Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Gates, Tasers, and Busting Heads

We've gone over the Gates incident already, but a few more recent pieces deserve attention. As predicted, Roy Edroso's Village Voice column this week covered it. His summary (see the originals for the links):

NEW VOICE COLUMN UP about the Gates controversy, which in the Bizarro universe that is my beat is all about the racism of Henry Louis Gates and Barack Obama, and the necessity of absolute deference to authority unless you're Tea Partying, in which case it's all groovy revolution. Since I wrote it I see that the 911 caller in the case has denied making a racial classification of the suspect, which leads Legal Insurrection to suspect intimidation: "Whalen has been pilloried by the blogosphere as being a white racist neighbor (actually passer-by)... So it is natural, but unfortunate, that Whalen falls into the trap of playing the skin-tone game." Thus do our liberal racists thwart conservative attempts to get beyond race. Jack Dunphy does his bit by explaining to Obama and his "Ivy League pals" that if "you're running your mouth about your rights and your history of oppression and what have you" to a cop, you're likely to get shot. Somehow I think they already knew that.

From the column itself, "Rightbloggers Will Tell You Who The Real Racists Are in the Henry Louis Gates Case":

One of the great themes of the current conservative movement is Liberal Fascism -- the idea, promoted by Jonah Goldberg's book of that name, that liberals are the true heirs of Hitler and Mussolini, and that they effect fascist outrages in the present day via their "speech police," "thought police," "eco-police," etc.

You may be tempted by this to imagine that conservatives would also be concerned with the actions of actual police when they make questionable arrests. But when Henry Louis Gates had his now-famous run-in with the Cambridge Police in and in front of his own home, rightbloggers were generally disinclined to argue that the officers overstepped their authority by hauling Gates in for disturbing the peace.

In fact, they in the main they saw in the affair a justification of aggressive policing -- provided it is used on black history professors, not in the interests of environmentalism or anything like that -- and proof of the racism and treachery of Professor Gates and President Obama.

As usual, read the whole thing. Two items really stood out for me, though. Here's number one:

Tasers were also on the mind Wizbang, who was reminded of a woman who was tasered by an officer in Texas earlier this year. She claimed to have been cooperative at her traffic stop, but a video showed she was not. "In both cases the punishment may be excessive," said Wizbang, "but all indications are that they both brought there subsequent arrests upon themselves by their actions." (The video of the tasering of the woman, who is 72 years old, is a fascinating choice of example.)

Here's that video:

As I wrote over at Roy's, I had heard about this incident, but I hadn't seen the video. Sadly, it's not the worst tasering video I've seen. But even without factoring in age, the cop has a foot in height and about 100 pounds on this woman. It's not as if he's ever in danger, and he could probably restrain and handcuff her pretty easily if he needed to. Watch that push. He was just annoyed, and wanted to show this woman who's boss. He tasers her, then yells at her for not being able to move to his liking. She probably can't after being tasered. There's no doubt she's argumentative, and without knowing the laws of the state, I'll assume the cop has legal cause to arrest her. That's fine. But this guy has completely lost his cool and he's shot a 72-year-old woman full of electricity strong enough to knock her to the ground. We truly live in different worlds, if Kevin at Wizbang can see that and say, essentially, 'She had it coming.' As we discussed with Gates, consider the competing stakes and the power dynamics. We have the horrible transgression of someone mouthing off to a cop versus a cop knocking someone to the ground with electricity. How is "transgression" #1 possibly worse? Go ahead, arrest her, but the cop has the power and responsibility here. Claiming the tasering was "necessary" is a hard sell. What would he have done without a taser? Smacked her with a billy club? Shot her? I swear, sometimes I think these guys watch Cool Hand Luke and Shawshank Redemption and root for the wardens.

