Everything Wrong with Police Has Been on Display in Ferguson
After Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9, the cops’ reaction provided a neat snapshot of just about every dangerous aspect of policing in modern America.
For starters, there’s the reliable archetype of the racist cop. Brown, though he allegedly stole cigarellos from a convenience store not long before he died, was not stopped over a theft report. The weak jaywalking excuse for a police stop adds a flavor of profiling which angers people further, and makes the racial element of the shooting more pronounced. In Ferguson, the numbers suggest that black individuals are targeted for police stops more than whites. A few of their cops also once beat a 52-year-old man, then charged him for damaging their uniforms with his blood. Brown himself may have been a dumbass teenager who committed a petty crime, but now he can never grow up to be better than that.
The police showed up like an army, thereby antagonizing the mostly peaceful crowds, both before and after looting began on August 10. This reaction, where store owners often got screwed by the mob but the peaceful, pissed off folks got their First Amendment rights violated, underlined another major problem with the police: Aren’t they violating Posse Comitatus by now? Men in SWAT gear that resembles paramilitary garb may bust down the doors of various suspected drug criminals at night, but that mostly goes without video evidence (when there are exceptions to that,people tend to be shocked, even when it’s a normal drug raid). Seeing a roadblock that belonged in the Middle East during a weekday afternoon in Missouri was jarring to people just starting to grasp its new normalcy.
Yet another strike against the Ferguson Police was their incredible opacity after one of their own killed. They initiated a curfew, and then took six days to release the name of Wilson. They did everything they could to block media attention. On Sunday night, a SWAT officer screamed “Turn off that light! Get down!” and then “Get the fuck out of here!” at a student who was broadcasting live radio. The officer, allegedly pointing a gun, also yelled what sounds like: “Get that light out of here, or you’re getting shot with this.” Some outlets—including Mediaite—thought the cop yelled “or you’re getting shot in the face.” Others say the cop might have been yelling “getting shelled with this” instead of “shot.” Regardless, it was bad.
Eric Garner and the Plague of Police Brutality Against Black Men
If you haven’t heard about Eric Garner yet, let me fill you in. He was a 43-year-old father of six who lived in Staten Island, and he died in the street on Thursday after as many as four New York police officers choked him and slammed his head on the ground. The NYPD told the Associated Press that they stopped Garner because he was selling untaxed cigarettes, something he’d been arrested for before. However, witnesses who spoke with local news website Staten Island Live have basically said that’s bullshit. Ramsey Orta, who was on the scene and shot a now infamous video that is making the rounds, can be heard in the clip saying that all Garner had done to get bothered by the police was break up a fight.
In the video, Garner denies any wrongdoing and asks why he’s being hassled. “Every time you see me you want to mess with me,” he says in an exasperated tone that most men of color across this country can relate to. Garner, who was 400 pounds and has been described by people who knew him as a “gentle giant,” suffered from chronic asthma and police claim his death was the result of a heart attack suffered during the arrest.
Police say that Garner made a “fighting stance” and resisted arrest. Which, based on the video clip, is complete nonsense, considering we can see him pleading to the officers, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” before going completely silent as several officers pile on him.
The video of Garner’s death is disgusting, but I can’t say I was shocked or even outraged the first time I watched it. At this point, as someone who’s read and written about some of these stories time and time again—and who’s had firsthand experiences with the way cops treat black males—this kind of reprehensible shit is not surprising at all. After so many cases like Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell, you start to feel desensitized by the seemingly insurmountable injustice that plagues communities of color.
Everyone’s Tweeting Photos of Police Brutality Thanks to the NYPD’s Failed Hashtag
Twitter is a cool website where you can type any old thing into a box and senpecid it out into the ether for the entire internet to read. Some people use it to joke around, some people use it to be like, “HEY INJUSTICE IS HAPPENING, WHOA #GETINVOLVED” and some people use it in order to roleplay as characters from Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s a lot of fun, especially if you like heated arguments with total strangers.
Large institutions like corporations and government agencies use Twitter too, usually pretty badly. “Hey, we’re a pizza company, send us pictures of you eating our pizza and hashtag them #pizzapics” is an example of a typical lousy tweet from one of these accounts. Generally institutions try to drum up something vague called “social engagement”—basically they want to get people tweeting good stuff about them so other people see those tweets and, I guess, come to think good thoughts about the institution who started the engagement campaign. The New York Police Department was probably thinking they could do one of those social engagement thingies when they launched the hashtag #MyNYPD with this tweet:
What the person running the Twitter account probably failed to realize is that most people’s interactions with the cops fall into a few categories:
1. You are talking to them to get help after you or someone you knew was robbed, beaten, murdered, or sexually assaulted.
