Collateral Damage of the Police

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

This past week Professor Turley had two posts regarding the innocent victim of a police shooting: https://jonathanturley.org/2012/07/17/florida-police-pound-on-wrong-door-looking-for-suspect-without-identifying-themselves-thenves-then-shoot-and-kill-innocent-man-who-answers-the-door-with-weapon/#comments  and https://jonathanturley.org/2012/07/20/report-police-allegedly-increased-suspects-alleged-crime-after-shooting-third-person/#more-51907  These can fairly be called the latest installments of an ongoing series that details deaths and injuries sustained by people who are the victims of policing errors. There were a fair number of comments all lamenting yet another example of careless police work, in tandem with a propensity to shoot first and hope for the best. After awhile the comments petered out because this instance is but one of many that have been publicized by Professor Turley. He tries to focus attention on what seems to be blatant disregard for the rights of individual citizens. After all, what does one say after expressing their outrage at egregious behavior and impotently raging against the expected ensuing cover-ups? Emotionally, I personally feel horror and outrage when something like this happens and I desire justice in the form of stiff punishment for the avoidable errors that took an innocent life. Yet this occurs time and again as outrage simmers and yet another story captures our attention. It seems that nothing is ever really done with the macro-cosmic problem, even when on the individual level, though very occasionally, the people responsible are held to account. When I thought about the issue of police killing the wrong person it occurred to me that this is not something that has recently developed in our country, or indeed the rest of the world. In fact it seems to me that such occurrences represent a norm of human history that stems from how the entire concept of policing first came about. Policing had its origins in protecting wealth, property and the status quo of autocratic authority. 

Historically, whatever name was given to them in each society, the police function was one of maintaining the established order. The edicts of the Kings had the force of law and in the feudal manner the authority spread top down through the layers of local nobility. The vast majority of the people had no rights except to obey the established authority. Justice was swift and harsh, often dispensed on the spot by those with the authority of weapons, serving the policing function. The elements of an individual’s rights under the law in our tradition date back at least from the Magna Carta and English Common Law. The Magna Carta itself though was a definition of the rights of the nobility, rather than the common folk, with elements that found their way into the common Law. However, the concept of “police power” remained essentially protection of the rights of the Nobility against any usurping of those rights by the common folk. The Sheriff of Nottingham, in Robin Hood, was less a public law enforcer and more a protector of the prerogatives of the nobility. Robin Hood after all was less a revolutionary and more a poacher and highwayman.

With the inception of our Constitution came the delineated concept that each citizen, no matter what their status had certain inalienable rights. Thus the establishment of our Republic was novel in that all citizens were assumed to have rights that should be protected under law and therefore assumed that their would be some legal authority empowered to supply that protection.

In the newly formed U.S., localities had developed a system that included Sheriffs and Constables. There was also the U.S. Marshall’s services which was developed in 1789, and represented the second oldest Federal Law Enforcement Agency: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Marshals_Service after the U.S. customs Service. The Wikipedia link provides some interesting facts as to the services performed by the U.S. Marshal’s which included apprehending criminals in the “Old West”, catching runaway slaves and breaking strikes of the early labor movement. All these functions can be seen as protecting private property and privilege to a far greater extent than protecting the average individual citizen.  It is not merely myth that when Marshal’s deputized posses to chase rustlers or other miscreants, the hanging tree was used more often than the courtroom for dispensing justice.

We see this “policing” on the local level too. For much of our history the various local, or State constabulary’s were appointed and served at the pleasure of the wealthy powers that led the Towns, Cities and States. Some of the history of the famed lawman Wyatt Earp, as detailed in Richard Slotkin’s highly informative work on the “Old West” “Gunfighter Nation”, shows this “hero” in various roles as Marshal and Sheriff. Earp and his counterparts were less enforcers of the law and far more representatives of special interests. The storied “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral“, was according to some historians caused by a personal vendetta Earp had against Ike Clanton and not an attempt at law enforcement and was in essence an ambush. This was the context in which law enforcement developed in this country and it was on a distinct, yet related track to the development of American jurisprudence.

