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Is There a Trend of Police Brutality?

This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Timothy Kincaid

October 6th, 2009

I’ve just finished reading the complaint of a young gay man who was cited for doing a cartwheel in Grand Central Station and then beaten unconscious for complaining about it.

Of course this is his side of the story and there may be circumstances which differ from his recollection and report. But I’ve been cautious a number of times this year over assuming too much about police brutality, only to find that it was every bit as bad as originally reported.

Which has me thinking: what’s going on?

Are these just a string of independent and unrelated actions of which gay people are the victim of overly aggressive officers, or is there currently a trend of police brutality?

I grew up in a small town where you waved “hello” if you saw a police officer. They waved back. The police were your friend, there to protect you and serve you and, occasionally, nudge you back to being a good citizen and neighbor.

And it was this attitude that I brought with me to “the big city”. I thought that we all participate in the policing of our community and that officers were our allies against crime.

But I currently live in a city where you get off the street if you see an officer ahead, where you do not call the police unless you absolutely have to, and where any interaction at all with police is to be avoided. It is rare to hear anyone talk about their experience with the LAPD which was not hostile, in which the victim was not made to feel like a suspect, or in which they did not leave the interaction with the impression that the officer viewed them with contempt and was just daring them to be anything but submissive and obsequious.

I recently had a minor interaction with an LAPD squad car who, it appeared to me, pulled me and a friend over because I treated them like they were any other car while merging in traffic. Although there was nothing for which I could be hauled in or ticketed, the officers were aggressive, hostile, and intrusive. And while it was not their business where we was going (to the grocery store), I was afraid not to answer when they demanded to know. I sat there meekly taking it and keeping a smile on my face.

And although my instinct runs to support of law and order, I knew that this was just bullying. We were the enemy, the “perps”, the faggots, and we were being put in our place.

My complaint is minor. It cost me a few minutes of my life. Some who meet with the police don’t live to tell about it.

This is not to say that there aren’t wonderful officers. The sheriffs office that operates out of West Hollywood seeks to keep peace, protect residents, and serve the community. Interactions with that office tend to be friendly, efficient, and purposeful.

(What made the interaction more disconcerting was that the LAPD pulled us over in West Hollywood, where they don’t have jurisdiction.)

But the West Hollywood Sheriff’s department seems to be the exception, rather than the rule. The more I hear of law enforcement and their interaction with gay citizens – or, often, any citizens – the more I am becoming concerned that police enforcement in general is more about force and compliance and oppression and, frankly, brutality than it is about public service or civic order.

And that is very sad. I hope I’m mistaken.

Comments

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Emily K
October 6th, 2009 | LINK

A recent article in the Philly Inquirer actually said, “it’s not a race thing, it’s a police thing” – that is, police don’t beat up on blacks, they beat up on anyone. Because they’re police and we’re civies. He wrote about a police mentality that seemed to be growing ever since the attitude of “security at all costs” came about post-9/11. That was a good number of years ago, but the attitude that the previous administration fostered in the government – torture, detainment without reasonable cause or a trial, suspicion of anything – has been fostered since the end of last year, and possible still is with the new administration.

Hazumu Osaragi
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

Right Wing Authoritarianism–

http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

Recognized authority is always right, and if authority says you were out of line, then you deserved what you got.

The book(pdf) at the link above is essetial, if somewhat depressing reading. But the final chapter has suggested ways of dealing with RWAs.

Mortanius
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

Sadly I went from victim to “that faggot perp” when my neighbor’s chicken farm of over 400 chickens in his city’s backyard lot got shut down, partly due to my complaints. Neighbor tore my fence down, when I came home threatened my faggot ass to “go all hillbilly” on me, threatened to kill my dog if she went on his property (after tearing down my fence). Course I called the cops, he shows up and after hearing my complaint, looking at my rainbow flag goes to talk to the “hillbilly” and says “well it’s his first amendment right to say what he wants”, excuse me? Now he’s the good guy? What about my fence? “do you have proof that it is your fence, he says it’s his fence”, oh I don’t know officer it’s fucking attached to my house, what do you think.

Of course what goes around comes around, his wife left him cause he couldn’t hold a job, he lost his truck, house, and is not in prison because of dealing drugs and prostitution. So that cop may not give a shit about the “faggots” in his city, but I’m still here and paying my taxes.

I am concerned about the amount of police aggression I have seen in the news as of late targeting the “gay community”

ragarth
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

I tend to agree that it’s not just aggression against the gay community. Police in general are becoming anathema to a liberal and productive society. The increasing abuse of power is just most obvious where hot-bed issues such as race and sexuality intersect with it.

Christopher Waldrop
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

I used to play darts regularly in a bar frequented by a bunch of cops, and, getting to know them, I felt more secure knowing they were out patrolling the streets. And I was once pulled over by a cop who thought I was giving him the finger (for the record I would never be so disrespectful, and didn’t even know there was a cop in the lane next to me). He was so aggressive and confrontational that I felt less secure knowing there were guys like him patrolling the streets. The problem, I know, is that there are good cops and bad cops, and even if they’re the minority (which they may or may not be) there’s not a good way to deal with the bad cops.

