Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Police publication suggests that beat cops are too paranoid to moderate their abuses

sitting on a bench at the Convention Center bus station, and while I was waiting I had an unpleasant visit from a couple of King County Sheriff transit deputies on bicycles, who decided that two people warranted “The Stare.” One man who required “attention” was merely reading the bus schedules; the other man—me—was apparently “suspicious” because I was short and “ethnic.” One of the deputies disappeared around the corner; the other made a U-turn and gave me “The Stare” again. What an asshole: What is the purpose of such idiotic “techniques”—other than trying to induce a guiltily “furtive” movement that gives a cop an excuse to abuse his power—save make the officer look like a complete jerk and anger the target? I just glared at him stare-for-stare; discombobulated, he nodded his head like he was just trying to be “friendly,” you see. After he disappeared, me and this older black woman standing nearby had a laugh about how the police never seem to be around when something is really happening in the tunnel.

This experience, on a holiday that allegedly celebrates the common humanity of all people regardless of appearance, tells me that cops are probably far down the list of people who appreciate its meaning, let alone respect it. After many recent incidents in which police have been accused of getting their “kicks” out of kicking the bejesus out of “suspects” for no apparent reason save the “thrill” of it, SPD brass has been assuring the public that their beat officers are really “good” people, some of whom may need additional “training.” But it’s all a front that fools no one. At least one former federal attorney is calling for a probe of SPD tactics, and an article in a Seattle alternative weekly, The Stranger, recently offered a link on its website to a half-dozen articles contained in the otherwise secretive Guardian, a police guild publication written for and by cops, and not meant for the prying eyes of the public—and for good reason.

So what are cops thinking?

Decrying “socialism” and “bleeding hearts” over “alleged” police abuses are a typical refrain, and there is a great deal of self-pity all around. One officer states emphatically that there is an increase in “disrespect” for all authority; even teenagers will disrespect—and even strike!—a police officer. This “proves” that police occupy a position in the mind of the public little elevated than the janitor or security guard. If police really believe this, they only have themselves to blame, especially when this “disrespect” comes from people who have done nothing to warrant their harassing attention. Another complaint is that the city is trying to restrict “appropriate means of communications.” For some officers, this may mean a boot, fist or knocking someone’s head against a wall; for others, this means being able to be more “effective” by using “language” that he or she assumes is “appropriate” for certain racial groups. This means, of course, the “liberal” use of racial slurs or the supposed current cultural “lingo.” I remember a cop once referring to me as “homey.” I never heard that term in the neighborhoods where I grew-up (somewhat before my time anyways), and being college-educated, I was somewhat offended by what he was implying. One officer in the paper tried to explain how such terms as “bitch” and “mother-f**ker” could be used to achieve maximum result in dealing with people who could be complete strangers to them; there was no consideration to the fact that not all people would respond to such language in the same way.

One rather humorous article has an officer attempting to define such terms as “reality” and “ignorance.” Naturally, the police deal with “reality,” while the general public is “ignorant.” The problem with some officers is that their “reality” is based on ignorance; every racial or ethnic minority is, in their “reality,” the “enemy,” and even if they are not engaged in a criminal enterprise to make a living, they are still congenitally-wired to criminality and must be occasionally subjected to “intimidation” to keep them in line. This is ignorant thinking, and because many police use this thinking as the basis of their interactions with minorities, ignorance thus becomes “reality”—because of the way people would naturally react to such ignorance.

Another officer derided the concept of “de-escalation.” The problem is that police officers are usually guilty of escalating a situation when there was no need to escalate, save in the paranoid cop’s mind; the John T. Williams case is a classic example of this. It seems to me that some police have this need to intimidate like a playground bully, and when someone is not intimidated, they then have this need to enforce their will on the offender of their bullying sensibility. Amazingly, cops have this paranoia about being “assaulted,” even when the only person doing the assaulting is the cop. They make it sound as if they are always “assaulted.” This is mostly a load of garbage; recently I mentioned one of the incidents that have put the SPD in a bad light, where a gang of officers beat a “suspect” half to death in a precinct lobby for no apparent reason while other officers watched as if this was the common practice. Police say they will lose their “street cred” if they “de-escalate”—meaning the only “language” that“suspects”—usually minorities—understand is getting beat-on. This is what they call “serving the community.”

Another officer laments efforts to curb racial profiling by police. It might help, of course, if police didn’t assume that every minority is a potential criminal, or try to “intimidate” someone who is a minority who isn’t doing anything “suspicious,” like waiting at a bus stop. Nobody likes to be treated like a subhuman creature, but that is what many police officers do. These people just don’t “get it.” The cop making this complaint, a certain officer Pomper—who seems to be the principle offender of human decency in the Guardian—tells his fellows that they should be practicing “equal justice” rather than be forced to practice “social justice”; the problem is that cops usually spurn the former with just as much impunity as it derides the latter. Pomper claims that a change in the DWLS 3 procedure (driving with a suspended license)—that would require officers to submit their citations to the city attorney for review instead giving them directly to the courts for adjudication—amounts to “racial profiling” by the city, because minorities are more likely to receive DWLS citations. The fact is that police target the poor and minorities more than they do whites in nice cars—giving rise to the term “Driving while poor,” in which people least likely to afford the absurd rationales police often give for pulling people over (like driving over the “fog line” or not switching on turn signals fast enough); police frequently use these rationales when they go out on “fishing” for people who they “suspect” might be likely candidates for warrants or being a terrorist watch. The city found that many of these people who were repeatedly pulled over by police were given so many citations that they could not afford to pay them, and their licenses would be suspended because of this. The city wanted to institute a policy of re-licensing people whose only “crime” was their inability to pay these citations. But to officers like Pomper, this amounts to an accusation that police are not only engaged in racial profiling, but they are cavalierly making the lives of the poor worse off because of their prejudices.

So what have we learned about the police mentality, at least insofar as the officers who “contribute” the Guardian are concerned? They are paranoid, obviously. They have no respect for what the public regards as appropriate use of police power. And despite what the top brass tell us, their officers have no intention of moderating their behavior.

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