For the longest time I, like much of the public, held the view that most law enforcement officers were good and decent that there is just a few rotten apples as the Law of Averages dictate. But after reading Redditt Hudson’s article for Vox.com and the statistics of policing in poor neighborhoods and crime, my view has shifted. There are some good police officers and there are others who joined the police force because they have a combination of God complex and inferiority complex and as part of their day jobs, they get to beat, harass, intimidate and at times even murder suspects (clearly the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ wasn’t taught in the academy) simply by the power of the badge they hold. You have a myriad of television shows such as ‘Law & Order’ and ‘Blue Bloods’ which depict more of the heroism of police work and gloss over the ugly side of it. ‘Blue Bloods’ in particular, when the lead character, Danny Reagan, a detective who has a penchant for roughing up suspects and when it goes too far, it’s always somehow justified. His female partner backs him up though she is very reluctant to at times, his boss backs him up and the police commissioner (which happens to be his father) backs him up, after multiple long drawn out sighs and emotional turmoil. They all start out with ‘following the book’ but in the end, the book is tossed out for some other mitigating circumstance. It depicts the difficulty of policing a population who don’t want to be policed. No one wants to be ‘policed’, people want to go about their days unharassed and if the police are needed they will be called.
The situation has become a vicious cycle of rioting inner cities that desperately need police protection but the police are too scared to restore order and then the finger pointing begins.
Police: The neighborhoods are too dangerous, full of looters and rioters and if we use any kind of force we get in trouble for it. We can’t win.
Residents: But you are the police, it’s your job to protect us, can’t you distinguish between necessary force and excessive force?
So, poor and often dangerous neighborhoods are faced with two choices, police abuse or police neglect, what of the middle ground? Effective policing? Police officers who know how to discern real danger versus trigger happy reaction? How about approaching suspects with some modicum of dignity and respect instead of throwing people to the ground and injuring them as so vividly described by Redditt Hudson:
As a new officer with the St. Louis in the mid-1990s, I responded to a call for an “officer in need of aid.” I was partnered that day with a white female officer. When we got to the scene, it turned out that the officer was fine, and the aid call was canceled. He’d been in a foot pursuit chasing a suspect in an armed robbery and lost him.
The officer I was with asked him if he’d seen where the suspect went. The officer picked a house on the block we were on, and we went to it and knocked on the door. A young man about 18 years old answered the door, partially opening it and peering out at my partner and me. He was standing on crutches. My partner accused him of harboring a suspect. He denied it. He said that this was his family’s home and he was home alone.
My partner then forced the door the rest of the way open, grabbed him by his throat, and snatched him out of the house onto the front porch. She took him to the ledge of the porch and, still holding him by the throat, punched him hard in the face and then in the groin. My partner that day snatched an 18-year-old kid off crutches and assaulted him, simply for stating the fact that he was home alone.
I got the officer off of him. But because an aid call had gone out, several other officers had arrived on the scene. One of those officers, who was black, ascended the stairs and asked what was going on. My partner pointed to the young man, still lying on the porch, and said, “That son of a bitch just assaulted me.” The black officer then went up to the young man and told him to “get the fuck up, I’m taking you in for assaulting an officer.” The young man looked up at the officer and said, “Man … you see I can’t go.” His crutches lay not far from him.
The officer picked him up, cuffed him, and slammed him into the house, where he was able to prop himself up by leaning against it. The officer then told him again to get moving to the police car on the street because he was under arrest. The young man told him one last time, in a pleading tone that was somehow angry at the same time, “You see I can’t go!” The officer reached down and grabbed both the young man’s ankles and yanked up. This caused the young man to strike his head on the porch. The officer then dragged him to the police car. We then searched the house. No one was in it.
You can bet your last dollar if the ‘suspect’ was white, the officers would have said ‘thank you sir for your time’ and went on their way. I am sure this poor young man on crutches never got an apology from the offending officers let alone any monetary compensation. According to Hudson, incidents like these happen all day long everyday in poor black and brown neighborhoods. It is truly heartbreaking, and yet the police departments of Ferguson, Baltimore, Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles and others do not see the correlation between their abusive actions and the mistrust the population has towards them. And then when all else fails, they trot out their go to PR line: we do the best we can in dangerous conditions, we get no appreciation or acknowledgement. Again, totally missing the irony that sentiment.
There is another side to police abuse of power and excessive use of force and that is the city prosecutors and district attorneys. All prosecutors, in order to get re-elected and stay in their jobs, have to appear that they are ‘tough on crime’. During any local election season, you turn on the TV, anyone running for city prosecutor or district attorney, their number one slogan is some version or variation of being ‘tough on crime’. Having mercy and clemency to defendants that deserve it won’t win them elections. Everyone wants safe streets and the only way to get them is to be tough on crime. One way to measure if someone is tough on crime is their conviction rate or conviction percentage, the higher the better. Some prosecutors can boast of 100% conviction rate or 98% conviction rate, former prosecutor and now the resident shrill of HLN (the sister network of CNN) Nancy Grace says she’s never lost a case and her conviction rate was 100%, and that may true technically but perhaps what the public is not aware of is that less than 10% of cases brought by the DA ever makes it to trial. Most of the cases are resolved by plea bargaining or nolo contendere pleas (No Contest – same as guilty plea) and those count as a conviction as well, even though the prosecutor never worked on the case besides filing the charges and has one of his or her deputy DA work out a plea deal with the defendant’s attorney, that goes towards the conviction percentage of the prosecutor. So, when a prosecutor tells you that they have a 95% conviction rate, keep that in mind. The fact is they rarely go to trial and even if they do, sometimes mid-trial, the case gets plead out. It’s almost impossible to win 100% of all of your trials, especially if the defense attorney demands a trial for his client, it means he or she is confident of the outcome to be in his or her client’s favor and by a good percentage. So, just based on mathematical probability, I’d be very wary of any prosecutor boasting a conviction rate of 90% or above, all it means is that he or she rarely goes to trial or sees the inside of a courtroom.
