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The Pretense of Protection; Bad Cops and Prosecutors

By       Message Barry Sussman     Permalink

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In the wake of 9/11 there has been on ongoing massive buildup and militarization of local police departments, ostensibly for the purpose of protecting the public.  Recent high profile incidents of gross police misconduct strongly suggest, however, that the stated goal of public protection is nothing more than a convenient label for this increased assertion of State power.  The very same public who is the professed recipient of this alleged protection frequently finds itself in the crosshairs of its protectors.  The net result is that Americans are now eight times more likely to be killed by the police than they are by terrorists.
 
Indeed, statistics demonstrate that the militarization and strengthening of the police for the purposes of thwarting "terrorism" is almost completely unfounded.  Since 9/11, the odds of an American dying in a terrorist attack are about one in 20,000,000, while the odds of dying from a bee sting are about one in 71,000.  The odds of dying from electrocution are about one in 12,000, from a fall about one in 150.  The fact that the government is singularly focused on terrorism while ignoring much more likely causes of death strongly suggests that the stated goal of "protection" is nothing more than a charade.   
 
In reality, the true objective of their stated concern is the strengthening of the State.  The problem is that State power versus personal welfare is proving to be a zero sum equation, resulting in a disturbing increase in unprovoked and disproportionate attacks by police against those they are allegedly serving.  Recent high profile police assaults suggest little more than utter disdain for the public they are supposedly entrusted to protect.
 
James M. Boyd was shot and killed by an Albuquerque, NM police officer on March 16.  Boyd, a 38 year old homeless man, was shot while being arrested for illegal camping because he was holding knives and allegedly posed a threat to police officers attempting to take him into custody, according to Albuquerque Police Chief Gordon Eden.  But police released helmet camera footage from the shooting last week that showed Boyd agreeing to leave and turning away from officers just before they opened fire.  
 
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The video footage of a defenseless James Boyd being shot by Albuquerque police launched massive protests against police violence

The unprovoked police shooting of Boyd is part of a larger pattern of serious police misconduct in Albuquerque.  The number of fatal shootings by police in Albuquerque stands out in part because of the city's small size.  In New York, for example, police killed nearly the same number of people (25) over two years (2011 and 2012) as the Albuquerque police did in four years.  But New York has about 15 times as many residents as Albuquerque.
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In response to the Boyd shooting and the release of the helmet camera footage, a video posted by Anonymous called on people in Albuquerque to demonstrate against police violence.  The protest, which began at noon and stretched into the evening, followed two recent fatal shootings by Albuquerque police.  The Albuquerque police have killed scores of people since the beginning of 2010 while engaging in over a dozen non-fatal shootings during the same period. 

 

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The demonstrations in Albuquerque were ignited by the Boyd shooting, but had been simmering for some time

 
Two of the people shot by Albuquerque police were killed in March, with the most recent shooting coming hours after a protest sparked by the previous killing.  While the police-involved shootings stretch back a number of years, it was these latest shootings, and the released video footage, that appeared to ignite the chaotic public demonstrations.  
 

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The activist group Anonymous was instrumental in coordinating the protests in Albuquerque

 
Another high profile incident of police misconduct occurred in Tucson, AZ after the Arizona Wildcats were eliminated from the NCAA basketball tournament.  Students had gathered following the team's loss and were hurling bottles and firecrackers at police officers.  An unarmed woman, not involved in the misconduct, was violently shoved over a bench by a police officer during student riots in Arizona and claims she was subjected to excessive force.
 
Christina Gardilcic was seen on video footage being thrown over a metal frame by an officer in full riot gear during a demonstration at the University of Arizona on Saturday.  Speaking for the first time since the incident, Gardilcic said the assault took place so fast she had no idea what was happening.  
She told ABC News, "We were just walking on a sidewalk and the next thing I know I was just on a bench, my feet were up in the air.  What happened to me, I consider excessive force.  I had no idea I was doing anything wrong.  If I was, and he physically shoved me and I fell, I could have been really hurt."  The video footage confirms that Ms. Gardilcic had nothing to do with the student disturbance and was violently assaulted by the officer for no apparent reason.  
 

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Video footage captured Christina Gardilcic being violently tackled by a policeman for no apparent reason

 
The assaulting officer has been identified as Sgt. Joel Mann.  His colleague, Sgt. Pete Dugan, told ABC News that Sgt. Mann has been re-assigned by the force for safety reasons as a precaution after receiving several threats.  
 