2. You are getting arrested.
3. You are getting beaten by the police.
The Police Raided My Friend’s House Over a Parody Twitter Account
Jon Daniel woke up on Thursday morning to a news crew in his living room, which was a welcome change from the company he had on Tuesday night, when the Peoria, Illinois, police came crashing through the door. The officers tore the 28-year-old’s home apart, seizing electronics and taking several of his roommates in for questioning; one woman who lived there spent three hours in an interrogation room. All for a parody Twitter account.
Yes, the cops raided Daniel’s home because they wanted to find out who was behind @peoriamayor, an account that had been shut down weeks ago by Twitter. When it was active, Daniel used it to portray Jim Ardis, the mayor of Peoria, as a weed-smoking, stripper-loving, Midwestern answer to Rob Ford. The account never had more than 50 followers, and Twitter had killed it because it wasn’t clearly marked as a parody. It was a joke, a lark—but it brought the police to Daniel’s door. The cops even took Daniel and one of his housemates in for in-depth questioning—they showed up at their jobs, cuffed them, and confiscated their phones—because of a bunch of Twitter jokes.
Now Daniel’s panicking.
“I’m going to fucking jail,” he told me yesterday when he was on a break from his job as a line cook. “They’re going to haul me away for this shit.”
The Fake Town Where London Cops Train for Riots
The place is much like a film set—many of the peripheral buildings are just facades, while those at the “city center” are a lot more developed in order to give the trainees more varied terrain.
How Did Victor White III Die in the Backseat of a Cop Car?
The night Victor White Sr.’s son died in the backseat of a cop car in New Iberia, Louisiana, he called the local sheriff’s station to figure out where his boy was.
“I asked them if he’d been apprehended, and they told me no,” he said to me. It wasn’t until the following morning, March 3, that Victor Sr. found out his son, Victor White III, had been arrested and died while in police custody. But he didn’t receive the news from the New Iberia Sheriff’s Department—he got the call from his son Leonard, who also lives in New Iberia and had been questioned that morning by police in connection with the death of his brother.
Immediately, of course, Victor Sr. made the two-hour drive from his home in Alexandria down to New Iberia to find out what the hell was going on. But the cops refused to tell him anything about the circumstances surrounding his 22-year-old son’s death, citing an ongoing investigation by the state police. At that point, Victor Sr. had no idea his son’s death was caused by a gunshot to the back while he was still in handcuffs in the backseat of a patrol car. Every official he talked to was cagey.
“They wouldn’t even let me see the body,” Victor Sr. told me over the phone. Eventually, when they realized he wouldn’t take “no comment” for an answer, they brought in the coroner and allowed Victor Sr. to take one look at his deceased son—but even then, they had conditions. “They told me I couldn’t see his lower body,” he told me. “I could only see his face.”
Hawaii’s Cops Say They Need to Be Allowed to Sleep with Prostitutes, Just in Case
Cops usually can’t break the law, even when they’re undercover, but police departments in Hawaii recently lobbied state lawmakers to carve out an exception to what is a pretty good rule. Last week, when the state legislature was considering amending an anti-prostitution law to prohibit undercover officers from having penetrative sex with prostitutes, the police were like, “Actually, we need the flexibility to have full-on intercourse or we can’t do our jobs properly. Third base doesn’t cut it.”
Hawaii’s House passed the bill, thereby saying “you can have sex with prostitutes if youreally need to,” but, understandably, a week’s worth of headlines like, “Hawaiian Police Want to Have Sex with Prostitutes Real Bad” and “Haha Dude Wasn’t This Exact Thing inThe Wire?” caused legislators to have second thoughts about the rule now that it’s hit the state Senate.
I Accidentally Got a Scammer Tortured by Police in Tanzania
It was when they manhandled him onto the table, tethered him to a water pipe coming out of the ceiling, and pulled his pants down to his ankles that I experienced a change of heart. For weeks I’d been consumed with hatred for the man on that table. But it’s funny how your perspective changes when someone is about to be tortured, especially when you’re the one that put him there.
It had begun, like many tales of misadventure, in that most anarchic staging post for travel: the Tanzanian bus station. Ever been to one? This is how it goes: The long-distance buses tend to leave at dusk or before; schedules are mind-bogglingly irregular; a tourist tax on the price of a ticket is all but inevitable. Like transport hubs the world over, they’re a magnet for the wretched, the transient, and the dispossessed. And you endure it all for the privilege of cramming yourself into a bus driven by some prepubescent boy-racer in a country with a traffic-accident rate six times worse than that of the UK.