Sunday, August 9, 2015

Policing gone viral

There has to be a point where people say "enough is enough". We've passed that point decades ago. The way in which police around the United States conduct themselves is truly appalling. Look up the ten most brutal police forces according to "Top Criminal Justice Schools" in the world, and you'll find that of the United States on a list with the likes of China, Russia and Iran.

The past few years have seen various law enforcement departments in the United States marred by their flabbergasting incompetence. While the debate over guns in America continues, so does the appalling violence against civilians, most often minorities.

Ever since the shooting and murder of Trayvon Martin, people around the US have been far more cognizant of what's going on. They are taking note. They are using their phones to record and easy  access to internet to share their experiences. And these experiences have shown us over time that the practice of policing has been abolished and replaced by a frightening Spartan-like rule. Police are given guns, many of whom think this is plain permission to go rogue and ditch their moral compass.   

Just in July of this year, 124 people were killed by US law enforcement. Unfortunately, not enough of these cases become as high-profile as the murder of Samuel Dubose on July 19th. He was just one of those 124 killed, according to killedbypolice.net.

Samuel Dubose was pulled over by a University of Cincinnati Police. In a matter of moments, he was killed. Ray Tensing, the officer who shot and killed Dubose alleged that he was being dragged by Dubose's car as he sped away. This claim was confirmed by two other officers at the scene with Dubose. However, all three were wearing bodycams and it wasn't long before their claims were dismissed. Now we understand why many departments in America still don't use these cameras. There is no way to cover up abuse of authority, plainly lying about events and outright murdering civilians.

When in the end one considers that this wasn't even a Police Department per se, but a University Police Department, one you would expect exists to provide support and underpin the functioning of a large campus or college town, this case becomes truly mind boggling. Why did these officers, who pulled over Dubose for a missing license plate, resort to killing the man?

What we've seen for so many years now is the unwarranted escalation of peaceful situations by police officers. Make no mistake, officers in the vast majority of cases are fully in control of the situations they are attending to. They are well prepared. They are, or are said to be, trained. However, we see not police but vigilantes patrolling America.

The very fact that a University's police department was involved in one of the most controversial police murders this year proves many things. Yet the most discernible is that the over-militarization of police forces around America is like a spreading illness that has infested far too many departments that are otherwise responsible for upholding the law, not breaking it.

The two officers on the scene at the time who corroborated Ray Tensing's wrongful accusation were not penalized in any real way. This is the very real issue. Police brutality is something that develops over time with the emergence of a certain mindset. The "we protect our own" mindset, when police should be protecting their own society.

Even officers who have tazers to deploy often simply reach for their guns and decide "today I'm going to shoot, and possibly kill a person". How someone can sleep, or indeed live, after committing such a heinous act is something I cannot and will never truly understand. When police are members of society we look to for help and protection, they have shown, in America, that they are very often not the ones you should be looking to.

Sandra Bland was a woman of color who died amid mysterious circumstances while in police custody. Why she was taken into custody? Not exactly clear. She had been stopped after failing to use her indicator when switching lanes. When State Trooper Brian Encinia pulled her over she told him the reason she switched lanes was because he had started to use his sirens and wanted to get out of his way.

Harris County Medical Examiner ruled her death a suicide. Many people, mostly American NRA supporters, are content with that answer. Others aren't. After all, police released footage of the event that had been tampered with. They also may have posed Sandra Bland after she was already dead for her mugshot. More evidence of this being true is that she was already in jail-issued prison uniform. Her posture, meanwhile, seems to suggest she had been laying on the floor while it was taken.

It's not certain police are responsible for her death, yet it's abundantly clear that she was unlawfully arrested. The State Trooper's removal of Bland from her car was unreasonable. He told Bland to put out her cigarette, which she refused, then ordered her out of the car, which she also refused. It's obvious that Bland had the right to smoke in her own car, it was only a cigarette after all. In an interview with the New York Times, Robert Weisberg of Stanford University argued that in order to legitimately order Bland out of her car after she refused the Trooper's demand to put out her cigarette, he would've had to have had reason to believe she was violent. That's a difficult assertion to make considering it was her that died in police custody, who have the  responsibility to ensure these "mysterious" deaths don't ever happen when someone is taken into custody.

This event shows exactly what I alluded to previously, the escalation of otherwise peaceful situations by none other than police officers. Bland in the full video can be seen vexed by the encounter, and that is only understandable. She was being stopped for a violation she had only committed because she thought she would be helping police conduct actual police work and crack down on actual crime.

Needless to say, the arrest itself was excessively forceful. There is also other evidence that supports the hypothesis that there is a larger coverup, including the idiosyncrasy of police documents that simply don't make sense. On one page, she is alleged to have put she has attempted suicide in the past, while on another she had put "no" to the question.

In response to the murder, the hacker group Anonymous posted a video calling for a day of "rage" for Bland's murder. After all the recent killings police are responsible for, it certainly doesn't make sense that this woman actually committed suicide in her cell, rather it's more likely a case of manslaughter. During what was obviously very rough handling, she may have been seriously injured. Freddy Gray, who also died in police custody this year, died amid similarly perplexing circumstances. All officers involved in his arrest were themselves found responsible for his death to varying extents along the lines of manslaughter.

Arlington Police Department were responding to a call that a man had driven through the window of a dealership. Upon responding, the 19-year-old college athlete apparently did not comply with the order to surrender. Now, considering these two facts that he was a college student and also drove into a dealership, would it be fairly straightforward to assume this teenager was simply drunk? Yes, it would.