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Sgt. Joel Mann has been identified as the officer who violently assaulted an unsuspecting Christina Gardilcic   

While the stream of daily attacks by police have become widely reported, (legal) assaults by prosecutors, similarly operating under the pretense of protection, largely go under the radar at least partly due to the lack of accompanying video footage to document their misdeeds.  Without clear documentation, prosecutorial misconduct typically fails to achieve the same level of public outrage.   Yet it is the same kind of deception, feigning a concern for the public while engaging in attacks on those they profess to be protecting.  Prosecutorial aggression is often even more egregious as the resulting harm, false convictions, is measured not in broken bones, but in decades in America's vast network of prisons.     
 
Recent events have borne out the fact that like the police, prosecutors tend to act in a fashion that best suits themselves.  Lofty mission statements claiming to protect and advocate on behalf of the public have been demonstrated to largely be prevarications.  The steady and sickening stream of wrongful prosecutions/convictions speaks volumes about the self-serving aims of those entrusted with the task of prosecuting on behalf of the State.  Their victims are the same public they purport to serve.  
 
Federal prosecutors are largely shielded from claims of wrongful prosecution/conviction because of the amorphous nature of federal "crimes."  Many serve as nothing more than catchalls, allowing creative federal prosecutors to assign guilt where desired.  This tends to make federal cases impervious to claims of wrongful prosecution/conviction.  Legal commentators like Harvey Silverglate, author of Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent, recognize that federal prosecutors tend to investigate people as opposed to crimes, and then apply the loosely defined federal criminal statute that best suits their preconceived goals.  The ever-expanding Federal Criminal Code offers ambitious prosecutors a stunning choice of easily applicable available options.  
 

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Lawyer and legal writer Harvey Silverglate has written extensively on rampant misdeeds committed by federal prosecutors   

 
This leaves what little focus there is on false prosecutions/convictions to state matters.  Such miscarriages of justice have become so widespread that a database to record wrongful prosecutions/convictions has been created through a joint project by the University of Michigan and Northwestern law schools.  
 
"The National Registry of Exonerations gives an unprecedented view of the scope of the problem of wrongful convictions in the United States," Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, said in a news release.  "It's a widespread problem."
 
According to the registry, Illinois counts 101 exonerations in state courts, followed by New York at 88, Texas at 84 and California at 79.  The website is  www.exonerationregistry.org.
 
Louisiana is not among the top 10 states in terms of raw numbers, but it ranks at the top in terms of the number of exonerated people per capita, said Paul Killebrew of Innocence Project New Orleans, which investigates wrongful conviction cases.
 
"While Louisiana doesn't have the highest overall number of exonerations, it does have the highest rate of wrongful convictions," Killebrew said.
 
"It's clear that the exonerations we found are the tip of an iceberg," said Michigan law professor Samuel Gross, the registry's editor."  Most people who are falsely convicted are not exonerated.  They serve their time or die in prison.  And when they are exonerated, a lot of times it happens quietly, out of public view." 
 
 

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Law professor Samuel Gross believes the stunning number of false convictions in the U.S. are only the "tip of an iceberg"

 
The registry claims that at least 135 people confessed to crimes they did not commit, while no less than 129 people were convicted of crimes that never even took place.  The list's founders say in excess of 200 drivers were framed by police for drunk driving, and that the arresting officers "usually stole money from their wallets in the process," according to a recent press release.
 
Part of the problem with obtaining exonerations is that it is typically capital offenses which garner the attention necessary to put the wheels of exoneration in motion.  Those convicted of lessor offenses and serving shorter sentences often encounter difficulty in obtaining meaningful review when there are so many more cases judged to be more "worthy" of a closer look.  Thus, the reported cases often usually involve victims of prosecutorial abuse who have served decades in prison for crimes they did not commit.  It is highly unusual for someone serving a sentence of ten years or less to be exonerated, though there are likely countless innocent people serving such sentences.  
 

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Flagrant prosecutorial abuse has necessitated the creation of a National Registry of Exonerations

 
Abusive prosecutors, like their police counterparts, cloak their misdeeds in the name of public protection, but this is sheer mendacity.  Prosecutors, an integral part of the prison-industrial complex, recognize that their performance is judged solely by wins.  Those seeking to advance up the judicial-corporate ladder have no incentive, and in fact a distinct disincentive, to exculpate the innocent.  Winning at any cost is their sole mission.  Vested with the power of the State, they arguably pose a greater threat to the public than those they prosecute.  What is really being protected are their reputations.   
 

 

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Barry Scott Sussman- Born and raised in New Jersey. Graduated from Rutgers University with a BA in Sociology. Graduated with a JD from the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law specializing in Federal Criminal Procedure and Federal Prosecutorial (more...)
 

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