If we look at specific history we see law enforcement in the role of not only seeking miscreants, but also in directly and openly serving the “Establishment“ of Wealth and Corporate power. Early labor movements were routinely opposed by local, State and Federal police agencies intervening in non-violent strikes. Slaves were routinely captured to be returned to their “masters”. in other localities. In Los Angeles as it grew with the success of Hollywood, men with experience as enforcers of “Jim Crow” in the post-bellum South, were imported to ride herd on the Mexican and growing black populations, enforcing a de facto segregation on the City. This occurred in Detroit in fighting the United Auto Workers and also in repressing the Blacks lured from the South by the explosion of the automobile industry. Our history is replete with this usage of our various police forces to oppressively maintain the interests of the powers that be.

Whether it involved Black Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, the various waves of ethnicities immigrating to America, or just plain poor people, the function of the policing power at all levels has been to “keep them in their place”. Though in some instances like “Jim Crow” in the South, there were specific laws to empower keeping Black people in their place, normatively the message for the police to perform this oppression was couched more in covert terms. It was a tacit understanding for those who took the job and was reinforced as they were inculcated into the “fraternity” by the veteran officers. In the public front the tabloid newspapers often publicly called for this repression, ignoring the fact that it often had no legal basis. So we see that despite our Constitution and our Courts, policing throughout our history and up until today has always had a covert mission of “protecting” the interests of those with power against those perceived to be somehow less than true citizens.

Another example of what I see as the usage of law enforcement officers (LEO’s) to assert the interests of established power has been in the area of “morality“. LEO‘s have been involved in “fighting“ prostitution; banned heterosexual sex acts (widely defined sodomy laws); homosexuality; segregation, marriage between races: abortion; prescription medications; alcohol: and of course the failed “The War on Drugs”.  It has always seemed to me that these “victimless” crimes should never have been legislated, but demagogic politicians have always succeeded by presenting themselves as defenders of a moral code, while religious institutions have felt the need to impose their concept of morality upon those who would not conform to it. Thus working hand-in-hand with political demagogues to develop a law based on someone’s tenuous notion of morality. We have seen that this notion of morality enforcement intersects with the needs to keep Blacks “in there place” As I wrote here: https://jonathanturley.org/2011/11/26/the-incarceration-of-black-men-in-america/

So we have a situation where there is our Criminal Law defined and developed over centuries that presents itself as a bastion of fairness in treating all citizens equally. Juxtapose this with a policing concept that LEO’s are the defenders of the social fabric of our society against the incipient “criminal element” and it would appear that we have a system of justice that is viable. However, we all know if we are honest with ourselves, to paraphrase Orwell “That some animals are more equal than others”.

While it is true that the overwhelming majority of LEO’s are drawn from the middle or lower economic classes, anyone who would take them for being stupid is a fool. Perhaps more so than most, the LEO’s understand the economic/political realities of our society. They know that if they come down too hard on someone with power their jobs and pensions will be at stake. They also understand very well that they are being given mixed messages when it comes to enforcing the law. The public message is upholding the law in all its pristine fairness. The covert message in almost every venue of this country is that LEO’s should do whatever it takes to meet the duties they are handed. It has happened so often in our history that a particular murder case will be splashed across headlines in a given locale and the pressure to solve it from the Mayor on down is to find a culprit regardless of their guilt. The LEO’s understanding comes down to it’s either my neck, or someone else’s if I don’t get results.

These covert messages inevitably lead many LEO’s to a corrupted understanding of the duties they are to perform. Seriously though, in the context of our society where billionaires can bend the financial rules with impunity and get away with it, can we really blame some of our LEO’s from becoming corrupted? When one spends their working life dealing with the corrupt elements of our society, yet knows that some of these elements are out of bounds, how long can most maintain their integrity? The world becomes as they perceive it and the only truth is being true to oneself and those one loves. A corollary to this is that the only people who can understand LEO’s, are other LEO’s. From this the unwritten rule to protect their fellow officers becomes sacrosanct.

That our police are corrupt is not due to the fact that we don’t weed out the “bad ones” at the Academy, but that our entire legal/political system is responsible for corrupting many of them. Our American system as it works in actuality is that there are many who are immune to the strictures of law and ethics. This breeds distrust and cynicism. In fact, as a former civil servant and as someone who has always in my work tried to walk an ethical path, there have been many times when I’ve wondered if these ethics represented my stupidity at playing the game of life. This is especially true when supporting my family and raising my children has been the most important thing I personally believe I’ve been doing in my life. On numerous occasion my ethical compass has prevented me from progressing up the career ladder, or even from earning enough money to support my family as I would have liked to support them. Can I honestly expect more from people who choose to be LEO’s, only to find that the underlying messages as to their duties are quite the opposite of what they’ve been led to believe?