Darren
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

Unfortunately, I don’t think you’re mistaken :( In Baltimore, being a cop is about having the legal authority to make power trips, ESPECIALLY if you’re a woman. It’s really rather sad. I detest cops.

michaelinnorfolk
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

Sadly, my experience with the police in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia mirrors your experience – the police are typically a threat more than they are a “friend” to protect you. Too often it seems bullies with the wrong psychological make up to have the power of a badge and a gun are precisely those who are on police department staffs.

CLS
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

There have been lots of changes in recent years. One is that police stopped seeing themselves as peace officers and became law enforcement officers. Instead of seeing the public as their charge to protect they see the public as the entity that needs to be controlled. Second, the federal govt has done quite a bit to militarize the police, with training on paramilitary tactics. In other words police are being taught how to attack the citizens the way we teach the military to invade a hostile nation.

More and more legislation is meant to control peaceful activities. At one time the law was relegated to the basic: don’t hurt another person, don’t take what doesn’t belong to you and don’t infringe the liberty of others. Now it controls the most minute aspects of life probably making us all criminals in one degree or another.

Local control mitigates a lot of this but as political entities get larger and larger that control dies out. It becomes easier to ignore. In my small town of my youth if the cops hassled a kid the parents screamed to their friends on the city council. Now they would have to scream to complete strangers who don’t know them or really care about them. And now the police unions are major contributors to political campaigns which buys a level of protection.

As the power of the state grows the power of the police grows. Power corrupts, as Lord Acton noted. What you are witnessing is that corruption up close and personal.

Lindoro Almaviva
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

Last night on my way to buy bread my husband and I witnessed 2 police cars completely blocking the road so they could pull someone. Mind you, we had a green light and some of us were right in the middle of the intersection. I literally had to go through the parking lot of a gas station so I could continue and not get killed by incoming traffic had the light changed.

Once I calmed down, I was telling my husband that I have seen a dangerous switch in the attitude cops carry around after 9/11. Shortly after 9/11, cops and firefighters from NYC and elsewhere were treated like heroes. I am starting to believe the hero worship has gone to their heads and they now believe that they carry a superman cape and WE are expected to serve them. Needless to say, I think the patriot act has given them the belief that they are untouchable.

Now, i am aware of their sacrifices and the fact that they put their lives in the line every day; but ultimately they are civil servants and they should be held accountable for their actions and I am not seeing that. After 9/11 cops just get a free pass. The funny part is that I have not seen the same change in firefighters.

Lastly, I have to wonder what kind of influence shows like 24, Law & Order, NCIS, CSI and the rest have had in the way people and cops see themselves. I think we all know that 24 and Jack Bower were the most invoked names at the beginning of the war on terror. I just have to wonder…

Richard Rush
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

My perception is that the police “profession” contains a much higher percentage of bullies than the general population. I’m guessing that many of them started out as schoolyard bullies. Most of that perception is based on observation and stories rather than personal experience. To be fair, in much of my limited personal experience, I found them to be relatively civilized.

My most negative experiences have not been with the officers themselves, but due to those who manage and direct their activities. If it were not for the recent appalling police gay bar raids, I wouldn’t bother mentioning the following incidents from many years ago since I would have assumed that those things would never happen today:

There have been only two occasions when I was stopped while driving for absolutely no legitimate reason (in Texas and New Jersey). Both of those incidents (about 30 years ago) occurred when a black friend was also in the car.

And about 37 years ago I spent a full night in jail with over 100 others for the crime of patronizing a gay party boat. Then we all had to march into court a few days later were the charges where dismissed.

Priya Lynn
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

My perception is that the police “profession” contains a much higher percentage of bullies than the general population. I’m guessing that many of them started out as schoolyard bullies.

I recall visting a friend of mine and her 14 year old son was bragging about bullying the weaker kids at school. He went on with obvious glee about how some people were winners and some people were losers and it was the natural order of things for the winners to bully the losers. Once he grew up he became a police officer – I was horrified that someone with that sort of attitude would be in a position of authority and basing his actions on such an evil view of how society should work. Horrified, but not surprised that a bully like that would seek to be in a position of power over others.

Ben Mathis
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

Emily the fact remains that blacks are targeted a huge percentage higher than whites. Yes they abuse everyone, but it’s not equal, blacks still get the much shorter end of the stick when it comes to police misconduct, abuse, and harassment.

The complete lack of oversight in the police force has led to rampant corruption. The “few bad apples” has a remainder to the saying, “A few bad apples… ruins the bunch”. Every police officer that helps his bigoted or racist colleagues get away with things by upholding the blue wall of silence is every bit as corrupt as the ones actually committing the offenses.

Priya Lynn
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

Ben said “The “few bad apples” has a remainder to the saying, “A few bad apples… ruins the bunch”.”.

