In the first days following the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr, before the story got put under an electron microscope and dissected from a million different angles, much of the debate was focused around interpreting the police report. As the initial headlines appeared, everyone from mainstream pundits to bloggers seemed to include some variation of the phrase “I read the police report” into their commentary. The tone of this phrase often seemed to imply that the police report could be taken at face value.
After President Obama learned the hard way that even mildly criticizing police is like wading into a pool of piranhas, much of the conversation has remained within the confines of discussing relevant and complex, but relatively predictable, issues such as racial profiling. Even among the pro-Gates crowd, most voices seem to be demanding more “sensitivity” from the police, instead of more accountability. Instead of using this as a “teaching moment,” as Gates has called for, to discuss racial dynamics around law enforcement, why can’t this be teaching moment to ask why so many cops lie in police reports and get away with it?
The woman who called 911 on Gates finally came out today and said, through a lawyer, that Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer, completely fabricated a conversation that takes place in the official police report – so this incident would seem provide a good case study to examine this issue. I’m not saying at all that racial factors should be absent from this conversation or even that I necessarily believe this woman any more than Crowley or Gates. I’m just pointing out that police demand to be taken at their word – as their collective reaction to Obama’s common-sense remark that arresting an old man with a cane inside his own house after he’s show identification is stupid – proves.
But if the police are going to demand such unquestioning trust, they need to prove that violent psychos aren’t using the power of the badge to go around starting fights, beating the crap out of people in order to steal their fajitas, tasing kids, assaulting women… and getting away with it! Although a new, outrageous police brutality video seems to be popping up every few days now, the police still seem systematically determined to protect every brutal maniac with a badge instead of reforming their organizations. In this example, the cop who pushed the woman down the stairs and charged HER with felony assault was not fired or arrested – he was punished by losing 8 vacation hours and he continues to patrol Orlando with a gun and a badge:
Sometimes, as in the case of this video featuring a drunk off-duty Chicago cop whaling on a female bartender half his size, the lies in the police report are just too egregious to withstand the visual evidence, and the officer actually loses his job. However, even in these rare instances when cops get fired for their criminal behavior, the system still works to protect them from the laws that apply to everyday citizens. Despite the unprovoked ass-whooping he unleashes on this unfortunate woman, Anthony Abbate was sentenced to only two years of probation and anger management classes (mainstream media in Chicago defended this sentence as “fair”):
I could post dozens of other videos from the last year alone that are equally horrifying, and that fact alone should be enough to raise questions such as: Why is demanding police accountability seen as somehow subversive; Why is this systemic abuse of power generally tolerated in our society; and How can we be expected to trust the police when they have proven, as an institution, over and over and over again, that they seem more willing to cover up their own criminal behavior than eradicate this corruption?
Of course, there lots of people and organizations out there asking these questions and working to demand accountability, but if the Gates episode wasn’t enough to elevate these questions into mainstream debate, I wonder how many more Amadou Diallos, Sean Bells and Oscar Grants it’s going to take.
Considering the fact that some cops have actually weighed in on the Gates arrest to say that anyone who mouths off to a cop is lucky not to get shot and that Taser just unveiled their new model of souped-up stun guns (despite the fact that the regular old version has been involved in 351 deaths in the U.S., according to Amnesty International), it doesn’t seem likely that we’re about to see a new wave of “sensitivity” wash over the boys in blue any time soon (Yes, I know there are lots of female cops, but it almost always seem to be the bros who are causing problems).
Now, I’m not trying to say that there aren’t plenty of cops out there who are trying to be the good guys and provide a much-needed service, since there are obviously a lot of scum bags out there. But don’t expect me to take a cop’s word over anyone else’s until I see the police keeping themselves in line instead of just lashing out at everyone who tries to make them play by their own rules. For example, would you still have your job if you called someone a “bitch ass nigger” (just like Tony Pirone did as he was attacking Oscar Grant right before Grant was murdered)? Didn’t think so…
I'm not talking about you guys, you guys seem cool... I'm just going to walk away now.