I believe though that there are many LEO’s who do take their duties to the Law and the Constitution seriously. What appears a sad fact to me is that those who do walk the lawful path are those who find themselves limited in advancement and threatened by their cohorts. I offer this not as a justification of these unlawful and sometimes really stupid acts committed by the police. My thoughts do not slake my outrage. Yet it is a question of where the ultimate blame lies and I accuse our system where wealth and power trumps all. In this weeks outrage I believe the officers involved should be severely punished, though I doubt that will happen and believe in any event that in behaving so callously they too are victims of our system in America. As the cliché goes the rich get richer and everyone else gets screwed.

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger.

34 thoughts on “Collateral Damage of the Police

  1. Another instance of police over reach with civil liberties and public health consequences

    http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/12552-condom-seizures-from-sex-workers-are-undoing-years-of-progress-on-hivaids

    excerpts:
    Police in major American cities are using condoms as evidence of sex work, thereby discouraging their use.

    he International Aids conference, held in the US for the first time in 22 years next week, is a chance for the country to celebrate its contribution to HIV and Aids prevention. Yet in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Washington DC, state police forces are stopping, searching and arresting sex workers – and using condoms found on them as evidence to support prostitution charges, undermining decades of HIV and Aids harm reduction work in the process.
    .
    .
    .
    Identifying condoms as evidence of sex work is just another way in which the US police endangers some of society’s most vulnerable. In 2010, a city government transgender working group in Los Angeles recommended that local police stop confiscating condoms as a matter of safety. The force ignored them. Since then, Human Rights Watch has found alarming evidence of police abusing and “defacing” transgender sex workers. In all cities, police profiling gives them recourse to regularly stop and search any transgender individual, irrespective of profession, on the basis that he or she is “likely” to be soliciting.

  2. OK, Idealist, I get your question but frankly can’t remember too much about the link or my reaction to it.

    This much, though, I can piece together:

    You were reading a thread on police-on-citizen violence here in the US.

    It is a big enough problem here in the US to really draw attention.

    You got tired of reading US News and turned to see what could be found going on in Israel. (?)

    You found, predictably, that an armed authority figure in Israel was abusing an unarmed protester. It is not exactly, as we say in Hebrew, a question of “How is this night different from all other nights?” is it?

    So I thought, two things: (a) Why is the Israeli-on-protester violence so significant to this issue of out-of-control American police brutality? Or, more important, why is Israeli misconduct of any sort so important to every other story world wide? and (b) Why (in my own responses) do I react to this and what does it mean to me to see the analogies that are not strictly analogous at all?

    So I took something I knew and I set it up to be an analogy.

    I don’t know what would happen under today’s government. In past governments, there would have been an investigation and the officer would have been punished — now, I don’t know — haven’t been following their stuff that closely.

    • Malisha,
      Perhaps an American ex-pat living in Sweden was followed by an evil looking Jew in full Hasidic regalia. The ex-pat went to his large Arab friend,
      who obliged by beating up the Jew. What is your answer to that?

  3. MikeS, you first because you are so simple (minded?).

    Wish there were some here. I would have long ago become friends with them, and THEY would have shown me kosher shop I’m searching for.

    If reading see further my return comment to Malisha, a jewess who has full control on her rightful fears.

    • “Wish there were some here. I would have long ago become friends with them, and THEY would have shown me kosher shop I’m searching for.”

      ID707,

      The problem I have with you is that either you lack the courage of your convictions and so cache your passive-aggressive vitriol in obscure language, or that your skills with English have deteriorated due to your long years in Sweden. Say what you mean ID707 in short, declarative sentences that don’t allow you to weasel out of what the obscure thrust of your argument seems to be. Understand this, while I suspect otherwise, I am not able to accuse you of anything but an inability to clearly articulate what you really mean. That is your fault, or motive as the case may be, do to the way you write.

  4. Malisha,

    Sheesh. As usual you give back considerations and thoughts five layers deeper than mine.

    One, I was reading and got tired of the familiarity, someone mentioned info channels and I thought of one I’ve never visited unless linked by another person here. RT Russian television, who were said to deliver among others a series by Julian Assange interviewing Noam Chomsky, etc.

