The problem of cop-on-citizen crime is cultural

police violence

Police use violence to contain a crowd in Anaheim protesting police violence in 2012.

Whenever a black, brown or Muslim person commits a crime, pundits spend the next news cycle trying to diagnose what it is about those communities that produces such violence. White Americans are so convinced the problem is with the groups themselves, and not individuals or social forces, that they elected a president who wants to ban all Muslims, build a wall to keep out immigrants, and instill law and order in black neighborhoods.

Yet when a police officer kills an unarmed citizen, media presents the officer’s side of the story; digs into the victim’s past for any evidence of wrongdoing, no matter how petty; and urges the public not to turn against law enforcement. When the officer is truly indefensible, he’s cast as a bad apple. But if there’s any group in America whose violence needs to be examined on a systemic level, it’s the police. Continue reading

Threats against Tarantino highlight extreme police mentality

Tarantino's short speech at a Black Lives Matter rally invited strong criticism from police unions. --- Image by © M. Stan Reaves/Demotix/Corbis

Tarantino’s short speech at a Black Lives Matter rally invited strong criticism from police unions. — Image by © M. Stan Reaves/Demotix/Corbis

Following his brief speech at a demonstration against police brutality last month, director Quentin Tarantino has experienced a backlash from police unions. In particular, Fraternal Order of Police executive director, Jim Pasco, issued vaguely worded threats about surprising Tarantino and harming him economically. Perhaps he’s bluffing. But threats from police, even nonviolent ones, against a private citizen who has broken no law are totally unacceptable. Pasco highlights just how paranoid and reactionary police culture has become.

Tarantino’s remarks were not even especially controversial. USA Today reported that Pasco’s threats were in retaliation for Tarantino’s “inflammatory remarks against police brutality.” Such a premise is difficult to understand. It’s like accusing someone of making inflammatory remarks against child abuse. What’s inflammatory is police officers going on the attack against anyone who calls out their brutality. Continue reading

School resource officers contribute to violence in schools

#AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh: a school resource officer slams a student and her desk to the floor.

#AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh: A school resource officer slams a student and her desk to the floor.

At a high school in South Carolina on Oct. 26, an insubordinate student was thrown out of her desk and dragged across the floor by a policeman. It’s far from the worst overreach of force demonstrated recently, but it’s deeply emblematic of America’s police problem. The so-called “school resource officer” was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. Unless that investigation determines the girl had a bomb around her waist, the violence was completely uncalled for.

Disturbing video of the incident, which was widely shared on social media, certainly offers nothing to condone the officer’s actions. According to a local report, the girl was being disruptive in class and didn’t cooperate when her teacher and an administrator asked her to leave. So the officer handled the situation the only way increasing numbers of cops seem to know how – by becoming physically violent. Continue reading

Stop trying to change the name of Black Lives Matter

Protesters carry signs insisting all lives matter.

Protesters carry signs insisting all lives matter.

Since it became a national movement, Black Lives Matter has been met with antagonism for its name alone. The phrase “black lives matter” is seen by some as divisive, confrontational and perhaps even racist. It reveals a great deal about the struggle black Americans face that controversy arises when they assert the value of their lives.

But there’s an important reason why the name shouldn’t be changed: In our criminal justice system, black lives are not treated like they matter. The name is therefore both an expression of what we wish reality to be and an exposé of what reality isn’t. Continue reading

Despite murder indictment, Cincinnati still reveals the deep roots of police state

Samuel DuBose argues with Officer Ray Tensing, whose hands are seen here on his body cam. Moments later, Tensing shot DuBose as he began accelerating.

Samuel DuBose argues with Officer Ray Tensing, whose hands are seen here on his body cam. Moments later, Tensing shot DuBose as he began accelerating.

A routine traffic stop in Cincinnati quickly escalated into yet another chapter in the ongoing American saga, “Cop kills unarmed black man.” University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing’s body camera shows the July 19 encounter between himself and the victim, Samuel DuBose. In the video, DuBose becomes somewhat evasive when Tensing asks for his ID, suggesting he had a license but not on him. When DuBose did not immediately comply with Tensing’s follow-up command to exit the vehicle, Tensing reached into the car, DuBose accelerated, and Tensing shot him in the head.

Unlike countless other officers in similar situations, Tensing was charged with murder for his actions. That’s a small measure of justice, but there is still plenty about the incident that speaks to the monstrousness of the police state and the judicial protections that insulate it from scrutiny. Continue reading

White people shouldn’t need a video to demonstrate police racism

Community-oriented keepers of the peace slap handcuffs on a dying man who the officer on the left just shot five times in the back.

Community-oriented keepers of the peace slap handcuffs on a dying man who the officer on the left just shot five times in the back.

Add another notch in the American police force’s belt. This time, it’s Walter Scott, a black man in North Charleston, South Carolina, summarily executed by sociopath-in-blue Michael Slager. Scott is just one of, statistically, three people to be killed by a cop that day, April 4. But his story has generated special attention for two important reasons: first, his murder was filmed by a passerby, and second, his killer has been fired and charged.

Because of shoddy recordkeeping, there’s no accurate count of how many citizens have been killed by police, justifiably or otherwise. But in just the past eight months, several high-profile cases have made household names of black Americans killed by police. There was Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old who was shot for the crime of playing with a toy gun in Cleveland; Eric Garner, the man who was choked to death for selling loose cigarettes; Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who was shot in the climax of an altercation that began with his jaywalking; and now, Walter Scott, who was executed for fleeing a broken taillight traffic stop. Continue reading