I’ve never heard that saying. I have heard one that goes “One bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch” though.

Lorenzo from Oz
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

A recent case in Phoenix suggests it is violence over competence.

the crustybastard
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

The “War on Drugs” has left us with a militarized and unaccountable police force. Their primary allegiance is to each other, regardless of how corrupt or indefensible their behavior is.

Regardless of how you view them, they view you as a perp. Under civil forfeiture laws, they also view you as a piggybank.

There may be a few good cops left, but in this environment it’s best to treat police like you treat snakes; assume they’re venomous until you’re absolutely positive they aren’t.

Google up “Tony Arambula shooting.” As you read his story, please remember that the police review board exonerated the officers for both shooting the homeowner in the back and conspiring to cover that up.

tavdy79
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

Priya – I’ve heard both versions, but it’s Ben’s version that’s the right one.

If you store apples in a box and just one of them has a bruise, that bruise will spread over the apple and across to the apples it’s touching, and will continue to spread until they’re all rotten. One singly tiny bruise on one apple will be enough to ruin them all.

Unfortunately Humans often work in exactly the same way. The Nazi party was actually very small – but their rottenness spread and ended tens of millions of lives.

Priya Lynn
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

If you store apples in a box and just one of them has a bruise, that bruise will spread over the apple and across to the apples it’s touching, and will continue to spread until they’re all rotten. One singly tiny bruise on one apple will be enough to ruin them all.

[citation needed]

The Lauderdale
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

http://www.botany.org/bsa/misc/mcintosh/badapple.html

Google “one bad apple” and ethylene for more. I’ve also noticed this with tomatoes.

Kith
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

You know asking for citation on what can easily be goggled is pretty bad.

It is an old proverb, it is “One ROTTEN apple can spoil the whole BARRLE.”

The scientific reason is that rotten apples release various gasses that promote the swift decay of the other fruit, and the Barrel part is important because a barrel is a closed system.

The phase has been used historically including by our founding fathers. It is even the cornerstone of a branch of economy and I found a rather long essay that used that phrase against both gay marriage and divorce. I am not going to bother to provide you a hundred links because I am going to assume you are competent enough to use Google, but I will give you the link to the dictionary definition for Bad Apple.

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/bad+apple

Priya Lynn
October 7th, 2009 | LINK

Thanks for the link Lauderdale, but it didn’t answer the question. I’ve seen many bruised apples at the grocery store, but I’ve never seen the whole bunch of them gone bad.

Kith, rotten apples, maybe as mold can transfer, but I was referrring to bruised apples, which, as I’ve said I’ve never seen such bruising being catchy.

Ben
October 8th, 2009 | LINK

It doesn’t matter, though you are wrong, the point remains. If you as a police officer remain silent when someone else in your department engages in misconduct, you are guilty, and the longer and more egregious the misconduct you can justify mentally for not speaking out against, the more and more corrupt you become, till you might even partake in the same misconduct yourself.

When studying police complaints, routinely 80%+ are found to be against 2-3 officers, but IA rarely lifts a finger, because no evidence or witnesses is brought forth by their fellow officers.

One bad police officer that isn’t excised as soon as they are proven to be corrupt, ruins the whole department. Just like apples.

Ben
October 8th, 2009 | LINK

I forgot that Priya Lynn is the resident conservative troll, so it shouldn’t surprise me that after being shown facts, the scientific reasons behind a phenomena and the historical background, she discounts it in favor of her unscientific gut observations. It’s a typical conservative policy.

Apples sitting in an open air case at a grocery store where they are rotated nightly and examined for bruises are not going to display the same phenomena as apples closed up in a container for much longer period. This is exactly why the full phrase is so apt, because if the police actually faced some kind of accountability, the bad ones would be removed, and their disease wouldn’t be allowed to spread to the uncorrupted. It’s the perfect analogy for the police on every level, but only when taking the entirety of the original phrase.

It’s no wonder you’ve never heard it, because the most likely sources of your news never use it in it’s entirety, because it’s used to excuse away the systematic corruption by blaming “a few bad apples”.

Timothy Kincaid
October 8th, 2009 | LINK

Ben,

To the best of my knowledge Priya Lynn could not be classified as “conservative”. Further, such personal attacts are in violation of our comments policy. Please avoid them.

Timothy (TRiG)
October 24th, 2009 | LINK

It’s an old saying from when people stored apples from their orchards over winter. It certainly does not apply to a greengrocer, and still less to a supermarket.

***

I have for many years had a general impression that American police are more violent than the ones I’m used to here in Ireland. I’m not sure where that impression comes from. Fiction, probably. I read a lot.

That said, civilized countries, such as the UK and Canada, also have these problems. Here’s a note written by an Englishman living in Texas.

TRiG.

Priya Lynn
October 24th, 2009 | LINK

I just saw Ben’s comment for the first time. I note that contrary to his claim no one provided any facts about bad apples. And to be accused of being a conservative for the first time in my life is hilarious. Thanks for the laugh Ben.

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