    Voilá. Headline: Bicycle protesters gang-raped by IDF……nnnnnnnoooooo not really. Got you awake did I not.

    Why did I choose to post it? Because the IDF officer’s attack reminded of so many US LEO’s tactics when getting in your face from protestors. Only here in the USA they would not dare do what the Dane did. The Dane got a brutal smack, here in USA it might end in death.

    As noted in my comment, the Israeli PM Netanyu had immediately said this was not IDF acceptable nor Israeli acceptable conduct by the officer, a Lt.Col.

    So if MikeS see anti-semitism or anti-whatever he is right only in so part as there was intended to say simply:

    The brutalities of the LEOs are so similar. Does that help us understand them better.

    I NEVER go looking for Israel or Jewish news. Is that a suggestion? But looking at news leaders can be giving.

    IMPORTANT:
    Your words here summarize the questions which have concerned me as to: How does a jew experience this threatening world. Constantly linked as an example, etc. Read your own words again. I love them.

    “So I thought, two things: (a) Why is the Israeli-on-protester violence so significant to this issue of out-of-control American police brutality? Or, more important, why is Israeli misconduct of any sort so important to every other story world wide? and (b) Why (in my own responses) do I react to this and what does it mean to me to see the analogies that are not strictly analogous at all?”

    I was not attempting to draw aqn analogy other than one mentioned by others at the thread. ie the common task of LEOs (protection of the minority of one percent) and their common mental framework.
    And this the world over—-well anyway in this case a random landing in Israel.

    Not using Israel as anything other than a modern democracy (in name as ours is too). The Jewish/Israeli connection was not in my mind.

    I know MikeS has difficulty believing that, but if he met me in person he would be rapidly convinced that I don’t understand the sensitivity of these things to you, and the need for carefullness in all such references…. requiring extensive reservations etc.

    I am more attuned to the muslim side because they are available for contact here. So is not true of Jews here, they don’t walk the streets with their families or buddies as the arabs do, arabs being quite assured of their rightful place in society. Nice to see.

    But I see, any time the word Israel or Jew comes up, the whole body and mind of the jew goes on alert status. Attack??? or even Attack!!!!!

    Now you, Malisha, make me wish we had a famous sayings permanent thread where each weeks winner could be posted. This one of yours should be there I feel.

    Along with MikeS’s latest. Even abominable ones should have a thread of their own too.

    • “But I see, any time the word Israel or Jew comes up, the whole body and mind of the jew goes on alert status.”

      ID707,

      The “mind of the jew” really?

      “I am more attuned to the muslim side because they are available for contact here. So is not true of Jews here, they don’t walk the streets with their families or buddies as the arabs do, arabs being quite assured of their rightful place in society. Nice to see.”

      Well considering that in anti-Jewish attacks Sweden ranks third in the world after Germany and Austria, perhaps Jews find walking the streets unsafe. I don’t know perhaps it’s the air, or the Aryan in Sweden that causes it? Now as far as Jews being on the lookout for negativity in the world perhaps it is in our genetic heritage, since those that were on the alert survived. Also I think context is everything and this discussion re: Jews and Israel twixt you and I began on another thread, but your modus operandi has been to carry your personal grudges across threads. However, since what you generally write is so full of obscurity, there is always your opportunity for supplying abject apologies when caught, as you did with the other thread. Apologies are not necessarily sincere with you, but more in the way of your playing your passive aggressive game.

      Now for some reason, perhaps my attacking you at one time or another, or because I refused on occasion to be drawn into your passive aggressive game, you have made me one of your many people to attack here. That is perfectly fine for you to do and I will either respond in kind, or not as the case may be. That is what a forum is about.

  5. MiikeS,

    Thanks for the latest. Let me say I am working on it.
    I have identified two causes earlier and will not discuss them again now. Certainly several more causes exist too.

    I too wish to use simple declarative sentences.
    To ease understanding. To stand for my meaning, not hide my meanings. They are discernible but require some skill not all have, and that is not a brag as a defenxe.

    I retreat into this again after being attacked(?) by you. And also, in this case, fear of treading into territory where I, as an American, am assumed having knowledge (the jewish question etc), but where I don’t for reasons earlier discussed.

    Again a long sentence, but no problem for you I earnestly hope.

