends help cover up for him. He talks about how he needs to hit people and shoot people because it's a dangerous world and that's what you have to do to protect yourself in it. His perception of risk might be different than a normal person's perception of risk. He also talks about how they had it coming. He gets angry if you ask him about it, or suggest that maybe he likes hitting people a little too much.
Would you ask your neighbor to help discipline your kids?
Would you make your kids go live with your neighbor, in the hopes it would straighten them out?
You probably wouldn't.
But you might call the cops on your kids. Or you might decide that they need to go to jail to be taught a lesson.
Data point: 22-year-old in jail for missing a court date on marijuana possession dies from allergic reaction as guards watch and accuse him of faking; the government stonewalls, lies about the incident, and deceptively edits the tape of it.
God help me if one of my kids is troubled, or uncontrollable, or addicted. I don't know how I will handle it. I don't know how other parents can handle it. I don't blame or judge parents who have called the police, or decided that what their kid needs is a stint in jail to learn a lesson. That's what our culture teaches us we should do.
I pray they don't learn that they have asked a violent, abusive, cruelly indifferent neighbor for help.
P.S. Also, think twice about calling your violent, abusive neighbor for help with, say, a prowler.
In the comments to Ken's excellent post on the recent repeated digital anal rape of a citizen by government employees, commenter
@Ryan took me to task:
On Nov 7 at 7:51 AM you wrote:
Prenda et all have no more harmed the reputation of "all lawyers" than OJ Simpson harmed the reputation of "all African Americans" or Bernie Madoff harmed the reputation of "all Jews".
People are individuals. Pick any set and you'll find sinners and saints.
Then at 4:54 PM on Nov 7, you said:
Dogs are people, but LEOs – by pinning on a badge and pledging that they'll enforce the law – even when the law says that innocent people should be jailed or dogs can be shot – have opted out of the human race.
Fuck them all, and may they die slow horrible syphilitic deaths.
Which makes me wonder how the eminently reasonable Clark of this morning got replaced and when. The juxtaposition is astounding.
It's remarkable that you can, in the span of less than 12 hours, move from a statement that assigns blame to people as individuals and not the profession they belong to, to the polar opposite, just because the latter happens to spout hate and vitriol toward a group you vehemently dislike, while the former forgives people who are in a profession that you at least partially respect because of a few individuals you know who are a part of it.
This is a good point, and it deserves an answer.
My response has two prongs:
1) the inherent evilness of the full job description of law enforcement
2) the overwhelming default culture of law enforcement
Point One: inherent evilness of the job
I already addressed the first prong in an earlier comment, where I said:
It is wrong to discriminate against Blacks or Jews or Hispanics or Gays because people are born into those groups and do not pledge any sort of allegiance to them, nor does their inclusion in a group show that they have opted into the dominant ethical pattern.
Is it right to discriminate against Jihadis or SS members or KKK members or Bloods or Crips because (a) people consciously opt into said group, and (b) do so knowing their norms and and behaviors.
The War on Americans Who Use Drugs has been going on for decades. It is a very rare LEO who pinned on the badge before the War.
In 1944 I'd hold no ill will (or not much) to a German who was drafted…but if a German signed up to go throw Jews out of their homes, then screw him.
In 2013 I hold no ill will (or not much) to an American who is drafted into the American police…but if a man or woman signs up to go shoot dogs and digitally rape anuses, then screw him. He's bought what Screwtape is selling.
tl;dr: The job description is evil. Only evil people sign up for an evil job.
Point Two: The LEO Culture Turns Good Men Bad
The second prong of my argument is the culture of law enforcement.
Let's assume that that 5% of humans are power-mad thugs, psychopaths, whatever you want to call them.
A priori we can assume that these people are distributed evenly throughout professions…but perhaps that's not true. Maybe the field of lawyering attracts these people. I don't think so, but say it's true, and 10% of lawyers are Prenda-rific and routinely lie, cheat, steal, etc. 10% is still a minority of all lawyers, and there are no network effects that turn 10% into 90%. The opposite is true: lawyers are split into factions and they work against each other all the time, not just in the courtroom but in the marketplace. The adversarial nature of the profession means that any bad acting lawyer is always risking exposure from others.