Law professor Bill Quigley of Loyola University, New Orleans has compiled a list called ’40 Reasons Why Our Jails are Full of Poor and Black People’, First item on the list, he states that it’s not about crime, as crime has risen and fallen independently of incarceration rate. Meaning when crime tides are high, there is still a high number of incarcerations, when crime tide is low, there is still the same number of incarcerations. Next, study after study and survey after survey has shown that black and brown people are discriminated against by the cops. NEWSFLASH: The police do carry out racial profiling (contrary to their claims of the opposite). Black and brown people are just natural suspects to the police, and they are stopped more and when they are stopped their persons, vehicles and personal property are searched more despite there being an amendment banning illegal searches and seizure. Even things as innocuous as traffic tickets target the black, brown and the poor. Police issue more tickets to black and brown people than white people with the same infraction. If they can’t pay the fine, the fees double at times quadruple and if they still don’t pay it, a warrant is issued for their arrest and so when they get pulled over the next time they’ll be arrested for not paying a traffic ticket, they’d be then taken to jail and if you they can’t make bail they’d stay in jail, at which time the vehicle is probably confiscated, the same vehicle that gets them to and back from work or it’s the only vehicle his family owns. Since the budgets of municipalities and cities have beens squeezed due to the recession, issuing traffic tickets is big business for cash strapped cities and again, the poorest of the citizens are most adversely affected.
By all analysis, simply by being black, you are offered a raw deal, starting with primary school. More black kids are more likely to ‘get in trouble’ for the same infractions of white kids. More black kids are in detention for the same things that white kids get away with. To many school teachers, inadvertently, view black kids as troublemakers though all kids exhibit similar behaviors. It’s been criticized as the school to prison model. This statistic is most sobering:
“Though Black people make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population, Black children are 28 percent of juvenile arrests. DOJ reports that there are over 57,000 people under the age of 21 in juvenile detention. The U.S. even has 10,000 children in adult jails and prisons any given day.”
According to Bill Quigley, the whole criminal justice system is targeted towards poor and black people, people with the least resources to fight for themselves. And by resources, I mean monetary and knowledge of how to handle yourself when you are arrested or dealing with police. Middle class people teach their kids to never speak to police without the presence of an attorney or parents, ever. No if ands or buts. And by law, as soon as you request an attorney or your parents (for minors) be present, the police must stop questioning you and leave the room. If they continue to question and harass you, anything you say after that is inadmissible. But many poor folks don’t know this. Police often use the line ‘just tell me what happened and then you can go home’, or ‘just tell me what happened and I can help you’. Or just ‘admit it’, and I can help you, which by the way isn’t illegal for police to do. They are well within their rights to do this, they are carrying out their duty of solving crime, but as citizens we do not have to answer them without the presence of an attorney or we don’t have to answer them ever if we don’t feel like it, it’s the state’s burden to prove a crime occured, not the other way around. We as suspects or persons of interest do not have to answer anything we are not comfortable answering in the presence of police.
The second largest crime wave is the War on Drugs, a misguided policy that President Nixon put in place to counter the high use of crack cocaine and other street drugs at the time. Black people have been targeted for the war on drugs, there more black people rotting in prisons today on non-violent drug crimes due to the policies of war on drugs. It has unfairly targeted black and brown people. Statistics has shown that drug use among white people and black people are the same but only black people are arrested for drug offenses more than white people. And with a drug conviction, it’s hard for people to find gainful employment so many feel that they’ve no choice but to revert to a life of crime. It’s a vicious cycle of arrest, imprisonment and reoffend. How can a race be only 12% of the total population but account for the majority of the prison population? If the system isn’t racist by design then the policies behind the criminal justice system and public policy are fatally flawed and blatantly racist. And we are not even talking about black people being shot dead on the street by cops, these are people that were apprehended alive and sent to prison for crimes that do not fit the punishment.
There needs to be an immediate overhaul of the criminal justice system. The courts need to release all current prisoners who are in prison for nonviolent drug crimes or any non-violent crimes and after their release, their criminal records are to be suppressed for 2 years to give them a chance to rebuild their lives free from their criminal records, if they reoffend within this 2 year time frame their records will then be unsealed and they would have to account for their crimes. If they keep their record clean for 2 years and maintained gainful employment, their records should remain sealed for 5 years and after that, the defendant can request to have it expunged. This is not being ‘soft’ on crime or criminals, it’s that the criminal justice system has created a population of unemployable people from nonviolent crimes and those unemployable people are creating a drain on society and the vicious criminal cycle needs to be stopped. Also, people in jail or has warrants out for their arrests due to unpaid tickets, those records should be expunged as well and tickets to be repaid based on economic ability. To have an arrest warrant out for someone for unpaid tickets is a public policy bordering on lunacy.
The arrest, imprison, release and reoffend is big business now. It’s big business for county workers, federal workers. Private prisons are built to house these people, even private prisons have a lobbying group now in Washington DC! It’s gotten way out of hand, prison used to be the last resort for a person to rehabilitate themselves, now it’s a holding cell for the poorest citizens.
Forty. Putting all these problems together and you can see why the Center for American Progress rightly concludes “Today, a criminal record serves as both a direct cause and consequence of poverty.”
If this isn’t immoral, heartless, cruel and insane, I don’t know what is.
Finally, a perfect art installation of what is wrong with our society today.