So, maybe you think BLM is anti police and that all these people calling for better training, less violent reactions, and fair treatment from law enforcement agencies are all a bunch of people who hate authority, don’t appreciate the difficult job officers do, or just want to live in lawlessness, maybe just not wanting to take responsibility for their own actions. Oh, I am sure there are a few people on the fringes who think that way. There is always the weirdo in the pack. But what BLM and other protesters are bringing to the fore is a consistent abuse of power, systemically, across the nation throughout law enforcement agencies all the way from federal to local levels. That is not fiction. It is substantiated by government assessments and studies, which I outlined in a previous blog post. (click here to check that one out).
A study done by the US Justice Department in 2000 states 84% of law enforcement officers admitted to witnessing excessive force used against citizens and abuse of power. It also states that 64% of those officers do not report the abuses they witness. It is more important to protect fellow officers than to protect the citizens who were victimized. Even though we have known this for the past seventeen years, there have been only minor gains to resolve this problem, and not as a result of the study, but due to public outcry against injustice.
Everywhere you go today, there is likely to be a camera at the ready to record every possible situation which might arise. In many places, officers are being required to wear body cameras. Social, civil rights movements, such as Black Lives Matter, have risen as a response to the injustice we have seen portrayed repeatedly in these frequent videos. While the black communities in our nation are the hardest hit by these abuses of power, they are the faces of a much larger problem: systemic abuse bordering on a police state mentality.
Yes, a society needs laws and those which help keep the laws to sustain a peaceful environment. But citizens, all citizens, in our nation, are afforded with rights and special protections are even given to the accused. No matter how guilty an officer believes a suspect to be, even if the officer witnessed the crime, the suspect is still considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Officers have zero authority by their mandate to punish anyone. Force is only acceptable under specific conditions and deadly force under the strict confines of imminent danger. Yet we have seen those boundaries blurred through testimonies of officers falsely claiming suspects were armed when they were not, or state they were resisting arrest when video footage only show the suspect attempting to protect themselves from the unlawful assault of an officer. We have seen men shot attempting to comply with an officer’s demands and the excuse, “I thought he was reaching for a gun,” used as a blanket justification for actions which could only be described as murder.
But most every one of us have witnessed a police officer, at one point or another, abuse his/her power or authority. How many people driving sports cars have had officers follow them blocks on end looking for any minor infraction to pull them over? How many people have been pulled over and told they were speeding when they were not? How many have had officers search their vehicle under the threat of impounding their car if they do not comply, despite there being no probable cause? I personally was driving late one night and an officer followed me through town. I sneezed, which may have made me wobble in my lane a fraction -I did not cross the lines even remotely- and the bored officer pulled me over and then forced me to perform a sobriety test. The problem? I was nine months pregnant and huge. I could not even see my feet and certainly could not place one in front of the other. He laughed while I tried to do it, even asking me to stand on one foot. I was livid, but not complying meant he would arrest me. I did make a complaint, but the person taking the complaint actually found it humorous as well and even said he was just probably having fun. Is that serving the public? That was an abuse of power since he could plainly see I was not intoxicated. Making citizens jump through hoops for their enjoyment is wrong and abusive.
But I grew up around officers and that was far from the first abuse I had seen, though not usually directed towards me. I have known them to use their system to run plates or get information on people such as ex wives/husbands or ex boyfriend/girlfriends, people they have had disagreements with, the new wife/husband of an ex and similar scenarios. I’ve known them to use their position to make demands of others for personal gains and to cover up illegal behavior and crimes committed by officers or their families. But what is the most disturbing is this sense among them that they are entitled to respect and honor and obedience.
Here is what we are actually fighting for: better education, restrictions on violence, absolute no-excuses accountability for abuse of power, better training and better psychological screening and background checks for those applying to law enforcement. The ridiculous exploitation of black communities only highlights and personifies an enormous problem. If you feel like it doesn’t impact you because you are neither black, nor any other minority, nor do you live in a neighborhood which may be affected (basically, you are white and live in a nice middle class neighborhood) then you are wrong. If you think you can’t be affected because you are always polite and respectful to the police and you follow the law, think again. When an officer feels those around him or her should comply with his or her wishes simply because they demand it, then you never know when a perfectly normal day, with you doing exactly what you are supposed to do, could lead to an entanglement with the law. Most especially when officers believe their commands should trump the actual law.