Law enforcement culture, on the other hand, does have network effects. Cops work together as a team, whether they're in the same squad car, the same department, or just in the same country. The culture is deeply insular with special ID cards and bumper stickers promising special treatment, and a culture that routinely and harshly punishes anyone who breaks from the party line. This is a system almost custom designed to let moral and procedural rot run rampant. (Recall that as much as cops like to wash their hands of a fellow cop who was caught doing a crime by calling him "one bad apple", the full phrase is "one bad apple spoils the bunch".)
Whites have sinners and saints.
Blacks have sinners and saints.
Oregonians, Texans, and New Yorkers have sinners and saints.
Accountants, hairdressers, and coal miners have sinners and saints.
Law Enforcement, though, is unlike all of these – the job description is organized bullying, and that (a) attracts psychopaths and (b) converts non-psychopaths into – at worst – psychopaths, and – at best – into those who merely tolerate, absolve, and cover up for the psychopaths. For fun, run down the Hare Psychopathy Checklist and compare the bullet points to the typical cop's personality. Glib, grandiose, lying, manipulative, remorseless, lacking empathy, needing stimulation, parasitic lifestyle … the list goes on and on.
The police are a monopolistic organized gang that – as an emergent social entity – delights in violence, repression, and control, and is made up of members who are resemble it in miniature. It is no more morally complicated to fear, disdain, and hate people who choose to join the police than it is to fear, disdain, and hate people who choose to join the KKK.
That said, one should hate the sin and not the sinner.
I'm trying, Ringo. I'm trying real hard.
UPDATE: The always awesome Maggie McNeill points me to an old blog post of hers that bears on this topic:
If a cop is tasked with enforcing a law he knows to be immoral, it is his duty as a moral man to refuse that order even if it means his job. If he agrees with an immoral law then he is also immoral, and if he enforces a law he knows to be wrong even more so. The law of the land in Nazi-era Germany was for Jews and other “undesirables” to be sent to concentration camps, and the maltreatment of the prisoners was encouraged and even ordered by those in charge; any German soldier or policeman enforcing those laws was the exact moral equivalent of any soldier or policeman under any other democratically-elected government enforcing the laws enacted by that regime. Either “I was only following orders” is a valid defense, or it isn’t; either we agree that hired enforcers are absolved from responsibility because “they’re just doing their jobs”, or we don’t. You can’t have it both ways, and sometimes Nazi analogies are entirely appropriate.
By now you've probably heard the story of David Eckert. He's the New Mexico man who was stopped by police, detained based on a suspicion he was hiding drugs in his rectum, and subjected to increasingly intrusive anal probing and eventually sedation and a colonoscopy. You might have read about him at Simple Justice or Defending People or BoingBoing or Techdirt or Reason or any of the other places that reported on the ghastly episode.
I waited to write about it until I could get a copy of the search warrant affidavit — helpfully provided by my friend Kevin Underhill of the absolutely essential legal blog Lowering the Bar — so that I could address this question: what quantum of proof is required in New Mexico for the police and compliant doctors to rape and torture a man?
Yesterday a police chief in South Carolina thoughtfully reminded us of what police think of us and our "rights" and our "viewpoints."
CPD SEIZES APPROXIMATELY $40K WORTH OF MARIJAUNA FROM HOME
Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago announces the arrest of a man accused of having approximately $40K of marijuana inside a Columbia apartment.
Not everybody on Facebook was a fan. Chief Santiago pushed right back against criticism:
In case you can't see that image, a guy named Bradley says "Maybe u should arrest the people shooting people in 5 points instead of worrying about a stoner that's not bothering anyone. It'll be legal here one day anyway." Someone using the Columbia Police Department Facebook account replies:
@Brandon whitmer, we have arrested all the violent offenders in Five points. Thank you for sharing your views and giving us reasonable suspicion to believe you might be a criminal, we will work on finding you.