    Look at the Belgian/American lady’s last comment for a good example of the problem I have. She was tired and apologized for her faults. Her last ones were examples in sentence structure, sequencing etc that I have too. It goes with the language I have been trying to use correctly for 44 years. Swedish sentence order does not follow the american. Having lived in that, writing in English requires 50 percent of my conscious effort.

    The lady succeeds better than I do, but then she is perhaps more talented than I. No matter.

    I am aware of this problem, but forgetful. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. MikeS,

    Here is an alternative by myself:

    idealist707
    1, July 23, 2012 at 4:21 am
    Someone mentioned Paris Hilton as the next headline grabber. TRUE.

    But I was thinking instead of how we need our spice, our dose of entertainment. The need to expand the envelope to obtain the same chock effect. And our willingness to drink the concoction over and over again.

    My point???

    In the meanwhile we ignore far greater killers, caused by far greater evil, and do less to remove the pootential cause of statistically certain future deaths at random.

    What is that? Industrial pollution. It is causing cancer deaths of unusual types, traceable to working or living in the vicinity

    It is an old story, centuries old but still with us and still deadly. If that branch of your kin lived there they are effected. Listen to youu family and friends.

    Not very entertaining. The guilty are skillful at hiding. Their defenders too. And for us it is kind of like playing russian roulette, by all.

    Cleanups are cosmetic. Just as EPA has become. And FDA too. Agencies to protect the criminal from suits.

    Why now? A frinds relatives have all got bile duct cancer diagnoses. And like all cancer patients they ask why me. In some cases we can get a general answer, but in this case no one to sue. And god can not be sued nor the EPA (I guess).

  7. “They are discernible but require some skill not all have, and that is not a brag as a defenxe.”

    ID707,

    Perhaps what you perceive as a lack of skill is merely not wishing to be bored by trying to spend time thinking about your obscure allusions.

    “I retreat into this again after being attacked(?) by you. And also, in this case, fear of treading into territory where I, as an American, am assumed having knowledge (the jewish question etc), but where I don’t for reasons earlier discussed.”

    The “fear” you mention is specious since one of the most prominent parts of your methodology here is to attack and attack often, not just me but whoever catches your attention. As for now, have at it I’ve grown bored with this whole exchange and have better things to do with my time.

  8. Recently a friend of mine who is an Orthodox Jew (Female) used the word “Jewess” on-line and got corrected immediately, to the effect of “Jewess is a word we do not use, like Negress.” Of course that’s right, but it may not be commonly known. And I think there’s a scholarly article about it somewhere. “Shakespeare used the word, so why not we?” could be a question, but frankly, who cares. (And after all Shakespeare — what did HE know?) I find the subject kinda funny; how DOES one combine the gender i.d. with the ethnicity i.d. anyway?

    Anyway I call myself a Jew. I think I’m on-guard to non-Jews and so forth but I don’t think I abandon all rational thought to surrender to persecution paranoia, either. Anyway, that’s enough. I hereby declare I have no dog in the race.

  9. Malisha,

    My dog was not in the race either. I made the same mistake as your Jewess, ie not being aware of norms.

    Am not really interested in learning them either.

    You are aware of dangers, as you show openly. Commendably for us all, not just for jews.

    But others seem intent on the using the tactic of few questioning words lure many in reply from me. Which provides many places to attack. Even when my words are innocent. MikeS speaks of grudges, and retreats into trench warfare mode, or a poor imitation of Talmud school tactics. Too much to waste more time on.

    He will get short shrift from now on but no more respect than that earned.

    He made a uséful observation in a neutral tone about my writings clarity. That I acknowledged and thanked him for. But the jew question deteriorates in his hands. A shame. But it is a question for Americans.

    It is no problem here. He claims Sweden is third in ranking in anti-semitic deeds.
    Don’t know and don’t care. I don’t find such things as being important here. I do notice that Israel lost favor here in public opinion after the use of phosphore shells on Gaza, HE shells are not registered as well.

    And Sweden has, as most nations do, rooted at times for the underdag. Which Israel was once, and now Palestine is.

    But this is obvious to me, not the results of any study on my part.

    All this as a result of a non-politically correct link selection. Seems to be a sensitive question.

    Not worth visiting any more for my part. I have long ago left Israel/Palestine as an unsolveable problem. Any inputs to me are purely coincidental to other contacts.

    PS I don’t in principle, use links to make points. Haven’t the urge to search for them. I comment, take it or leave it as an opinion.

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