Rape and Civility

Yesterday over at The Watch, Radley Balko reported on a story from Aiken, South Carolina, where police pulled a car over for having a temporary tag (something that's not illegal), abused the inhabitants, called the African-American adult male passenger "boy", and on the pretense of searching for drugs digitally probed his anus on the side of the road:

The anal probe happens out of direct view of the camera, but the audio leaves little doubt about what’s happening. Pontoon at one point says that one of the officers is grabbing his hemorrhoids. Medlin appears to reply, “I’ve had hemorrhoids, and they ain’t that hard.” At about 12:47:15 in the video, the audio actually suggests that two officers may have inserted fingers into Pontoon’s rectum, as one asks, “What are you talking about, right here?” The other replies, “Right straight up in there.”

Pontoon then again tells the officers that they’re pushing on a hemorrhoid. One officer responds, “If that’s a hemorrhoid, that’s a hemorrhoid, all right? But that don’t feel like no hemorrhoid to me.”

As I said when a man in New Mexico was violated at even greater length and with shameful medical assistance, inserting your fingers into somebody's anus against their will is rape. It doesn't stop being rape because the cops did it; it's just rape under color of law.

The Aiken Standard — the local newspaper of Aiken, South Carolina — was snide and defensive about Radley's work and minimized the events and their significance in an unsigned editorial. The Standard noted that the lawsuit has not yet been adjudicated, the claims have not been tested, and we're finding out what's going on. It praised the police department for "transparency" and closed with this paen to civic discourse:

Police officers face danger every day. They’re not perfect, but they lay their lives on the line every day so we can be safe.

As stated by Council member Lessie Price in a meeting with the Aiken Standard, shortly after the story broke, “This is a town where we can talk to each other, we can come in a room, have a conversation, you may not like what’s being said, but we can come together and talk to each other.”

How genteel.

The Standard does not appear to dispute that the Aiken police probed the man's anus on the side of the road looking for drugs. The dispute, rather, is what cause they had to do so, and whether they did so in a way that is notably less cordial than forcibly probing someone's anus on the side of the road would be as a matter of course.

This leads me to ask — is the civility the Standard celebrates helpful?

Civility is a good thing, even when discussing controversial subjects. It's a goal I often fall short of, but a goal nonetheless. Civility even on heated subjects is a good thing because of humility: we may be wrong about the things we are angriest about. It's a good thing because of proportionality: our sense of what is outrageous enough to provoke incivility may be idiosyncratic. It's a good thing because of perspective: the world is full of people ready to be uncivil to us about things we have every damn right to do, and if we encourage incivility we'll get what we ask for. It's a good thing because of human frailty: too often incivility is about the self-image of the uncivil, not about justice or persuasion. Put another way, while I vigorously defend the right to rant about woodchippers, I recognize that invoking them is more often the self-indulgent wankery of poseurs than not.

But civility can take pernicious forms. It's pernicious if we shy from calling out outrageous and despicable conduct. It's pernicious when we give armed government officials the benefit of the doubt because the culture tells us they're brave and nice. It's pernicious when we don't demand public explanations for conduct because the conduct is horrifying and unseemly. Most of all, it's pernicious when we decide that civility is substantive rather than procedural. Civility weighs against gratuitous shouting, insults, and threats. But civility does not require that we let the government beg the question. It does not require that we accept, as true, the premises about government power that have been served to us since birth.

Civility does not require that I presume cops had a reason to do things. Civility does not require me to be automatically skeptical of accusations against them. Civility does not require me to refrain from calling forcible anal intrusion a rape. Civility does not require me to refrain from saying that a white cop who calls a black passenger "boy" is a bigot. Most of all, civility does not require me to accept the devil's bargain proffered by the state and the press: that if the police can conjure up evidence that they had some rational grounds to believe this man did have drugs shoved inside of him, that would justify raping him on the side of the road. Civility does not require me to accept that a law that would permit the police to act this way — even if everything they say is true — is right or moral or just or minimally tolerable. Civility does not require me to accept the proposition that the amount of drugs that would fit in a man's rectum can justify the state forcibly intruding there to look for it. I decline.