Now, you're probably thinking this is some web-lackey shooting his mouth off, not the position of the Columbia, South Carolina Police Department, or the position of Interim Chief Ruben Santiago. Well, if that's the case, the web lackey was willing to double down upon being criticized:
In case you can't see that image, the comment says this:
This is Interim Chief Santiago posting. I was just notified that one of my staff members deleted my post. I put everyone on notice that if you advocate for the use of illegal substances in the City of Columbia then it's reasonable to believe that you MIGHT also be involved in that particular activity, threat? [sic] Why would someone feel threaten [sic] if you are not doing anything wrong? Apply the same concept to gang activity or gang members. You can have gang tattoos and advocate that life style, but that only makes me suspicious of them, I can't do anything until they commit a crime. So feel free to express yourself, and I will continue to express myself and what we stand for. I am always open to hearing how our citizens feel like we can be effective in fighting crime.
I have written the Columbia Police Department's Public Information Officer for comment about whether that was, in fact, Interim Chief Santiago, and whether his views represent the views of the department.
So: if that is Chief Santiago, the police chief of a city of about 125,000 people, thinks that his department should "find you" and investigate you if you support the legalization of marijuana or oppose the ruinous, amoral War on Drugs. Notice the collection of cop tropes in the second response: (1) the thug's dance of first threatening to "find you" and then halfway backing off from it, (2) the "why worry if you have nothing to hide" routine, (3) the suggestion that advocating against the War on Drugs creates reasonable suspicion to investigate you — bearing in mind that "reasonable suspicion" is a legal term referring to the quantum of proof that supports cops, for instance, stopping and frisking you, and (4) the statement that the cops are always open to hearing from citizens after threatening to come find a citizen for criticizing them.
Interim Chief Santiago seems mad. And why shouldn't he? Commenter Brandon wants to take bread out of his mouth. The Glorious War on Drugs helps people of modest ability like Ruben Santiago find employment. It provides massive funding. It provides cops with fun toys, like tanks. It allows them to use violence against citizens with a high degree of confidence they will get away with it. And you want to take that away from them? Of course they're going to "work on finding you."
This shouldn't be a surprise. We already know that police think that it's evidence of criminal intent justifying a search warrant if you talk about your constitutional rights. Why wouldn't it also be evidence of a crime that you exercise your right to free speech to oppose government policies?
Ruben Santiago may wish to become the permanent Chief of Police of Columbia, South Carolina rather than just the Interim Chief. Will city leaders consider, in evaluating his application, that he is apparently someone who is easily agitated and unprofessional on social media in a way that may be used as evidence in civil rights lawsuits against the city?
Santiago, by the way, has filed a defamation lawsuit against a police captain who accused him of a scheme to plant evidence.
Rutherford [Santiago's lawyer] says Santiago is determined to clear his name and filing a defamation lawsuit is the only way to do that.
"The only thing left for Chief Santiago to do is this; is to file a lawsuit to make sure everybody knows this is not something he's going to let pass by, this is not something he's going to let it go," said Rutherford. "He's very serious about protecting his reputation and the reputation of the city of Columbia Police Department"
Protip: threatening to "come find" citizens who criticize the War on Drugs and advocate marijuana legalization, and suggesting that their political views give you "reasonable suspicion" against them, is not the optimal way to protect your reputation or the reputation of the department.
Thanks to tipster Jim for the links.
Edited to add: I've also written Interim Chief Santiago's lawyer seeking comment.
UPDATE WITH CONFIRMATION: I received the following statement from the Columbia, SC Police Department's Public Information Officer:
Chief Santiago did write those two posts. I believe the original comment was misconstrued. I appreciate you reaching out to CPD.
Chief was trying to say that he puts would-be-criminals on notice — if you commit a crime or plan to commit one, CPD will work hard to investigate and press charges according to the law.
It’s easy for social media posts to be misunderstood. The man who was so-called threatened openly admitted that he was not offended and appreciated the work of CPD.
Maybe now that the man said that they won't try to go "find" him.
That'll teach the bitch to show a bit more respect, amiright? After all she
put both hands on the door frame and refused to oops, video evidence contradicts the police report. Still, she should watch that smart mouth of hers.
In fairness to police, this is a one-time thing; it's not like cops make a habit of pushing mouthy people into concrete walls head-first to teach them extrajudicial lessons.
Q: How many cops does it take to throw a suspect down a flight of stairs?
A: None; he tripped.