Police grow more powerful; the Republic slides another step into darkness. Can cellphone cameras save us?

Summary: Our system is changing; the Republic is dying. Events in Ferguson illustrate some aspects of this the police’s militarization, alienation from the community, and increased use of force. Today we look at the last component of this cycle — their immunity from consequences. It’s not “just happening”. Day by day our elites change the system to better suit their needs; our passivity and apathy allow it to happen. We can still force reform; that might not always be true.

Lady Justice
Becoming an illegal alien

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A darkness falls over the Republic, like a shroud. It will deepen so long as we read stories like these below as entertainment — an opportunity for faux-outrage and righteousness. Only anger and resolution can save us, while the clock runs against us.

How the Supreme Court Protects Bad Cops“, Erwin Chemerinskyaug, op-ed in the New York Times, 26 August 2014 — Excerpt:

In recent years, the court has made it very difficult, and often impossible, to hold police officers and the governments that employ them accountable for civil rights violations. This undermines the ability to deter illegal police behavior and leaves victims without compensation. When the police kill or injure innocent people, the victims rarely have recourse.

The most recent court ruling that favored the police was Plumhoff v. Rickard, decided on May 27, which found that even egregious police conduct is not “excessive force” in violation of the Constitution. Police officers in West Memphis, Ark., pulled over a white Honda Accord because the car had only one operating headlight. Rather than comply with an officer’s request to get out of the car, the driver made the unfortunate decision to speed away. The police chased the car for more than five minutes, reaching speeds of over 100 miles per hour. Eventually, officers fired 15 shots into the car, killing both the driver and a passenger.

The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and ruled unanimously in favor of the police. … This is deeply disturbing. The Supreme Court now has said that whenever there is a high-speed chase that could injure others — and that would seem to be true of virtually all high-speed chases — the police can shoot at the vehicle and keep shooting until the chase ends. Obvious alternatives could include shooting out the car’s tires, or even taking the license plate number and tracking the driver down later.

The court has also weakened accountability by ruling that a local government can be held liable only if it is proved that the city’s or county’s own policy violated the Constitution. In almost every other area of law, an employer can be held liable if its employees, in the scope of their duties, injure others, even negligently. This encourages employers to control the conduct of their employees and ensures that those injured will be compensated.


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A 2011 case, Connick v. Thompson, illustrates how difficult the Supreme Court has made it to prove municipal liability. John Thompson was convicted of an armed robbery and a murder and spent 18 years in prison, 14 of them on death row, because of prosecutorial misconduct. … {T}he assistant district attorney received the crime lab’s report, which stated that the perpetrator of the armed robbery had a blood type that did not match Mr. Thompson’s. The defense was not told this crucial information.

Through a series of coincidences, Mr. Thompson’s lawyer discovered the blood evidence soon before the scheduled execution. New testing was done and again the blood of the perpetrator didn’t match Mr. Thompson’s DNA or even his blood type. His conviction was overturned, and he was eventually acquitted of all charges.

The district attorney’s office, which had a notorious history of not turning over exculpatory evidence to defendants, conceded that it had violated its constitutional obligation. Mr. Thompson sued the City of New Orleans, which employed the prosecutors, and was awarded $14 million.

But the Supreme Court reversed that decision, in a 5-to-4 vote, and held that the local government was not liable for the prosecutorial misconduct. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said that New Orleans could not be held liable because it could not be proved that its own policies had violated the Constitution. The fact that its prosecutor blatantly violated the Constitution was not enough to make the city liable.

Because it is so difficult to sue government entities, most victims’ only recourse is to sue the officers involved. But here, too, the Supreme Court has created often insurmountable obstacles. The court has held that all government officials sued for monetary damages can raise “immunity” as a defense. Police officers and other law enforcement personnel who commit perjury have absolute immunity and cannot be sued for money, even when it results in the imprisonment of an innocent person. A prosecutor who commits misconduct, as in Mr. Thompson’s case, also has absolute immunity to civil suits.

Fierce Lady Justice
We need a fiercer Lady Justice

Armed and trained like soldiers, almost immune from consequences, the natural course would be for the law enforcement to continue their evolution into security services (often secret police, as they cloak their actions from public view). But technology might be forcing changes, as in this case: “Knox County cop fired immediately after photos show brutal choking of student“, Washington Post, 28 April 2014 — Excerpt:

WBIR reports that law enforcement responded to a “disturbance” near the University of Tennessee where a house party with about 800 people had reportedly become unruly and spilled out into the street.

According to a police report, Dotson ignored repeated instructions to go inside, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported. Deputy Brandon Gilliam wrote in the official report that Dotson “began to physically resist officers’ instructions to place his hands behind his back, and at one point grabbed on to an officer’s leg.”