I don't care if the Aiken police had twelve eyewitnesses and a video tape showing this man shoving drugs up his ass. If they bent him over on the side of their road and shoved their fingers into him looking for it, they're rapists. I don't care if the law says they can do it, it's wrong. And I don't care how many rape apologists like the Aiken Standard tut and shush and shrug. A society that says this is okay — a society that says it's acceptable for armed agents of the government to rape a man on the side of the road in search of a golf-ball sized bag of drugs — deserves scorn.

Pardon the incivility.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

Comments

  1. Pruit Igoe says

    Who the fuck wrote a law that says people not trained in medical procedures can, under whatever suspicions, strip a person naked in public and do an anal probe? This was less about searching for drugs than stripping a man of his dignity just because. This is just another glaring example of how the South has never progressed past 1865 and probably never will.

  2. Bill Corley says

    I don't even know how to feel about the fact that this happens often enough (anal rape by police officers for no reason) that we ought to have a name for it… "copperrape" anyone?

  3. Paul J. says

    “This is a town where we can talk to each other, we can come in a room, have a conversation, you may not like what’s being said, but we can come together and talk to each other.”

    If you're sticking a finger up my ass, the time for conversation is over.

  4. lunchstealer says

    Yeah, anyone who grew up in South Carolina knows full well the implication of a white police officer using 'boy' towards a black man. If that happens during a police stop, it's not an innocent accident by someone who just doesn't know better. Not in a town like Aiken.

    Civility is often used as a shield to distract from the real problem. Sometimes it's necessary to call an asshole an asshole.

  5. jimbohead says

    @lunchstealer It appears as though the asshole was the aggrieved party. The officer was just being a dick.

    I'll show myself out.

  6. Patrick Henry, the 2nd says

    Its rape and that's the end of it. No justification is valid for sticking fingers in someones anus on the side of the road. None.

    Its sick how the cops are being defended here, by a newspaper of all things.

    I cannot wait for the war on drugs to be over.

  7. Scott Jacobs says

    Police officers face danger every day.

    If a cop anally violates you with their fingers on the side of the road, that cop should probably face a hell of a lot more danger.

  8. piperTom says

    Police officers face danger every day.

    How is this kind of behavior going to help that situation?
    If cops really want to reduce danger to themselves, they need to (1) stop the drug war right fucking now and (2) go all "Andy Taylor" on the populace whenever possible.

  9. Murder Hobo says

    Honestly, what do you expect?

    A favorite defense of people being called out for being racist (or more generally, for being assholes in a non-racially charged manner) is to deflect and make the conversation about how the guy was so damn rude about how he called out the racism/assholery, and if the guy had just been a little more civil, maybe we all could have had a constructive conversation about how to be better people.

    I'm slightly surprised to see it being done by a newspaper, in response to gross police misconduct.

  10. NickM says

    When the time comes for the editors of the Aiken Standard to be anally probed, should it be done before or after pulling their heads out of their anuses?

  11. says

    1) Cop calls someone "boy"
    2) Cop anally penetrates that someone
    3) "What does society think about anally penetrating a boy?"
    4) "Maybe Jerry Sandusky could answer that"

  12. Phaedrus says

    Whenever a cop talks about how dangerous being a cop is, I like to look up their area on the Officer Down Memorial Page to see how many cops have died there. This was the Aiken Department of Public Safety. There's also an Aiken County Sheriff's Office. Since 1893 there have been 12 cops die total. Plus one K9 died of heat exhaustion.

    I wonder what the death rates for other professions in the area are. 12 in more than a century doesn't sound very high.

