When we hear a terrible story about abuses by law enforcement — like, say, a college student arrested for smoking marijuana, abandoned in a DEA holding cell for five days without food or water, and reduced to drinking his own urine and attempting suicide with a shard of glass — often our first instinct is to say "that can't be right" or "there must be more to that story" or "that guy is making it up" or, at least, "what a bizarre, freakish event." Our society encourages these reactions. Our society does not encourage the reaction "yep, that's the way our criminal justice system works."
It ought to.
The truth is, that is how our criminal justice system works. In part, it's a matter of sheer numbers. We arrest and incarcerate so many people, and yet begrudge the cost so bitterly, that abuses and horrific mistakes are bound to happen. In part, it's a matter of attitude — we continue, as a society, to tolerate a good guys/bad guys cops vs. robbers mentality more suitable to a preadolescent pointing his fingers like a gun than to a thinking people. In part, it's a matter of indifference — we allow ourselves to believe that abuse by police happens to them, not to us, and so we look the other way. In part, it's a matter of national politics. How many prominent political figures do you see talking about reigning in abusive law enforcement conduct?
So: college kids get get busted for pot and left to starve to death in a holding cell. Detainees are denied even minimal medical care until their penis has to be amputated and they die of cancer. Defendants arrested for marijuana possession are sentenced to certain death in jail facilities completely unable to address their medical needs. Cops shoot family dogs like small-time sociopathic villains in a Tarentino movie. Cops tase and pepper spray handicapped kids and grandmothers in their beds.
And we allow it all. We put up with it. We don't demand that politicians take it seriously. We continue, as a society, to welcome law-and-order pablum from our leaders, and from our insipid if-it-bleeds-it-leads fear-profiteering media.
What the fuck is is wrong with us?