Digby's got a Colbert segment that features the same incident. She also relates the story of a deaf, mentally handicapped man the police tasered. Tasering is not a "no harm" option. People have died as a result of being tasered, it is a physical assault, and an attack on someone's dignity. It's not to be done lightly. Cops obviously have the right to defend themselves, and given a legitimate threat, tasering or even lethal force is justifiable. However, the reality is that cops are using tasers cavalierly and abusively, when they're annoyed, to force compliance, instead of only when they or someone else is in real danger. Digby's followed this stuff diligently, and the high use of tasers on children is particularly appalling. The shock first-ask questions later attitude is very, very dangerous and should not be legal. Here's another incident, featuring a 14-year old girl, from an earlier Digby post, "It's Just Too Easy"

He had no choice?!? Has this cop never dealt with young teens? Again, what are the stakes, here? An upset 14-year old girl doesn't comply with a cop and runs away? Most likely, she cools down and comes back eventually. Instead, she suffers pretty severe injuries, apparently. Good cops help de-escalate a situation. That's confrontation training 101. Instead, this ego-driven cop needs to assert his dominance. Look, anyone who's dealt with teens extensively understands some of them can be extremely frustrating at times. However, there are responsibilities that come with being an adult, especially in a position of power. This isn't an escaping robber we're talking about. Where is the concern for the girl in all this? What are the lessons taught? The ideal lesson should be, calm down and talk things though with your mother and other trustworthy adults. The cop's intended lesson is, do what you're told, obey authority, don't mess with cops, or we'll hurt you. And the lesson the kid probably actually learned is something close to that – don't trust authority – they will hurt you if you disobey.

Taserings like this should not be legal. The police deserve support when they do a good job, but this attitude is extremely dangerous, and has to be fought. (I'm also not fond of that microwave crowd-dispersing weapon. These things should not be accepted without question.)

I've wandered far a field, but item number two, from Roy's summary, is tough talk from a man at the National Review who claims to be an L.A. cop:

So, since the president is keen on offering instruction, here is what I would advise he teach his Ivy League pals, and anyone else who may find himself unexpectedly confronted by a police officer: You may be as pure as the driven snow itself, but you have no idea what horrible crime that police officer might suspect you of committing. You may be tooling along on a Sunday drive in your 1932 Hupmobile when, quite unknown to you, someone else in a 1932 Hupmobile knocks off the nearby Piggly Wiggly. A passing police officer sees you and, asking himself how many 1932 Hupmobiles can there be around here, pulls you over. At that moment I can assure you the officer is not all that concerned with trying not to offend you. He is instead concerned with protecting his mortal hide from having holes placed in it where God did not intend. And you, if in asserting your constitutional right to be free from unlawful search and seizure fail to do as the officer asks, run the risk of having such holes placed in your own.

When the officer has satisfied himself that it was not you and your Hupmobile that were involved in the Piggly Wiggly heist, he owes you an explanation for the stop and an apology for the inconvenience, but if you’re running your mouth about your rights and your history of oppression and what have you, you’re likely to get neither.

— Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author's nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.

I'll assume this guy actually is a cop, since this attitude is sadly still not uncommon on the LAPD. It remind me of the police misconduct on May Day 2007 here in Los Angeles, where one cop summed up the attitude when he said, "I don't care if they're not throwing stuff at us now, we get to roll." (The subsequent police report was a huge step forward in candor, though.)

I imagine Dunphy's writing partially for shock effect, but he's offering both a straw man and a threat. No one's saying cops don't have a right to defend themselves, but there's a big gap between that and saying, "Dare to defend your civil liberties and I'll shoot you." A good police captain would suspend a cop like this and review all noteworthy incidents in his past, because such a cop is a public menace. Seriously – stop and think about what this tough guy's written. An officer of the law says he doesn't give a damn about the law, and is threatening to shoot anyone who cites it. And National Review, true to the chickenhawk braggadocio that makes it obnoxious and dangerous and not merely obtuse, callous and sleazy, posts it. It sure does put that "liberal" fascism in perspective, doesn't it?

1 comment:

Comrade Physioprof said...

The problem is that it is exactly the type of authoritarian little-dick personality syndrome type that is attracted to policing as a profession, as they know that--despite their ineffectual little dicks--they will have ample opportunity to enact their authoritarian power fantasies and feel like their dicks are actually not so small.