  13. says

    What is most appalling is that, as frequent as these blatant violations of civil rights by authority figures happen in the US, there still is a substantial majority of voters who pretend cases like this one are aberrations–or, even worse, that when they happen, the cops were justified, that they had a right/duty to violate someone's civil rights 'to keep citizens safe.' Because to them, whether they admit it or not, a black man with a record is no longer a citizen (or perhaps he never was, what with being black).

  14. Angstela says

    Great post, and thanks for linking it on FB. BTW, I can't seem to see your newer posts any other way – the front page of Popehat still shows me the "Road to Popehat" as the latest post here; selecting Posts-by-Month from April only shows the D&D/White Nationalist post; and clicking "Ken White" shows me your January material as the most recent.

  15. mcinsand says

    Angstela, I have similar issues with respect to newer posts, and this only seems to affect Popehat. My solution is to hit F5 as soon as I get into the site.

  16. What the ... says

    @Angstela – same thing happens for me. Try hitting the F5 button and forcing the page to refresh – works for me.

  17. Daniel says

    I'll agree with the other posters: A person has no duty to be civil when someone else is attempting to probe their private parts, no matter if it's under color of law.

  18. Daniel Weber says

    1.

    Saying "cops feel they are in danger" covers a lot of sins. Maybe too many sins.

    But it doesn't cover this one. They were at no threat from anything in the man's rectum.

    2.

    The "legal speech versus illegal speech" discussion is separate from the "civil speech versus uncivil speech."

    Both are important. There are things that can go wrong at both borders. But sometimes people do a bait-and-switch about which one they are having.

    3.

    Loading up popehat.com is completely unreliable. I load up https://popehat.com/?3243krjweklfds, but always typing in some random garbage, to bust any caches.

  19. Steve Brecher says

    This is among the best of Ken's posts. I am about to tweet a link to it. In that spirit I note a typo:

    > closed with this paen [sic] to civic discourse

  20. Marta says

    How desensitized do you have to become by your job to think that sticking your fingers up the ass of someone you don't know, by the side of the road, is all in a day's work? How does the police commander not read the officer's report of the activity and not call the officer in their office for a little chat?

    How does any person read this story and think it's reasonable? (I'm looking at YOU, The Aiken Standard editorial board, you colossal fuckwits.)

  21. Chris B says

    I'd like to echo other commenters in saying the Popehat website has seemed royally borked for the past couple months. Except for rare exceptions, the RSS feed completely doesn't work (It almost always says the newest post is 'Turkish President Erdogran's Precious Feelings' since that article was published), and even upon visiting the site I have to manually refresh to make new articles show up. I wondered if maybe it was something weird about my company's internet access, but I have similar results at home.

    Usually I only find out about new posts when they're linked to by SHG or on G+.

  22. KingDave says

    Being a cop is dangerous? The BLS puts out info each year on fatalities by occupation.

    Logger, fisherman, pilot, roofer, garbageman, farmer, structural iron worker, truck driver, powerline worker, construction worker. Those are the 10 most dangerous occupations. Know what's not on that list? Cop. Let's save our sympathy for the roofers and garbagemen.

  23. Leo Marvin says

    Civility weighs against gratuitous shouting, insults, and threats. But civility does not require that we let the government beg the question. It does not require that we accept, as true, the premises about government power that have been served to us since birth.

    Correct. Which is why the examples offered in support of your assertion that civility can be pernicious beg the question, and the assertion itself IMO is incorrect. Those examples have nothing to do with civility.

  24. Chris B says

    So after my comment earlier, the RSS Feed actually worked for a couple hours. But now it's back to Gollum. Tried visiting the FeedBurner link directly, even in a different browser (Chrome instead of FF), same result.

  25. Canvasback says

    All seriousness aside, this is one of the funniest damn things I've read all week:

    Pontoon at one point says that one of the officers is grabbing his hemorrhoids. Medlin appears to reply, “I’ve had hemorrhoids, and they ain’t that hard.” . . . one asks, “What are you talking about, right here?” The other replies, “Right straight up in there.”

