This site has blogged numerous times about police misconduct in criminal investigations, militarized police departments using heavy-handed tactics to disrupt lawful civil disobedience, police corruption involving “cops on the take” in drug trafficking cases, and police tactical teams killing or injuring law-abiding citizens based on unreliable information supplied by informants.
The level of police misconduct in this nation is alarming.
On Sunday, November 23, police shot and killed a 12-year-old boy outside a Cleveland recreation center after the child reached into his waist for what turned out to be a toy pistol. This case is particularly disturbing because the 911 call to the police informed the cops that the boy was waving what appeared to be a fake pistol around, scaring people. Timothy Kucharski, an attorney speaking for the family, has this to say about the shooting:
“The police have to address these things in proper context,” he said. “This is a 12-year-old boy. This is not a grown man. I’d think you would handle situations with children differently than you would an adult. They don’t fully understand everything that is going on.”
Just two days before Cleveland police gunned down the 12-year-old boy, a New York police officer shot an unarmed man in a pitch black stairwell in a housing project.
The officers were in the stairwell responding to a call. Akai Gurley and his girlfriend grew impatient waiting on an elevator and decided to take the stairwell. Moments later Gurley was shot in the chest. New York police commissioner William J. Bratton immediately issued a statement that Gurley had done nothing to provoke the shooting. The commissioner said his officer accidentally killed Gurley when the officer tried to turn a door knob in the stairwell while holding his gun in his hand.
While our Government maintains a database on everything from toothpaste to skate boards, it does not have a database for the number of police shootings of civilians in this country each year. Some independent sources place the number of Americans killed by the police each year between 500 and 1,000—or, for more context, these sources say 5,000 Americans have been killed by the police since 9/11. Washington’s Blog reports that Americans are eight times more likely to be killed by the police than by terrorists.
The police deserve our respect for the difficult job they do, but they must earn our trust. We, as a society, are not their enemy. Their “war on crime” is against criminals, not law-abiding citizens. This war does not license them to frame, kill, or maim people because they do not like their religion, race, ethnicity, or sexual preference. The police will have our trust when they uniformly accept the constitutional principle that every person is innocent until proven guilty. The police are just that – the police. They are not judge and jury. They are not our moral conscience, our social instructor, or our thought control. They are our public servants and protectors. It is time that they act as such.
At the end of the day, society bestows upon the police the license to lie, fabricate, aggressively arrest and, in the worst cases, kill. It is now apparent that this license to commit crime to prevent crime has emboldened police over the last two decades to believe they can abuse the civilian population with impunity.
Major cities across the nation are learning otherwise. The following cities have been force to pay out the following damage awards in police misconduct cases, according to criminal justice expert Radley Balko:
• The Chicago Sun-Times earlier this year reported that the city of Chicago has paid out nearly a half billion dollars in awards with $84.6 million being spent last year alone in attorney fees, settlements, and awards.
• Bloomberg News reported in 2011 that Los Angeles and New York, respectively, $54 million and $735 million in awards involving their police, including abuse and negligence.
• The Oakland Police Beat reported in April that that city has paid out $74 million since 1990 in 417 lawsuits.
• The Dallas Morning News reported last May that that city has paid out $6 million since 2011.
• The Denver Post reported this past August that that city has paid out $13 million over the past decade.
• Minneapolis Public Radio reported in October that that city has paid out $12 million since 2003.
Writing in an October 1, 2014 piece for the Washington Post, Balko had this to say about these lawsuits:
“In theory, the cost of the lawsuits – which are of course paid by taxpayers – are supposed to inspire better oversight, better government, and better policing.
When taxpayers see their hard-earned money spent to compensate victims of police misconduct, they vote for political leaders who will hold cops more accountable. Or at least that’s the theory. I’m not sure how effective that is. I’ve seen little evidence that people generally vote on these issues, even in municipal elections. (The last mayoral election in New York may be one exception.)”
Enough is enough. It is time for all of us involved in the criminal justice system to demand better. It is time for our communities to demand better training for our police and fewer military weapons and tactical classes. It is time to stop the intimidation and fear tactics in policing and demand decency from our public servants. How many more children will be killed by police before we demand to be treated with respect by those who are sworn to serve and protect?