Sunday, June 22, 2008

I am the Law

And You Won't Fuck Around No More - I AM THE LAW
~ Anthrax, I am the Law, based on the Judge Dredd Series.

This NY Times blogpost by Sudhir Venkatesh is a very interesting read of how some senior (crusty) police officers view the legal system and the ways in which they would like to dispense justice.

From the interviews: You laugh, but the good cops never let problems get to judges. They are judge on-site, I like to say. And, I don’t mean just for stupid things like kids shoplifting... I mean for serious things.

What strikes me is the sense real justice is not to be found in the courtroom. I don't know if this is an unconscious feeling gained from watching too many Charles Bronson flicks. The comment section has insightful views from people.

If you agree we should have Police, which is a valid question, what do you want the Police to do? Well, that's a huge question, for which I'm unprepared to diverge into right now, I will state Police Officers usually do not like having to respond to inane calls from people about the wind breaking their tree branches.

But, in concert with the Venkatesh piece, there have been several recent high profile stories involving police forces and the Use of Force.

The dumping of a paraplegic man out of his wheelchair by a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Deputy in February 2008.

The April 2008 acquittal of three New York PD Detectives for shooting and killing Sean Bell.

An May 30, 2008 Chicago Police raid on a Hispanic club on 2514 W. Fullerton is now the basis for a $10 million dollar Federal Civil Rights Violation lawsuit. Here is the NBC 5's venerable Carol Marin covering of the story of the raid.

I mention these examples because they are perhaps** the most egregious recent instances. Additionally, with the ubiquitous nature of video cameras today (watch this example) police officers need to actually behave properly.

From Chicago Public Radio Eight Forty-Eight, here is an interview with Daniel P. Smith about his book, On the Job: Behind the Stars of the Chicago Police Department. (Greetings & Salutations to Queen of the Harpies for the link.)

Smith discusses one of the key points of distrust between Police Officers and the American populace the predilection to apply perfect hindsight to stressful split-second decision making situations.

However, this is not only a problem with American law enforcement but with the American Iraq War as well. The Hadithah incident, the shooting in Fallujah of a wounded enemy in a mosque and everyone one of the checkpoint shooting Americans don't ever hear about or just plain ignore are others. Young men (and women hurray equality!) are placed in high stress situations which they judge to be kill or be killed.

The oft quoted and perhaps trite maxim is summed up as, Better to be judged by Twelve, than carried by Six. Of course, what the Chicken Hawk, Warmongering Cowards who champion war at home while ensuring their pasty, flabby, blubbery white asses do not get besmircthed by a grain of sand never understand is those choices injure even when the soldier making them is never physically wounded.

And that's the difference. As Smith said in his Chicago Public Radio interview (at 04:17) he "will never criticize a Cop, myself, for instinctual reaction" so too will I not criticize my fellow warriors for their immediate reactions on the battlefield. But Vulgar pre-mediated displays of power (Shock & Awe) can not be defended.

And this is one of the chief evils of the Iraq War. But maybe it's just another system of control, perhaps understood by those in power or perhaps not understood but simply exploited by the Architects of War. A by-product of our evolutionary past and tribal beginnings in which our brains can focus and contemplate the deaths of a few of our fellow humans and can not grasp the horror of the hundreds of thousands dead as a result of our Invasion of Iraq.

**- There have been, thus far, 21 Chicago Police shootings (6 fatal) in 2008.


Nixon said...

If you agree we should have Police, which is a valid question, what do you want the Police to do?

I believe it's necessary to allow law enforcement officers to be allowed to use force in the carrying out of their duties. That something I'm willing to trust them with as a citizen in order to maintain the rule of law. However, like the military, there needs to be proper oversight.

As a guy who has cops in the family, I've found that police have a cynical view of the world, which is probably due to the fact that they are dealing with the dregs of society on a 24/7 basis (think Jerry Springer), but overall I'd say police in America do a good job compared to other countries where they are corrupt and kick the shit out of random people for no good reason.

ran said...

I think Lt. Nixon is right in that the police should be allowed some latitude in what they are allowed to do, but oversight is necessary. I assume most cases of officer (and soldier) discretion are fairly sensible with a few bad apples abusing their power. But when the force protects those that allegedly habitually cross the bounds of good judgment, like in the Chicago public records case, intrusion and disruption of the system needs to be taken.

On another note, I think your complaint about the man paying for gas with pennies contradicts your general philosophy of getting rid of the police state. There is no Federal law stating that a private party has to accept any form of legal tender as payment. This is why gas stations don't have to accept bills larger than $20. This gives the individual retailer the right to set what they consider proper forms of payment w/o interference from the state. If some customer comes in with legal tender backed by the full force of the U.S. Government that the seller won't accept, it's inevitable that at some point some irate pair of people will call the cops. The seller is trying to exercise their freedom of choice and the buyer is trying to exercise what they believe (however wrongly) to be an exchange backed by the Federal government. If the two disagree, unless there were some community forum to judge the matter, the police could get involved. In this case the retailer is legally right, but conventional wisdom assumes the buyer is.

Grung_e_Gene said...

Ran, that's a money issue. And current US money is worthless (especially "sandwich" coinage and paper money) and worse designed to incur debt and control the populace. I guess the only reason the dollar didn't fail completely in 1971, ala the post World War One Mark, after the end of the pseudo-gold standard is because of the emergence of the Petrol-Dollar.

However, I don't think the gas station owner was a Ron Paul supporter demanding a return to the purity of the gold standard and an end to the Dollar Hegemony. He, most likely, was annoyed at having to count out a thousand pennies.

But, this is an example of our flawed perceptions were we focus on pennies and ignore the trillions of pilfered "dollars"...

JKG said...

Just a thought: The philosophy of policing in the US is too closely aligned with a theory of war. Granted, there are violent criminals. But there are also many first-world police forces and detention systems that face far fewer abuses of this nature than does our own, even societies with high-level organized violent crime like England and Japan.

This also begs the question of the role of the military in a police action or a peace-keeping mission. Wrong tool, IMO, but we've never faced up to the challenge of constructing the right tool. "You can't teach the hammer to love the nail," right? Nor should we be surprised when the hammer does its job with ruthless efficiency.

That goes for modern cops, as well. Train them (or allow them to socialize themselves) into a bunker mentality, and you get what I think is a predictable response.