The Price of Power

>> Tuesday, December 23, 2014

There seems to be a coming schism (if not here already) of those that want accountability from the police and those that seem to think the police don't have to answer to the rest of us, that we should accept their decisions because their job is hard. No matter what.

That can't be the right answer.

I have never been anti-cop, not even when I was married to a less than stellar example of one. I know there are decent men and women on the force that want to do the right thing day in and day out. That have to evaluate volatile situations with very little time or room for error, that deal with the worst of our society when they're at their worst every day and, even when involved with a pillar of society, get very little but disrespect. I totally get that. It's a crappy job and I respect the people that do it for the right reasons.

That is not and cannot be a free pass on anything they do.

Right now, I'm sorely disappointed in the law enforcement profession, not just the bad ones but all the good ones I thought cared about we the people, those sworn to uphold the law. Those bad events, while deplorable, are part and parcel of any group of people - some are going to be irresponsible, use their power improperly, be assholes. There's no profession free of bad apples. But that's not the issue. The issue is that the entire profession is unwilling to acknowledge their mistakes and address those that have misused the law and the public.

We've entrusted law enforcement with power above and beyond the regular citizens and that comes with added responsibility and accountability. Power is never without a price. When unarmed men, women and children are killed by police, brutalized by police, something has gone wrong. We don't need excuses, we need remorse and some indication that something will be done to keep it from happening again.

When a seven-year-old sleeping on her own couch is shot to death by a policeman, when a baby is maimed in his crib by a flash grenade, when an asthmatic man is choked to death, when an unarmed man is chased down and killed in broad daylight and all the good cops stay silent, or choose only to find excuses, they tell a very unhealthy tale. When the people responsible don't get the slightest punishment and the police departments in question disavow any responsibility, we have an unacceptable condition.

I'll be honest. For years, I've said that there were more good cops than bad cops and that no one hated bad cops more than good cops. That they would stand up for the law. They're unwillingness to step forward, take responsibility or even acknowledge that injustice has been done has made a liar out of me, and no one could be more saddened by that than I am.

If an unarmed person is killed by the cops based on a misunderstanding, the system as failed, either by culture, judgement or training. As long as cops and their organizations pretend that they have done nothing wrong in those circumstances, they fail us all.

We all make mistakes, drive too fast in the rain, take our eyes off our children at the wrong moment, let our tempers outweigh our good judgment. Mostly, no one gets hurt by that, but, if they do, we, as adults have to be held accountable. That's what being a responsible adult is. We make mistakes, we learn from them, we try to not do them again and we pay for them when someone else is harmed by our actions. If that isn't true for the police in this country, it is a very dangerous condition.

I will not and do not advocate violence against the police or any other group of people. Against any individual. But I no longer trust them to be objective in evaluating their own behavior and will not give them a carte blanche on whatever they do to the people they are supposed to protect and serve.

Their silence and excuses in these crises do more to tell me the system's broken than the brutal acts themselves. Such a situation cannot be maintained. If you've forgotten what we buy when we have authority moving violently that refuses to be questioned, I suggest you read the executive summary on the CIA's torture methods.

To me, expecting the highest standard is a sign of respect for law enforcement and, if we determine they can't withstand independent scrutiny or be held accountable by the laws they are supposedly protecting, that is far more disrespectful of the profession than expecting scrutiny will reveal mostly how well they perform their job.


  • Roy

    I hear you. I've had some good friends on several forces back in RI, and have never had a reason to doubt the actions of anyone in any of the departments they served in. This current crisis hurts most when it makes me wonder where those friends stand now.

  • soubriquet

    I hear you, but it seems to me that the recent deaths have all been of people who brought the situation upon themselves by doing criminal acts.... And then resisting arrest.
    Had each one of those just stood still, with their hands in the air, they'd be alive now. Yes, it's a tragedy for them and their families. But, how about the first line of defence being.... Don't rob people. Don't sell illegal merchandise. Don't wave guns, or toys that look like guns around. And when a cop tells you to put your hands in the air and stand still, do so.
    And then, no cop has a reason to shoot you.
    Isn't it time the marchers also protest the behaviour of young black criminals, whose behaviour puts all black men at risk, by leading police to see them as potential killers.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Well, soubriquet, I don't agree with you. Oh, I agree about not committing crimes. I'm probably the most obnoxiously squeaky-clean law and order girl you'll ever come across. But you're wrong here.

    Because there are two situations and two situations only where cops are allowed to use lethal force and, in both situations, it requires two circumstances: [1] the cop or a civilian's life is in direct danger is something is not done, and [2] there is no non-lethal alternative. That's it. No other time. Can gun someone down while escaping. Can't kill someone for resisting arrest or robbing a bank. Not for disrespecting you or failing to follow orders. Can't off someone for committing even a capital crime, even if you catch him or her en flagrante. Because cops are supposed to uphold the law. That'is THE law. And I know because my first husband was a cop and I wrote up his notebook for him while he got certified.