Messner, a freelance photographer who documented the incident, told The Washington Post that Dotson showed no signs of resisting arrest.

Messner’s still pictures, arranged by The Post in the GIF below, show two officers cuffing Dotson’s hands behind his back when Phillips came over and choked Dotson until he collapsed to his knees. Messner said that as Dotson was being pulled up he was smacked in the back of the head, “a snap-out-of-it kinda smack under the circumstances.”

But see the consequences. In this case justice was served, despite the officers’ lies.

Frank Phillips, a Knox County Sheriff’s officer, was fired Sunday night after a series of pictures taken by photographer John Messner were published in the Daily Mail in Britain.

The now ubiquitous cameras recorded the policeman’s criminal actions. Then the press told the public, and the police. Oddly — but too typically — it was the British press that took the lead. Just as with the revelations of the NSA’s surveillance.  We can only guess which of these opposing trends — cameras vs increasing police power — will triumph.

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(4)  Other posts about the events in Ferguson, MO

  1. Our elites smile at events in Ferguson, MO. They’ll cry if it pushes Blacks to try 4GW., 14 August 2014
  2. Will the Ferguson protest force development of African-American leaders?, 15 August 2014
  3. Why America has militarized its police and crushes protests, 16 August 2014
  4. The protesters at Ferguson might have won, but choose to lose, 18 August 2014
  5. Events from Ferguson explain why we are weak, 19 August 2014
  6. Events in Ferguson show why we read the news: entertainment, 23 August 2014

(5)  For More Information

(a)  See all posts about:

  1. The quiet coup now in progress in America
  2. Inequality & social mobility: once our strength, now a weaknesses
  3. Reforming America: steps to political change

(b)  Using anger as a tool to revitalize America

  1. Now is the time for America to get angry, 24 March 2009
  2. Re-envisioning the FM website, becoming soldiers in the war for American’s future, 21 December 2009
  3. Vital reading for America: two stories that might help arouse us to action, 17 January 2013
  4. The Idiocies of “Oversight” and “Accountability”, 9 February 2013
  5. In “Network”, Howard Beale asks us to get mad and do something. He’s still waiting., 19 October 2013
  6. A simple thing you can do to start the reform of America: get angry, 11 December 2013
  7. How can we arouse a passion to reform America in the hearts of our neighbors?, 20 December 2013
  8. Should we risk using anger to arouse America?, 16 January 2014

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11 thoughts on “Police grow more powerful; the Republic slides another step into darkness. Can cellphone cameras save us?

  1. Though they are stills I am guessing the student called him something like “fat f..k’ which he is. I’m glad he got fired. He’s no example of what a police officer should be, either physically or emotionally.

  2. This is a variation of too big to jail which is itself a nuance of too big to fail. The system is so full of rot that a whiff of fresh air will destroy it. The Supremes reasoned correctly IMO that too many cities totter on the brink of bankruptcy. Like our banks any incremental cost of paying for past transgressions will sink them.

    1. Peter,

      Perhaps. Why is the most difficult of questions to answer, and I am skeptical of guess about our leaders’ reasons. We know the police have been given more power and less accountability. This happened at cities both prosperous and weak, in a number of dimensions.

      Also, it seems irrational to expect that cutting the feedback loop between police actions and consequences will improve behavior. If we are guessing, I suspect the new policies produced the desired new behavior. Occam’s razor.

  3. FM remarks: Why is the most difficult of questions to answer, and I am skeptical of guess about our leaders’ reasons.

    The answer seems clear. 9/11 provided the pretext for a soft coup by America’s military/police/security/intelligence services. Threatened with a potentially fatal drop in revenue after the end of the Cold War and a 20-year-long drastic drop in crime rates (crime now stands at an historic low in the U.S.), our military/police/security/intelligence services found salvation in the War On Terror/War On Drugs/War on Copyright Infringement. As part of the post-9/11 soft coup, America now languishes under undeclared martial law, as the article The Rise of the Praetorian Class” makes clear:

    The Praetorian Class includes members of the Armed Services, federal, state and local law enforcement personnel as well as numerous militarized officials including agents from the DEA, Immigrations, Customs Enforcement, Air Marshalls, US Marshalls, and more. It also includes, although to a lesser extent, various stage actors in the expanding security theater such as TSA personnel. The main mission of the Praetorian Class is to keep the order of the day. This requires displaying an intimidating presence in their interactions with the Economic Class.

