Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Keeping "hope" alive for the memory of the other victims

The other day I was on my way to the Laundromat when I observed, after an absence of about a year, the modest memorial for the lives “stolen” by Kent police over the years. I have no idea how long it will remain upright, but the fact is the courage of whoever is responsible in making a statement about an issue that most people seem to have little concern for is deserving of admiration. Meanwhile, a jury convicted several of Maurice Clemmons’ so-called co-conspirators in the Lakewood police case. Clemmons’ brother was acquitted, which apparently disturbed the thirst for "righteous" vengeance from some in the courtroom. Other than the “getaway” driver convicted in a previous trial, an honest assessment seems to suggest that it could not be proven that any of the defendants had foreknowledge of Clemmons’ intentions. One of the defendants was found guilty of “handling” Clemmons gun; his aunt was found guilty of “helping” the killer by treating his wounds. It is certain that because the victims were police officers, the jurors were willing to go beyond the knowable facts and simply convict on “principle.” What these people were really guilty of was a failure to report Clemmons whereabouts, not surprising due to the distrust and enmity of many in the Lakewood minority community toward the police, which no one in the media wants to discuss. Rather than address these issues themselves, the police have only increased their “us against them” mentality.

The mayor of Seattle, Mike McGuinn—who earlier called on the SPD to deprioritize arrests for pot possession—has added his voice to Seattle civil rights organizations in calling on the Justice Department to investigate the SPD for civil rights violations, mainly concerning the out-of-control use of excessive force. The local federal prosecutor seems hardly interested, but it is part and parcel with the cowardice to deal with wrong-doing by local police, as I’ve discussed before. One particularly appalling piece of recent evidence against the police was a video taken in a civilian lobby in one police precinct; a man is taken inside the lobby, and immediately is struck, kicked and beaten by three police officers. While he is on the floor with these three officers on top of him, the victim is seen moving his legs about; during the subsequent “investigation,” these movements are offered as “evidence” that he refused to “cooperate,” and thus their actions were “justified.”

The problem was that the “suspect” was not being “uncooperative” when we see him being led into the lobby; what we see is three officers begin beating and kicking him for no apparent justification. It is only after he is on the ground and all three officers continuing to kick and beat him that we see the victim moving his limbs. These movements are clearly a reflexive response to the beating; if the officers—all who were much more physically-imposing than the victim—had stopped beating him (let alone not beat him at all), the “arrest” would have gone without incident. That there was an “incident” was entirely the creation of the police involved. Later in the video we see the victim with his head bandaged strapped to an ambulance gurney; the police seem to be trying to explain to medics their version of the “incident” with some success, because the medics do not seem to be too concerned about the condition of the victim.

But what is even more appalling about this particular incident is the sheer brazenness in which the police involved conducted themselves. They surely knew they were being videotaped. Why didn’t conduct their beating outside instead of inside the lobby? What made them believe that their actions were “appropriate” and “justified,” so much so that they did not fear how their actions would be viewed if exposed? Why didn’t the police who witnessed the activity from behind the safety glass not say anything to stop the beating? These questions and others (such as the John T. Williams killing) are the reasons why the SPD needs to be investigated.

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