The current epidemic of police violence aimed against the very citizens they are sworn to protect and serve shows no sign of abating. Just this past week has focused attention on high profile incidents involving the savage beating of a college honor student and the extra-judicial murder of a mentally ill man holding a screwdriver. These and countless similar incidents have exposed the motto "protect and serve" to be utterly Orwellian, while severely diminishing how the public views law enforcement.
University of Virginia (UVA) honor student Martese Johnson was pummeled for no apparent reason by Alcohol and Beverage Control (ABC) Police near the UVA campus. His alleged offense is still unclear, but early reports, since refuted, claimed he was using a fake ID at a bar on St. Patrick's Day.
The ABC Police were involved in another high profile incident in 2013 involving the mistaken arrest of a female UVA student. In this incident Elizabeth Daly was approached by seven plainclothes ABC officers who drew at least one gun on the panicked student, believing the case of water she was carrying in her car was beer. Daly was arrested and held in prison overnight. She later received an undisclosed financial settlement reported to be as high as $200,000 as a result of her terrifying ordeal.
Dallas police gunned down Jason Harrison in his home after his mother called 911 requesting assistance with her son who had a history of mental problems. Harrison was holding a small screwdriver and despite officers claims that he was "menacing" them with the screwdriver and that they were in fear of their lives, video released this week from an officer's body camera clearly contradicts these claims. The family has since filed a federal lawsuit against the city and offending officers claiming that Harrison posed no threat.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme court arguing that hundreds of disabled Americans are killed in police encounters every year. In the brief, the ACLU argued that hundreds of disabled Americans are killed in police encounters every year. It was filed in support of a mentally ill woman suing San Francisco police for shooting her five times.
While police apologists seek to either justify every violent encounter or parrot the "99% of cops are good" mantra, elements of law enforcement continue to operate as a predatory street gang, ignoring their purported sworn duty. Executions are routinely justified by the officers claiming, as they did in the case of the Harrison murder, that they were "in fear of their lives."
Local prosecutors, largely because of their symbiotic and incestuous relationship with police departments, have proven to be unwilling or unable to adequately police the police, so to speak. Typically when state and local agencies do not possess adequate resources to tackle a particular criminal matter, the Department of Justice (DOJ) finds a way to assume the lead and apply federal law. Yet federal prosecutors have been oddly reticent impose the expansive federal Criminal Code to situations involving police misconduct.
Even in Ferguson, Missouri, which has been a flashpoint of tension between police and protestors since the summary execution of Michael Brown, the federal government has refused to address violative acts identified in the DOJ's own report. The report concluded that the Ferguson Police Department and the city's municipal court engaged in a "pattern and practice" of discrimination against African-Americans, disproportionately targeting them for traffic stops, use of force and jail sentences. The report also includes the finding that Ferguson's practices are shaped by the desire for revenue rather than by public safety needs.
Even more insidious than the idea of forsaking public safety for revenue generation was the report's conclusion that the disproportionate number of arrests, tickets and use of force stemmed from "unlawful bias," rather than black people committing more crime. This was no mere bald assertion. Specific instances of blatant police misconduct were included in the DOJ's report. These items included illegal searches, unlawful arrests, beatings, unwarranted imprisonment, failure to credit prisoners for time served, and the use of police dogs as weapons against the public. The report concluded that in every dog bite incident reported, the person bitten was black.
The 105 page report could hardly have been more damning. A well-known and recognized police tactic to cover for and justify meritless arrests is to claim the victim was "resisting arrest." The report detailed how from October 2012 to October 2014, every time a person was arrested in Ferguson for resisting arrest, that person was black.
Yet despite the DOJ's outrageous findings of police criminality, no federal charges are pending, no federal grand jury has been empaneled and there is little expectation of federal charges being brought against the offending officers.
Attorney General Eric Holder has gone on record in citing various illegalities on the part of the Ferguson Police Department. "According to our investigation, this emphasis on revenue generation through policing has fostered unconstitutional practices - or practices that contribute to constitutional violations - at nearly every level of Ferguson's law enforcement system."
But Holder and the DOJ are dealing with the criminal elements within the Ferguson Police Department very differently than other armed gangs which prey upon the public. Instead of announcing arrests and indictments, Holder suggested that the Ferguson Police Department get residents more involved in policing decisions and implement better ways of tracking "stop, search, ticketing and arrest practices."
Giving criminals passes for their bad acts is not exactly what one expects to see from federal prosecutors who are typically not only enforcing every available criminal statute, but finding new and imaginative ways to criminalize an even wider array of behavior. After all, almost any prosecutor can obtain a conviction when there is a clear cut violation of the law, but it takes an especially imaginative one to convict people for acts previously deemed to be compliant. Twisting existing criminal statutes beyond their intended purpose is one way in which federal prosecutors position themselves for advancement up the judicial-corporate ladder.
No such creativity is needed to apply federal criminal law to predatory elements within law enforcement. Rampant unjustifiable assaults on citizens constitute rather clear violations of criminal law and can easily be prosecuted under the expansive and seemingly all-encompassing federal Criminal Code. There are a plethora of federal criminal statutes under which offending officers could potentially be successfully prosecuted, so many in fact that both Congress and the American Bar Association have been unsuccessful in compiling a complete list of every federal criminal violation. Yet Holder and the DOJ are inexplicably hesitant to devote resources to the prosecution of law enforcement personnel who violently break the law and violate the rights of others.
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