    Pontoon then again tells the officers that they’re pushing on a hemorrhoid. One officer responds, “If that’s a hemorrhoid, that’s a hemorrhoid, all right? But that don’t feel like no hemorrhoid to me.”

    Two South Carolina good-ole-boy cops in full cop uniform doing their own version of a medical exam on a guy's butt right by the side of the road. The guy chimes in with some helpful information about his hemorrhoids. And they start to argue about it. Goddamn, that is just beautiful.

  26. says

    This was also done at, i forget, either Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, but they were called "body cavity searches with no security value." Very bureaurocratic sounding. Rather banal. Thus is torture normalized.

  27. says

    In my visits to the south, it took a while to realize how much their unspoken code of "civility" was actually cover for bigoted/racist behavior.

    Racism gone underground (just barely).

    And I can't confront the whole "police officers face danger every day" canard one more time without screaming, so I'll just note that's bullshit.

    As others have said, LEOs are less likely to suffer harm than many other occupations. I'll go further and point out there's no constitutional exemption for "Officer Safety" — LEOs have a right to safety, but we have a right to safety too, and over-the-top dynamic entry raids where no threat exists (or pointing guns at people in order to gain compliance instead of responding to a threat) aren't justified simply by muttering "officer safety."

    That the newspaper would run that editorial (unsigned as noted) suggests no real journalism has occurred there for some time.

  28. Frank says

    "I can't wait for the drug war to be over."

    I can't wait for the Drug War Crimes Tribunal, erected with malice aforethought in an open field just outside of Nuremberg, PA. Twenty woodchippers, no waiting.

  29. Trent says

    This story made me sick when I saw it. At least the guy in New Mexico was taken to a medical facility and examined by medical personal rather than by a couple rapists on the roadside. I hope Mr. Pontoon gets significantly more than the $1.5 million the guy in New Mexico got and I hope every single person in Aiken gets their taxes raised several thousand dollars a year to pay for it.

    Though unlikely to succeed I hope Mr. Pontoon also petitions the county and state attorney to press charges for rape, sodomy, kidnapping and assault under the color of authority on the officers involved and seek revocation of their state peace officer credentials so they can no longer be cops and will be prevented from taking a police position anywhere else in the state. Hell they shouldn't even be allowed to be mall security after this as they should be registered sex offenders the rest of their lives.

    Being digitally raped and sodomized on the side of a highway should bring charges against the person that did it regardless of their profession and authority. There is absolutely no situation ever that warrants sicking fingers in someones ass on the roadside.

  30. Trent says

    One other thing, the entire police department of Aiken should also loose their state accreditation and the entire department should be disbanded. Every officer that was on site, even if they didn't participate in the rape should lose their individual state peace officer credentials as well along with the supervisors that did not punish anyone involved or bring charges against the rapists.

    Basically the only people in the Aiken police department that shouldn't lose their credentials and careers would be the ones that weren't present and weren't in charge.

  31. Max says

    Saying "cops feel they are in danger" covers a lot of sins. Maybe too many sins.

    But it doesn't cover this one. They were at no threat from anything in the man's rectum.

    I think the thought process went something like "uh… cops face danger every day. That's what you say when you want people to shut up about police violence, right?"

    I'm using the words thought process kind of loosely here.

  32. Jay says

    Being a cop is dangerous?

    Of course not. Why would anyone think so?

    Logger, fisherman, pilot, roofer, garbageman, farmer, structural iron worker, truck driver, powerline worker, construction worker. Those are the 10 most dangerous occupations. Know what's not on that list? Cop.

    So the definition of a dangerous occupation is one that is listed in the top ten on the labor statistics page? Anything not listed in the top ten isn't, by definition, "dangerous"? It can't be that being a cop is dangerous, but other jobs are dangerous also?

