Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Police (State) Report For 30 September, 2008 (UPDATED)

America's finest have not been enjoying their finest hours of late.

After roughing up and arresting dozens of people – a minority of whom were causing trouble and a majority of whom were credentialed reporters, passersby and others simply swept up in a dragnet a la 2004 Republican National Convention – at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, some Denver cops have now added insult to injustice with this t-shirt:

Actually, it's not insult so much as flagrantly flouting their own violation of any number of laws and civil rights. I say bust all the bad cops involved (in the arrests and the creation of the t-shirt) and use this in court as evidence against them. Imagine a t-shirt: "I robbed Manny's Liquor Store at the corner of 14th and Washington." If that were true, would the law simply look the other way?

An emotionally disturbed man died this week after being tased by New York police. Iman Morales had climbed out on the front of a building sans clothing and was trying to keep the police at bay using a fluorescent light bulb when the commanding officer ordered another officer to fire his Taser at Morales. Disturbing video footage shows Morales going limp and falling forward off the building, to the audible horror of onlookers. The distance to the ground was only about 10 feet, but as Morales had temporarily lost muscular control he landed on his head and died.

Folks, the sight of a naked man in public is strange and alarming, but let's get some perspective. A pervert? Possibly. Could he be a danger to others? Where would he hide a weapon? Turns out he was having trouble with his medication. The tasing was found to have violated NYC Police rules against using the weapon on someone who is likely to fall and be harmed. (NOTE: Out of respect for the commanding officer, who today apparently committed suicide, I have modified this post slightly.)

A West Virginia man who was arrested for DUI and driving without headlights shortly thereafter also briefly faced a charge of battery for farting and waving the foul air at Officer T.E. Parsons. That charge has since been dropped, but the fact one could be charged for such a thing? Imagine all the siblings, teammates, frat buddies, knitting circle companions, etc. who could now be charged with battery!

Such an assault on someone else's olfactory senses may be may disrespectful and gross – a low blow, in a manner of speaking – but it's not battery. In fact, I believe flatulence to be a constitutionally protected bodily function. (I must admit, I have imagined sitting in the back of a squad car, handcuffed and helpless, and firing off the only weapon at my disposal to let the cops know how I felt about them. I think even Gandhi would've approved of such non-violent civil disobedience.)

Ok, so here's a token "good cop" story for those of you shaking your heads and fingers at my shameless disrespect for authority figures: A Wisconsin police officer has started a reading program for underprivileged children – and she's not reading them their rights. No, that's a few years off yet. Anyway, good on Officer Julia Burney-Witherspoon.

Do I have an axe to grind? Have I had a few run-ins (or is it like "attorneys general," i.e. runs-in) with the law? I think my blog history shows I fervently call for accountability at all levels. When authorities aggressively and/or unnecessarily detain, incarcerate, charge, beat or otherwise endanger the citizens they are supposed to protect – and then face few or no consequences – the system has failed.

I don't consider dropping charges that should've never been filed or changing someone's job title "accountability." No, what I call accountability is facing penalties for willful malfeasance; consider it a deterrent tactic, a term which should be very familiar to those who enforce the law for a living. Some will no doubt suggest a "chilling effect" on law enforcement could result, leading to them being afraid to even do their jobs. However, when it comes to incidents such as I've mentioned here I'm more worried about them not being afraid. It is the absence of that fear that has placed Americans in a nascent police state.