Thursday, November 12, 2009

Do Police Forces Act Lawlessly and With Impunity Because of Officers' "Varying Ethnic ... Backgrounds"

A relatively new blog, Baldblog, focusing on police lawlessness and impunity, asks the following question:

· Have you ever worked for a company that operated thousands of branches across America employing hundreds of thousands of people of varying ethnic and educational backgrounds and attitudes? Maybe Wal-Mart or McDonalds. There may be others.

· How many of those employees can regularly ignore traffic and civil law and proceed with absolutely no legal results?

· How many of the fellow employees in this company carry guns with legal permission to murder those who disobey them, or even if they merely suspect something was happening they didn’t like? And,

· What if those employees are guaranteed to be believed, no matter how much they lie, by any judge in any courtroom in the country simply because they had the job?

In the broadest terms, the impunity with which such a group could operate seems to be the problem we have in the United States, and which other nations confront as well.

I do have a question about the question posed though: Baldblog posits that this force acting with impunity includes:
people of varying ethnic and educational backgrounds and attitudes
I'm left wondering whether having a police force that includes "various ethnic groups" is suggested as a potential risk factor for a force that acts with lawlessness and impunity. I'm not sure what "various ethnic groups" has to do with the premise. Likewise, I'm not sure that various "educational levels" is a significant part of the problem. Medical doctors, who have more education that most people in our society, nonetheless have been proved to provide less agressive and less appropriate medical care for members of minority groups (and women) than they provide to white men, in spite of the fact that doctors have immense education, particularly in the area where they seem to discriminate against minorities and women.

If Bradblog is reading, maybe he can discuss the issues of people of "varying ethnic"backgrounds and "educational backgrounds" as risk factors for police lawlessness and impunity. For example, would an all-white police force be more accountable than a multi-ethnic force. It seems that "attitude" is more important than ethnic composition and educational level, although the existence of an all-white police force can be an indication, by itself, of the "attitude" of those selection and supervising the police.

I believe the problem is not "ethnic backgrounds" or "educational levels" but rather the third factor that Bradblog mentioned: "attitudes." An attitude, literally, is a tendency to go in one direction or another. When voters go to the polls, for example, skin color can often be helpful in predicting how they will vote. However, it seems to me that police officers' attitude is influenced more by the role they have in society (control the populace) which may even require that they demonstrate that they can act with impunity and irrationality. When an occupying force can act this way, with no negative consequences, it demonstrates and reiterates its control over the target population.

Perhaps part of the functional purpose of irrational acts of impunity is to demonstrate to the population the unquestioned authority of the police, who effectively say, 'You are powerless in your interactions with us and in our control over you.'

Does everyone agree?

Baldblog's posts also point out the difficulty of establishing police review boards (CRB's) and pose the question of whether any of them are actually able to do anything worthwhile?


BigBaldwin said...

Mr Holland, I hope this day is greeting you with both success and inspiration in your fight for equality with our police departments.
When it comes to police abuse, I am not on the defensive in any way, because doing so would violate the cornerstone of my viewpoint, being, we pay our employees, so we tell them what is expected from their performance. I will not, then, defend any words I have used on my blog. I will happily, however, explain them to any and all who may be interested.
Is the body of your objection located in the wording
“people of varying ethnic and educational backgrounds and attitudes” ?
I used this phrasing to indicate both the truth and fact of what any of us may encounter the next time we are abused by a cop or by the department policies that are often substituted for legal or moral laws of the community. Would the average citizen expect no abuse from a cop of specific, given color, gender, age or educational background? Some might, but they would be wrong. The problem of police abuse crosses all lines and backgrounds, as your own observation of news media proves, day after day. The problem is not the background, it is the cop culture that’s not in keeping with citizen requirements. Cops invented their culture, not us, and clearly, we the people disapprove.
Surely we agree that people of any color can be found working in PD’s in America, and my words covered all of America. A police department candidate can result from any number of educational backgrounds, depending on any number of factors we could never account for. That cop can be the one who arrests us tomorrow, or a different one from a different set of background factors. Hence, the use of my word, “varying”.
OK, attitudes. This one should be a no-brainer to folks like us who object to things like police abuse. The cop who is eager to arrest a citizen for “resisting” when all they did was ask for the cop’s name and badge number. The cop who makes a pretext stop because the citizen was driving erratically. The cop who charges a citizen with assault because the cop detected garlic breath on the arrestee, and felt offended. The general police belief that there are only two kinds of people, cops and a-holes. Please, do we really need to discuss a police attitude? It all goes back to cop culture.
In short, the ethnic, the educational, and the attitudinal backgrounds simply add up to one thing: the police of the USA. No different than butchers, bakers or candlestick makers. We all can be good or bad, but let’s not lose sight of the citizen’s problem. We have to bypass the red herrings police throw at citizens and get to the true problem, cop culture and the lack of citizen control.
I think Mr Holland, that we agree already. While we encounter all types in everyday life, some of those types just don’t mix with the job of law enforcement, and we need a culling process to keep the PD our PD.