    As the Praetorian Class ascends, the clear, albeit unstated, message that emerges is that actions and events in the Economic Class only occur with its tacit consent. Whether driving on roads, traveling in the air, visiting public land, walking down the street or even living in your own home, every action you take is predicated on its permission. By preconditioning the populace to enforcement of its edicts, most of which are completely arbitrary, the Praetorian Class sets itself up for a high degree of autonomy in its actions. This is confirmed by the fact that consequences for malfeasance within the Praetorian Class are almost never observed, and when it happens, it typically becomes a grotesque spectacle in which one of their own is sacrificed as an example, so as to keep appearances of effective internal controls.

    A democracy requires no praetorian class, but an authoritarian oligarchy needs an extensive praetorian class to act as guard labor, securing the ill-gotten gains of the elite. As inequality grows more extreme, the amount of guard labor required exponentially rises, along with the amount of violence deployed by the praetorian class — both in order to safeguard the wealth of the elites from the bottom 99%, and to extract revenue needed to run society from the increasingly desperate and impoverished bottom sector of society, formerly the middle class, but now an increasingly ragged precariat one paycheck away from starvation.

    Bowles and Jayadev penned an insightful economics paper analyzing the rise and social/political role of guard labor in America society:

    We explore the economic importance f the private and public exercise of power in the execution of contracts and defense of property rights. (..) We use this model to identify the resources devoted to the exercise of power, which we term guard labor as we measure these in labor units. Data from the United States indicate a significant increase in its extent in the U.S. ove rhte priod 1890 to the presnt. Cross-national comparisons show a significant statistical association between income inequality and the fraction of the labor force that is constituted by guard labor, as well as with measures of political legitimacy (inversely) and political conflict. Some observation on the welfare implications of guard labor conclude the paper.” “Guard Labor,” by Arjun Jayadev and Samuel Bowles, 24 January 2006.

  4. http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/08/27/the-latin-americanization-of-u-s-police-forces/

    This Counterpunch article lays out the process and makes some nice comparisons between militarization of police in Latin America and what’s going on here in the USA, and how this leads to fascism in nice gradual easy stages.

    Militarized police forces take on a life of their down, at the expense of the society’s well-being. The social contract that gives the state the duty to organize police forces itself becomes obsolete, almost a joke. Citizens begin to obey agents of the state not out of respect or cooperation, but out of fear of those sworn to protect them. Eventually, the militarized power of the police reaches such magnitude that political leaders lose all ability to rein them in.

    Will cellphone cameras win over militarized police? I’m thinking no, ultimately cameras don’t matter because people see ‘blacks, the Latins coming over the border as them. That is until they come for us, and then it’s too late.

    For white Americans to think that their race makes them immune to police brutality is a mistake that cannot be afforded. Central American urban mestizo masses ignored the genocide of hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples. They saw these massacres as not their problem. Today we all suffer militarized suppression. Racial division was our greatest weakness.

    1. Reading FM post and the article linked in Mataga’s comment, I was reminded that many European countries actually have a dual police system:

      a) a purely civilian organization with the expected police duties (investigating and fighting crime, maintaining order, regulating road traffic, etc);

      b) a branch of the military with missions regarding civilian security, variously called carabinieri, guardia civil, jandarmeria, gendarmerie, etc. They perform police duties in rural regions (I suppose because of their military origin: as soldiers they had horses, hence could patrol the countryside; police patrolled cities on foot), anti-mafia operations, anti-terrorist SWAT, and as reinforcements in case of large demonstrations. Unsurprisingly, they have military gear because they _are_ the military (they usually constitute a full-fledged fourth branch of the military besides navy, air force and army).

      The model has been adopted in many Latin American countries and in former colonies as well. Thus, the (in)famous Brazilian polícia militar belongs to that (b) category. In Mexico, the marines are now used as some kind of carabinieri/gendarmes against drug cartels.

      I just wonder whether it would not be preferable to have all the militarized action (with fancy equipment, SWAT and the like) confined to a dedicated organization with proper training and well-defined missions, rather than letting every police department become some kind of amateur shock troop. Of course the posse comitatus act makes such an organization under the umbrella of the military formally impossible in the USA.

  5. “But see the consequences. In this case justice was served, despite the officers’ lies.”
    I disagree – justice would be served if the ex-officer is criminally charged and convicted.
    Just being fired, as anyone can be now at any time, is not justice. It’s partly an attempt to assuage the public without having to pay compensation.

    Justice cannot be served anymore, as your great article shows: qualified (really unqualified) immunity makes that impossible.
    Thanks for another reminder of why we are planning our emigration/escape from this dying nation.

  6. This problem may be new to some people and areas, but it’s certainly not new. Ice Cube had a song about this exact issue on his 1992 album Predator. I’ve greatly enjoyed listening to it again recently as a more seasoned adult, rather than as a naive, well-off, white teenager.

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