Yet, Christian Taylor, who attended Angelo State University and was unarmed, was shot several times by an officer nearing the end of his training. According to reports, he shot the teenager after a confrontation ensued. Brad Miller, a veteran of the police force, was with the officer-in-training. Miller used his taser, while his inexperienced counterpart shot Taylor four times. This comes not that long after an incident in New York, similarly involving an officer-in-training who shot and killed a man.

This event is particularly eye-opening. It highlights that training in place for officers is simply lacking. It shows that with so much dependence on real-life, on-the-job training, police can become swayed by personal experiences. In this case, the lack of training doesn't help them overcome potential biases that may thus occur. The event manifests that police departments need to rethink how they train officers. Not just with regards to what they learn, but how they are equipped. Had the officer-in-training only been carrying a taser, this unfortunate case would not have taken place. It is all the more unfortunate timing wise, with this case almost coinciding with the date of Mike Brown's death one-year ago.

Moving onto murder on a very different scale, but still clearly evincing of the current mentality plaguing US law enforcement. When responding to reports of a burglary, a Topeka officer ended up killing the dog of the supposed Judge being burgled. For many pet owners, having their dog killed is far worse than having their TV stolen. While video does show a dog charging, the officer made the conscious decision to neither run, nor to use non-leathal force. The officer has no justification considering he could have used the butt of his pistol, his pepper spray, his taser, or a baton (if he had one). But even though all officers are given guns, not all are given batons. Funny how that works.

The dog can be seen on the graphic video captured on the officer's bodycam already barking as he makes his way towards the house. The officer then shoots it, and then shoots it again. But this wasn't a huge Rottweiler. It was a 26-pound dog, the size of a beagle. That's not all. This particular police department was already responsible for killing another pet just the prior month. The department argued that the officer's actions did not clash with their policies. So, if you're a pet owner and are being robbed you may want to hold off calling the police because an officer being charged by a chihuahua will likely call for backup.

Another incident this week involving pets occurred in West Virginia. Officers were responding to a neighborhood argument and the situation, as customary when involving law enforcement, escalated. That was because one of the officers, walking up the lawn, was barked at by a dog that was on a chain and wagging his tail. The man immediately took aim and signaled his readiness to indiscriminately kill the animal, but the owner wasn't so ready. She jumped in front of him, and was then knocked to the ground, arrested and charged with misdemeanor obstruction.

Other dogs aren't as lucky. Dog killings occur at an alarming rate. Unsurprisingly often by officers who enter a private premisses illegally, without a warrant, and don't know that a dog is present. When they make this discovery, they often decide the best course of action is to simply murder the animal.

Sad how things are. Much sadder that the rate at which people are being killed is so rapid we can't even remember their names for long. That is the message Dave Chappelle delivered some months ago when he remarked, "a kid gets killed by the poilice and I buy a T-shirt and before I can wear that one, there's another kid (killed) and I'm running out of closet space." Chappelle is right, their is always another unarmed youth, of color, killed.

Walter Scott was the unarmed man shot eight times while running from a South Carolina officer.
Fortunately for human rights, the gruesome murder was caught on video. As someone who's spent time in both the United States and United Kingdom, I can assure people that American law enforcement suffers from a lack of control and direction. Officers are given guns after a few months of training along with the right to choose life or death for people. This is just one of a staggering amount of reasons American law enforcement is inept, amateurish and disliked.

The reason I bring up the example of Britain is very simple. It faces the very same threats that the United States faces. The most pertinent of these is terrorism. The reason police in America have become so over-militarized is owing to the Patriot Act, passed in the aftermath of 9/11. When considering that Britain has gone through terrorism too, just remind yourselves of the 7/7 bombings, it's easy to see which nation reacted appropriately and which didn't. Consider this one number, US police have killed more civilians in March alone than British police have in the entire 20th Century. Now that's a truly appalling reflection on the United States' version of preservation, because that is the very essence of law enforcement.

Many people in America (or, the NRA gang) argue that guns are simply a part of their culture, and that the American society is one with an understanding of how to deal with guns better than any other in the world. Well, those people should have the guts to call the 13 families who were left with heartache after the Columbine High School Massacre, or the families of the 33 who died in the Virginia Tech shooting, or the families of the 26 who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Policing in America went wrong from the very start. Still, it's not solely the police departments to blame, it's the culture of gun violence that many Americans seeks to suggest is normal. So, when dozens of kids are killed, Americans act like it's a tragedy. Then they suggest new methods of gun control. When an unarmed African-American is killed, the very same thing happens and people look for something to change. If Americans just take a second to realize, all the instances mentioned hitherto involve guns,  the one ingredient without which America would be a truly more liberal place. After all, you wouldn't fear being gunned down in broad daylight.

But, obviously that won't happen. The NRA has far too much sway in politics, and America is a nation whose political system has been eroded by the practice of lobbying and money in politics. SO even if people wanted guns to be gone, the system would ensure that this doesn't happen. Nevertheless, this doesn't mean America can't take the example of European countries who also allow citizens to bear arms. Switzerland is probably the best example of a nation with a high number of guns per its population and a relatively low number of incidents. It's time to start thinking why this may be. Are people better trained and more aware of the implications of firing a gun?

Whether an officer of the law or a citizen, the same education needs to be applied to understanding guns. And concurrently, the very prevalent issue of police discrimination needs to be addressed with such reinforced training. Police should realize that 1) not every black man carries a gun, 2) that shooting someone should be the very last resort instead of the very first. Lastly, the system of protecting officers who commit murder must be dealt with on a judicial level. This will take reexamining mechanics of the US legal system and why this is happening in the first place.


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