    Let's save our sympathy for the roofers and garbagemen.

    As long as they show up when I call 911…..

    Still, I'm not sure any of this is an argument for or against anal rape…..

  33. Sinij says

    I would gladly whore myself out for a road-side rape by police. After they have their way with me, I can comfortably retire on taxpayer-subsidized settlement.

    Other than, Aiken, as they are unlikely to do it again, anyone has any tips on spelunking-prone destinations?

  34. BostonPilot says

    Being digitally raped and sodomized on the side of a highway should bring charges against the person that did it regardless of their profession and authority. There is absolutely no situation ever that warrants sicking fingers in someones ass on the roadside.

    Like many others commenting here, I'm incredibly frustrated that we keep reading about new occurrences of these sorts of offenses, perpetrated upon the citizenry by the police and the associated bureaucracies. The question is, how do we get it to stop?

    As long as the DAs continue to not charge police who kill/rape the citizens, and as long as the civil suits continue to be small enough the voters can say "meh" these sorts of things are going to continue. I mean, when we can have occurrence after occurrence of cops shooting unarmed citizens, why should we be surprised that they think they can get away with what most of us would deem rape?

    It seems like the only way to solve the problem is for the DAs to start charging police, and the only way to force the DAs to do that is for awards to be big enough to get the voters off their butts to make sure it's not going to happen in their town/city.

    For a city like Aiken of 30,000 people what would it take to almost bankrupt the town? How high do the awards need to be for the insurance companies to refuse to cover municipalities for these sorts of crimes? Does it even make sense to allow insurance for crimes like murder or rape perpetrated upon a citizen by the state?

    It would be different if a municipality aggressively pursued felony action against officers who pull this sort of stuff. When they don't go after the officers then I think the municipality is complicit in the crime. And sorry, while it's probably a great idea to have a civilian review board, it's not nearly enough to stop stuff like this from occurring.

    How much of a settlement would it take to convince all the towns like Aiken that they need to make sure something like this never happens again? 30 million? 100 million? If the award isn't big enough to hurt the municipality, it won't have the effect we want – for the towns & cities to make it clear to law enforcement that they will not stand for this sort of behavior from the police and their administration.

    I just can't understand how officials can just continue to allow this stuff to happen to their own citizens.

  35. Trent says

    I would gladly whore myself out for a road-side rape by police. After they have their way with me, I can comfortably retire on taxpayer-subsidized settlement.

    Other than, Aiken, as they are unlikely to do it again, anyone has any tips on spelunking-prone destinations?

    Shouldn't need to point this out but having people stick their fingers and other objects in your ass can result in death and it might not even hurt when they cause the injury that could kill you. An anal perforation is incredibly easy to accomplish and in the wrong circumstances it can go from mild discomfort to having half your intestine surgically removed and a colostomy bag for the rest of your life in about the space of 8 hours. It's easily the most dangerous place on you entire body to have a wound and you can't even tell when you have one. No thank you.

    I'd like $2 million as much as the next guy but I'm not going to risk allowing untrained rapists to perform a procedure on me that by law requires medical training and state certification to perform. Besides, if it happened in a medical facility you'd get more in a medical malpractice suit then you would from a city and you won't get the beat down and harassment that comes from suing your local police.

    I think you're a bit nuts to want that. Though I do pray pray pray that Mr. Pontoon and his significant other absolutely destroy the city and police department in court and flaunt that tax payer provided money about town and remind everyone that poorly supervised police cost more than they are worth. Though I'm not optimistic that officer Medlin will ever be punished for raping people on the roadside.

  36. says

    Boston Pilot said:

    I just can't understand how officials can just continue to allow this stuff to happen to their own citizens.

    That's the easy part: none of those officials think that anything remotely like this will ever happen to them.

    Seems to me that it's very easy to shrug it off, when you believe it's only those who 'deserve' it, who get abused by police, or discriminated against by politicians, or erased from history by society.

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