What’s Wrong With the Police?

Caution:  PoliceWherever you stand on any one case, it’s clear we have a police problem in this country. The police appear to consider themselves to be under siege. They don’t seem to see themselves as part of the public, but rather as an occupying force, charged with controlling the public “for their own good”.

This is most evident in the treatment some police give to even the most trivial of interactions with us. Every single day, there are dozens of videos posted online of police verbally abusing those they question, venting at them the kind of invective that if a citizen ever used it at an officer, they’d likely be arrested for assault. At the very least, they get into a person’s physical space and yell at them loudly from inches away. Often, they make threats of arrest/imprisonment, physical abuse, or even death.

I’m not just basing this on internet reports, either. On three different occasions in my life, I (as a “privileged, upper-middle-class, white, cis-gender, hetero male”, statistically the safest group to be in, in terms of police treatment) have experienced this treatment first hand. On two of those occasions, I was simply yelled at and verbally abused by an officer well within my personal space. On the third, I was threatened that the officer would (oddly specifically) beat me “so bad, you lose an eye”, then forced at gunpoint from my car, patted down, and made to stand in the rain with my hands on top of my car for nearly a half an hour. In not one of these cases was I even accused of a “crime” more serious than driving with a suspended license (that one was a clerk’s mistake). In fact, the most obscene treatment, the eye guy, occurred because I “hadn’t slowed down enough” at a blinking yellow light, and had the audacity to point out that I was already going significantly slower than the speed limit because of the rain, and had slowed down even further at the light.

police misconductAlmost universally, no matter the verbal assault/threats, physical beating, or death committed by these officers, whenever one of them finally gets enough interest to be a PR problem for a department, we are told that the officer was well within his rights, and did no wrong because he “followed department policy“.

  • A man exchanges angry words with an officer while standing still and posing no physical threat. The officer waits a few moments, then begins punching and kicking the man.
  • A teenager on a skateboard tells an officer to “fuck off”. The officer responds by standing over the teenager, screaming at the top of his lungs while his face is three inches from the teenager’s.
  • A lone activist is taking video on a public street. An officer walks up to him and lies to him about what the law says regarding video of police, and when the activist demonstrates that he knows the officer is lying, the officer roughs him up and arrests him for “interfering” with police.
  • A man is pulled over for “swerving in his lane” (as far as I can tell, this is code for “we’ve gotta earn some ticket points, so let’s pick a random car, use ‘swerving’ as an excuse to pull them over, and see if we can get them on something.”). He’s asked to get out of his car, and does so in a manner the officer finds “aggressive”. The officer tasers the man four times, the last three after he is already crumpled on the ground, because he was “resisting arrest”.

It seems to me that if any reasonable person looking at a video tape or reading the details can tell that the officer escalated a situation unnecessarily, or initiated the use of force without reasonable cause, but a strong case can be made that the officer was following department policy, the problem is with the department policy!

Am I missing something here?