    They don't get to kill people because they're criminals. They're not allowed to make that judgement and NONE of the people involved had committing anything like a capital crime. Not robbing a store, not selling cigarettes, not carrying a toy gun in a public area, not sleeping on one's own couch or in one's own crib. They also are not a higher class citizen than the rest of us, free to order us about on whims or arrest us without cause. Those are the rules they're supposed to live by.

    When a baby is maimed by a flash grenade, when a seven year old is shot to death sleeping on her own couch, when an unarmed man is chased more than a hundred feet, the cops involved have not followed the law. The system is broken. When a man is strangled to death, a homicide, because he fought back while being killed, that's a failure in the system. Based on what my ex was taught (the same man, I might add, who tried to strangle me, stole good from construction sites and was mad at me for not fulfilling Vicodin prescriptions I didn't need so he could use them - and yes, he's still on the force). When the police departments who are supposed to follow these rules disavow any responsibilities for the deaths they cause, deaths on unarmed individuals, even children, something is terribly wrong.

    And that's the real problem. Mistakes happen, bad cops are out there, ones who are racist and/or think they are above the law. I'm not outraged they exist. There isn't a profession that doesn't have it's share of incompetence or assholes. But when they are protected and the system refuses to acknowledge its culpability, that's something else entirely. That's a systemic problem far beyond a few petty crimes or a few bad cops.

    If we can't expect our police departments to follow their own rules, to follow the law, how in the world can we trust them to enforce it?

  • soubriquet

    Well, I never suggested that cops should get to kill people, nor that death should result from their acts.
    Merely that each, by his actions, caused the situation that ended in his death. You know, I have asthma. I would be at increased risk of death if someone put me in a chokehold. But, then again, I don't sell illegal goods, and I don't put myself in a position where I'm likely to be restrained by multiple officers.
    The kid with the toy gun was not killed for carrying a toy gun in a public area. He was killed because officers were dispatched being told a young man was pointing a handgun at people. As they arrived, they claim he appeared to be going for the gun. In the time available, the officer has to decide if it's a credible threat to his or anyone else's life, and a better trained officer might have made a different choice. But all this happens in seconds. And the officer shot.
    If the kid had kept his hands away from the gun, he'd be alive. And toy guns look like real guns, and twelve year olds can kill.
    I'm not suggesting the cops should have the right to execute, but in the recent cases there's no sign that cops went in with an intention to murder anyone, rather that the actions of those they encountered were perceived to be a threat to their lives.
    In Britain we have fewer guns, most of our police are unarmed, and that's the way I prefer it.
    Here in Texas, I keep getting crap from the NRA, in my mailbox. I don't want to open carry, concealed carry, keep a rifle, shotgun.... And I think the gun lobby's interpretation of the second amendment is ludicrous. The concept that a group of guys in the 18th century formed an inalienable right for 21st century Americans to own lethal weapons is ludicrous. Strange how they always seem to forget the same amendment's reference to 'A well regulated militia'.
    Guns or no guns, if you break the law, expect the police to try arrest you. If you run, or try to escape, expect that arrest to become more robust. If you disagree with your arrest, trying to grab the cop's gun is not a good idea.

  • Stephanie Barr

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Stephanie Barr

    I'm not excusing anyone's illegal activities.

    But that's a separate issue from cops using lethal force for spurious reasons and, more importantly, refusing to take steps to address the problem. That's not what I expect from responsible people.

    We have laws and cops for the illegal activities citizens do. Apparently, we need better rules and methods for the cops themselves.

  • Jeff King

    Wow great topic...but i find myself going back and forth. We never hear all the evedence or truths that surround things the media are pumping for views. That's why we have courts judged by our peers with provable facts, not public opinion

  • Stephanie Barr

    When my first husband was going through "cop school," I wrote out his notebook (at his request). Killing someone in the line of duty is an absolute last resort. If the person you killed was unarmed or could be kept from doing you or someone else harm, you were supposed to do everything you could to keep the situation non-lethal.

    When someone is carrying a gun or has it aimed at the cop or someone else, I don't expect the cop to be gentle. I understand some deaths can not be prevented. But, when someone who was never armed is killed and the cop walks away, not just without criminal charges, but untouched, back on the street, no impacts whatsoever, what kind of message does that send to the other cops, to the people they're supposed to protect.

    If we start shrugging off the deaths of unarmed people without overwhelming evidence that the cop had no other alternative, we have allowed our legal system, our society, to devalue human life.

    That absolutely can't be the right answer.

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