Francis L. Holland Blog said...

BigBaldwin:The problem is not the background, it is the cop culture that’s not in keeping with citizen requirements.

I agree with you big time on this, and this is something Black people have learned the hard way. We thought that having more Blacks in police departments would make the departments more sensitive to Blacks (and some whites were afraid this might happen). Instead, once a police officer starts or finishes the police academy, his color is "blue", the same color as the rest, regardless of his/her skin color.

Police are there to do a job, which is to keep the population in line via legal and illegal means, and to demonstrate to the populace that the government has us under control. Sometimes irrational acts demonstrate police authority and control better than rational acts would.

"OK, attitudes. This one should be a no-brainer to folks like us who object to things like police abuse. The cop who is eager to arrest a citizen for “resisting” when all they did was ask for the cop’s name and badge number."

I was stopped in Florida and told that I had been swerving. Since I know perfectly well that I was not swerving, I know this was a pretext to stop me and look for some other violation of law. I essentially told the officer (nicely and matter of factly) that I thought "swerving" was a pretext when I told him of a Sixty Minutes segment I saw in which cops all over Florida were stopping Black men in new cars and saying they had been "swerving".

The officer let me go on my way when he couldn't find anything on me and when I explained that I was on my way to make a presentation at the American Immigration Lawyers Association conference in Orlando that morning, and there were a number of lawyers expecting my participation.

Francis L. Holland Blog said...

BigBaldwin, you said above,

"While we encounter all types in everyday life, some of those types just don’t mix with the job of law enforcement, and we need a culling process to keep the PD our PD."

I agree and I think that police departments probably attract people who have a chip on their soldier and a need for the sort of authority that policing offers. And that sense of "overwhelming force" is taught to police, even if they initially sign up wanting to do something different.

Once you accept the job of bricklayer, you'd better lay some bricks just as all of your peers are doing, or you'll lose your job. Similarly, when people are hired as police officers, they they accept a socio-political role in society and they agree to have and display "an attitude".

I'm not sure that anything short of reconstituting the Government can change the role that police have in American society, e.g. as strike breakers during the early years of the labor movement.

If our local constitutions allow for it, we should initiate ballot questions that forbid augmented and benefits for police in any year after a year in which a member of the public has died after being shocked with an electric gun.

Only, I'm not sure that most of the public would support such a ballot measure. What do you think BigBaldwin?

BigBaldwin said...

Mr Holland, I think I am familiar with that story on stopping drivers for swerving. On Interstate 10, I believe, stretching through LA, MS and AL, into FL? Your experience is a great example of how turning on the kitchen light will make the roaches run under the counter faster than anything else you can do. (I grew up in FL in the 50's, and I am familiar with that too). But the light is only the beginning. We have to quietly root them out with passive refusal to vote in anybody that doesn't understand the need for change in cop attitude. With that in mind, ethnic background fades -INTO- the background, huh?

Surely you know that when a rookie gets his first assignment in a precinct, his real education begins. Grays tell the greens, "Forget what they taught you in the Academy. WE will teach you all you need to know." If that rookie doesn't heed, he's gone in short order.

With no direct citizen control, that state of mind will only rot further.

BigBaldwin said...

Mr Holland,
Initiating a ballot is a great idea, if you can get the cooperation of the local powers that be. The 60 Minutes episode you referenced before is a good example of how public exposure is a way to expose the dirt and spread the word. Then we can nail it down with a ballot. But, expecting that ballot to move the minds and souls of ensconsed government without help is a long shot, one because the local legislature may not be enthusiastic about the ballot, and two, because they are under equal or greater influence by police unions. We need to go over their heads without the help of a law the legislature finds contrary to the interests of the PD and PD union. We need to go after the legislature's jobs in every election year, and the police union will wither on the vine by itself. Then the citizen has some control.