Yesterday a gunman opened fire on two NYPD officers as they were sitting in their patrol car and murdered them. He had allegedly murdered his girlfriend earlier and proceeded to commit suicide after shooting the police officers. Before I say anything else, let me first say this to the families of Wenjian Lu and Rafael Ramos:
I’m so sorry. This should never have happened. I don’t know if these two cops were “good” or “bad” cops; I don’t know if the perpetrator knew them and had a legitimate beef with them or if they were completely innocent targets of opportunity… but all of that’s irrelevant. They didn’t deserve to die this way. This was absolutely, unequivocally wrong. This was murder.
The perpetrator tweeted before his attack: “They Take 1 Of Ours…… Let’s Take 2 of Theirs”. Allegedly his motive was revenge for the lack of prosecution in the Eric Garner case. As I’ve stated before, his actions were absolutely wrong – however, let’s take a moment to consider things from his point of view, simply to understand the full scope of what’s going on.
He assumed that these NYPD cops were dirty (which is actually not outside the realm of possibility, according to Frank Serpico, who would know better than anyone). Let’s assume that he knew these cops were breaking every single law they could while using their badge to enforce it. This is, unfortunately, not too imaginative either; turns out the “Cop of the Year” for the 114th precinct of NYPD was recently arrested for trafficking 10 kilos of cocaine. I don’t know what the street value of 10 kilos is, but holy crap… I digress. Former New York City narcotics detective Stephen Anderson testified in court that the NYPD routinely plants drugs on innocent people in a process known as “flaking.” He described this as a “common practice,” a “quick and easy” way for officers to reach arrest quotas.
NYPD seems to systemically struggle with dirty, corrupt, and overly violent cops.
But even if everything I just described applies to the two cops who were murdered, that still doesn’t justify what happened.
That’s why we have laws; that’s why we have Constitutional rights; that’s why we have due process. Even if these cops had been dirty (and we don’t know one way or another at this point), this is how they should have been handled. They should have been arrested, arraigned, charged, and tried. Ideally, that’s how we handle this kind of stuff in America.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world.
Cops are rarely arrested. Daniel Pantaleo, the cop who killed Eric Garner by choking him to death using an illegal hold not authorized by his department, walked free without being arrested. The only person arrested and charged during the event was the man who filmed it, Ramsey Orta. Let that sink in for a moment. Jon Stewart said it best when he said that it was inexcusable that Pantaleo was not indicted because “none of the ambiguities that existed in the Ferguson case exist in the (Eric Garner) case.”
If cops are arrested, they’re rarely charged. Consider the case of John Biehn, a former cop who was arrested 3 times in 11 hours for DUI – and was let go each time. He was a former cop because he left the force after an incident in 2004 when he went on a drunken rampage at a housing complex, firing his gun at random and shooting out several windows. Three residents testified that Biehn pointed the gun at their heads and tried to shoot them. Others said Biehn fired at them but missed. However, he was acquitted of attempted murder and assault and his sentence suspended.
Or consider the case of an officer in Contra Costa County in California who was arrested with “4 or 5 pounds of marijuana.” To put that in perspective, the amount of marijuana someone can legally possess in Washington State (where ownership was recently legalized) is one ounce. However, this officer will not face charges.
We could also view the case of New London police chief David Seastrand, who attempted to use his authority to intimidate a teen into posing nude for him while he snapped pictures of her with the department’s camera in exchange for dropped underage drinking charges. The teenager testified: “He said he would grab the station’s camera to shoot a series of nude photos of me, and then he’d hold it over my head for two years to be sure I didn’t commit another crime. That’s when it was really chilling,” she said. “He’s standing there in uniform, he had his gun strapped on his side, and then he said that if I told anyone he would deny it all.” Prosecutors called Seastrand’s actions “abhorrent behavior and unacceptable behavior for anyone in that type of a position,” but did not file criminal charges against him.
If cops are actually charged, they’re rarely tried. This is also true of the judges that help them. We could heed the words of Reddit Hudson, a former police officer with St. Louis PD, who says this: “Even when officers get caught, they know they’ll be investigated by their friends, and put on paid leave. My colleagues would laughingly refer to this as a free vacation. It isn’t a punishment. And excessive force is almost always deemed acceptable in our courts and among our grand juries. Prosecutors are tight with law enforcement, and share the same values and ideas.”
Consider the case of Justice Nora Longoria, who was pulled over for speeding and flashed her judge’s badge to attempt to get out of a ticket. The officer who pulled her over noticed slurred speech and the smell of alcohol and administered a field sobriety test, which Justice Longoria failed. She then broke down in tears and confessed to having five drinks, was arrested, and charged with DWI. A fellow judge then dismissed the charge with no repercussions.
If cops are tried, they’re rarely convicted, and if they’re ever convicted, they rarely serve time because often their sentences are reduced or commuted. In a 2010 study it was determined that nearly 10 out of every 1,000 American police officers were accused of some type of misconduct, which commonly consisted of sexual misconduct, fraud, false arrest, assault (off-duty, i.e., not excessive force), drugs, and domestic violence. To put that in perspective, the 2010 violent crime rate among civilians (i.e., not cops) was 4 per 1,000, which means you’re 250% more likely to be subject to criminal behavior from a police officer than to be subjected to violent crime by a civilian. However, the conviction rate for police officers is less than half what it is among civilians, and the incarceration rate is 75% lower than the general population.
Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, he was pretty much telling the truth. In 2010 US attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases and grand juries refused to return an indictment on only 11. Andrew Leipold, a University of Illinois law professor, states: “If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong. It just doesn’t happen.” This demonstrates that in Eric Garner’s case, the prosecutor almost certainly didn’t want to prosecute the police officer in question.
The reason for this is that cops tend to have a higher allegiance to the brotherhood of police officers than they do to the law. Consider the case of former Pharr police officer Erasmo Mata, Jr., charged with raping a minor five separate times, all on duty, and all while other police officers from the same department stood by and watched. “The Pharr Police Department did an internal investigation, but the family claims Chief Villescas told them not to hire an attorney and that he would personally take care of the allegations against the officer. While the officers were terminated, neither Mata, nor the officers who allegedly watched, initially faced any criminal charges for the 2013 attacks.” It wasn’t until the family of the victim reported the crimes to the Texas Ranger and he was investigated by someone outside of his own department that Mata was indicted.
You could also consider Eric Roberts, an Oklahoma State Trooper who raped a woman he pulled over on a traffic stop. After he was arrested multiple other women came forward and revealed that he had done the same thing to them, showing Roberts to be a serial rapist.
California Highway Patrol officers have recently been caught stealing nude or semi-nude photos from females who have been subjected to traffic stops. The troopers in question text the pictures from the victims’ phones and then attempt to delete any records of it. In the words of Sean Harrington, one of the primary trooper suspects, it’s okay “because everyone (in the department) does it.” Apparently this is part of a game that is played by multiple troopers across the state.
Virginia State Trooper Chris Allen Carson was was originally charged with forcible sodomy, aggressive sexual battery and indecent liberties with a child after exposing himself, providing pornographic materials to, and sexually assaulting a child. Carson exposed himself to the child and masturbated in front of and with him. One night, Cook said, the boy woke up to find Carson performing oral sex on him. The presiding judge in this case ruled in a similar case to give a non-police officer 66 years in prison, a hefty fine, and required the perpetrator to register as a sex offender. In this case, however, the presiding judge approved a plea bargain for the cop sentencing him to 9 years (and then suspended all but 30 days of it), and did not require the cop to register as a sex offender.
The sad part is that none of these stories are anomalies, and simple searches on Google reveal hundreds of similar incidents in each category. We haven’t even touched on gray areas like what constitutes “excessive force” or whether the number of killings perpetuated by police officers are justified. I’ve only discussed the black and white instances of cops clearly stepping over the line and not being subjected to the same consequences other citizens are. In fact, did you know that cops can actually take whatever they want of yours without a warrant and charge the property (not you), which is presumed guilty until proven innocent?
As pointed out by Frank Serpico in the article (appropriately titled “The Police Are Still Out Of Control”) I linked earlier in this blog post, unjustified violence is reaching pandemic levels among police officers. The Department of Justice recently investigated the Cleveland Police Department and issued a 58-page letter which “paints a woeful portrait of rogue officers pulling their guns and firing at suspects without justifiable cause, of beating defenseless suspects already in handcuffs, and of covering up their actions by failing to write accurate police reports — if they write any reports at all.”
Consider this case where cops received a bogus phone tip from someone, raided the house of a family who was doing nothing wrong, and executed the grandfather as he was lying face down. The police then searched the home for 44 straight hours and couldn’t find a single shred of evidence of any wrongdoing at all. The victim, David Hooks, had never been a drug user or distributor, and was actually a successful business owner who, due to the nature of his work, had been vetted and cleared by multiple government agencies including the Department of Homeland Security and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Based on passing these checks he was given a security clearance which allowed him to work on military bases. Apparently none of this evidence was considered when deciding to grant a no-knock warrant to a SWAT team.
Or this case, where a homeschool family was raided based on a social services report of “a messy home.” During the raid members of the family were tased and pepper-sprayed, but thankfully (I guess?) no one was shot and killed over the mess of toys on the floor.
As I started this blog post I stated that I’m not advocating the random and senseless killing of cops. However, I hope that after reading this you can start to understand the sense of frustration and feelings of helplessness and rage that are building within the populace of the United States as they watch a systemic pattern of random and senseless killings and rights violations… by cops. Cops are treated as above the law, they’re covered for by their departments and other cops, and we’re repeatedly watching the justice system cover for those who are supposed to uphold the highest standards.
The standards I proposed at the beginning of this post hold true: no one should be judge, jury, and executioner regardless of how wrong you think someone (or a system) is. No one is above the law. But police officers need to realize that this is the world they’ve created – that death by cop without repercussion has become so common that the “thugs” you face on the street have realized the justice system holds no justice for cops, and they’re starting to take things into their own hands. Cops need to realize that when they create a world where the law is irrelevant, others will play according to those rules.
In the end, this has to be changed. Integrity must be restored to the system. The only ones who can do that are the cops themselves. As long as they continue to perpetuate a lack of integrity and justice, incidents like yesterday will only continue to occur – and that’s a world no one wants.