Case in point is a nifty article in the Washington Post, published September 1st highlighting a burn unit nurse doing her job precisely by the law and an officer demanding she break the law, and hospital policy which is based on the law, simply because he demanded it. When she refused his request, she was assaulted and arrested. See that story here. It is also sourced below. There is a nice video to go with it so you can see the incident for yourself.
In short, the officer wanted to take blood from an unconscious burn patient who was not the suspect of a crime, without a warrant or probable cause to obtain a warrant and without the patient’s consent. In fact, the patient was a victim of the deadly crash resulting from a police chase. The nurse correctly refused the officer access to draw blood from the patient as he was unconscious and unable to give consent. She advised they would need a warrant to obtain a blood sample with a patient in that condition. Instead of following the law and respecting a citizen’s rights, he further demanded access and threatened the nurse would be arrested for obstructing an investigation if she did not (illegally) comply with his request. Let us not forget that she could lose her job and her nursing license for willfully violating the law and neglecting the patient’s rights.
Hmmm. Now think about that. This officer was not even put on administrative leave until after this video was made public. He was just taken off blood collection duty. Shouldn’t a police officer face at least the same repercussions for willfully violating the law and abuse of power as a nurse? This was a nice woman, a former U.S. Olympian I might add, going about her day, doing her job. She did not wake up thinking she wanted to thwart authority figures that day. She didn’t have an agenda of hating the police and wanting to see their demise. She was, in fact and by all video accounts, very professional, polite and respectful. However, she was put in a position she would not have been had the police officers not been comfortable with abusing their power and authority. The officer made it very clear he was used to getting his way in this. So he was used to being a bully and it working. That is abuse of power and an admission it was not a singular incident.
That is what this video and the subsequent failure to fire every officer involved denotes: comfort with abuse of power. When people who have some level of authority find comfort in abusing it for any reason, the system is broken and needs repair. This is what creates a fundamental distrust, and for good reason. When this is allowed to continue unchecked through any community, it is a disease which spreads outwards, eventually affecting all communities. The actions of this officer are ones which reflect a Police State, where failure to comply with their wishes, legal or not, yields punishment for them not getting their way. Citizens’ rights must be paramount. There must be a zero tolerance for this behavior at any and all levels. Officers who behave in this manner do not deserve the protection of their fellows, they deserve scorn for disgracing their mandate and undermining the integrity of what their uniform should mean. They are traitors to their brothers and sisters in blue, not comrades-in-arms.
When other officers circle the wagons and protect these traitors instead of repudiating and ousting them, then they become complicit in those crimes and the abuses become systemic and acceptable behavior. Yes, there are more good cops than bad ones, but tell me, how good a cop can you be if you allow citizens to be abused in any way by another officer without intervening? How are you not, in some way, complicit in that abuse by allowing it to continue? How do you protect and serve your community if you place the value of abusive officers above those of the citizens you are sworn to serve and protect? How good is an officer, really, if he or she finds any level of abuse of authority acceptable?
In these last questions we find the real problem. The entire fellowship must be erased and rewritten. The most sacred part of an officer’s duty is to the citizens, not to another officer. Sure, you want to protect one another from harm in the line of duty, but when a fellow crosses the line from protecting and serving to abuse and self-interest, they are no longer a fellow. They have betrayed the citizens they swore to protect and every one of their colleagues. They are without honor and deserve the repercussions which come as a result of their actions and choices.
In short, because law enforcement is given responsibility and authority, they must be held to a higher accountability than others. We are seeing, far too often now, where officers are being given more leniency due to their position rather than the swift, apt justice they deserve. This is why there is so much distrust. This is why abuse of power is still a problem. This is why people are still dying, still being assaulted, being threatened with unlawful arrest. This is what we are fighting to change so that we all can trust our law enforcement and have faith that they are the best among us, rather than being allowed to act like thugs with badges bullying citizens to get what they want. We are fighting the Police State mentality.
We are One Woman, One World.
Ann Lavendar Truong
Washington Post Story
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