The events swirling through Ferguson, Missouri, are still leading news items. People are decrying the “militarization” of the police, but that isn’t the real issue: the issue is plain, old-fashioned brutality.
Brute n. a savagely violent person or animal; adj. unreasoning and animal-like.
This issue is the inappropriate instigation and escalation of violence by the police. It doesn’t matter whether they do it with a military-grade carbine, or a night-stick, or bare fists and boots.
Let me be up-front about race. I’m white. I’m male. I live in a town that’s white enough to press and use as a wedding dress. I’m upper-middle-class, and I’m pushing 60.
I’ve had only a handful of direct encounters with police, and the cops have always been respectful and professional.
I’m very aware that my treatment at the hands of the police is a function of privilege, and that privilege that is almost entirely the result of accidents of birth.
So I’m fully aware that there is a racial component to this, and that racial issue is tied to five centuries of anti-black bigotry on this continent.
But this issue isn’t about race. It’s about the growing brutality of our law enforcement.
To the police chiefs and county sheriffs and other top-level administrators who enable and whitewash and hide this kind of brutality, I have a simple message: you are idiots. You are cutting your own throats, endangering your men for decades to come, and in the process, you are not even doing your job.
Let me explain in simple words why this is the case.
I’ve personally witnessed only one act of police brutality, and as such things go, it was pretty mild: no one was crippled or died.
I was in City Park on July 4 of 2005, and watched a short, white cop frogmarch a tall, shirtless, young white man in handcuffs across the grass for who-knows-what. The young man was mouthing off fiercely, but was marching in front of the cop with no resistance other than his foul mouth. The cop decided to face-plant the kid in the grass by tripping him (with his hands tied behind his back), a maneuver which could have cracked the kid’s kneecaps, smashed his face, or broken his neck. Comically, the cop was too short and the kid was too tall, and the kid just stepped over the cop’s leg, not even pausing in his stride or verbal tirade. It wasn’t until the cop tried to trip him the second time that the kid realized what was happening and stopped walking. After the third failure to bring the kid down by tripping him while pushing in the middle of his back, the cop switched to a pain-hold, locking the kid’s elbows and lifting his bound arms: but the kid was young and flexible, bent over to relieve the pain, and the cop was too short to lift any higher. So they danced around, the kid screaming, until a half-dozen other cops “rushed to the rescue,” tackled the kid, and formed a cordon so no one could see what was happening on the ground inside, though we could all hear the screaming and cursing — some of it from the cop, whose face was flaming, blotchy red as he vanished inside the cordon.
The sad part of this whole incident is that the cop initially had the situation completely under control. He then lost control because he chose to escalate the situation with a take-down move that the department assured me isn’t even allowed, and then executing it so incompetently that he could easily have recovered control by simply pretending it hadn’t happened: the kid hadn’t noticed. It wasn’t until the second gratuitous provocation that the kid realized he was being provoked.
Anyone want to try to tell me the cop was “just doing his job?”
I reported this incident, formally and in writing, as did numerous other witnesses, and the police mounted an investigation — we know that much, because we were interviewed by Internal Affairs. But then, the whole case vanished into the secrecy of the police bureaucracy, and we — the public — never heard another word. Nor will we ever, per police policy.
This is, of course, a far cry from shooting an unarmed kid with his hands in the air, or beating someone to death, or suffocating them with a chokehold, or sodomizing them with a nightstick. I certainly do realize that. But what I witnessed is merely a somewhat cleaner corner of the same filthy rag that has been wiped over Ferguson, MO.
Police brutality: senseless escalation of violence, through gratuitous police bullying and abuse.
Here’s my point to the police: I’m now scared of them. I’m scared of them. I’m scared of them. I don’t really trust even my age and white privilege to keep them from knocking me to the ground, kicking me in the gut, or prying my eyes open after I’m cuffed to dose me with pepper spray, all because they were amped up on testosterone and adrenaline, and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and didn’t move fast enough to suit their mood. Or maybe just for the pure, cruel hell of it.
Now, I’m a mild-mannered guy, someone who is more likely to freeze like a rabbit in the face of a threat, than resort to violent action. If that weren’t the case — if I were a man prone to violence with a hair-trigger temper — the bullying incident I witnessed nine years ago could easily have created a potential human bomb, primed to be unleashed on some future cop over a jay-walking incident. I wasn’t the only person who witnessed this incident: maybe one of the other witnesses was a guy with a short fuse.
That short, ill-trained, red-faced rookie with a little dick and a big compensation issue, has put other cops’ lives at risk for at least a decade.
So just what do you suppose the situation in Ferguson has done?
Amidst all the media noise in this, one of the clearest moments for me was the police officer who was broadcast by CNN on national television while shouting at an enraged crowd, “Bring it, all you fucking animals! Bring it!”
Those are the words of a goddamned fool. He is begging an angry mob to rip into his men. He is asking them to tear the limbs off his fellow officers, and then hang his broken body from a lamppost and set fire to it. That’s what mobs do, and he’s inciting that kind of violence. Against himself, and his own comrades.
His fellow officers should have shut down and arrested this out-of-control cop on the spot, and disciplinary measures should include at a minimum being dismissed from the force and blacklisted for life, throughout the country, for any possible kind of police or military job whatsoever. In days past, he’d also have been horsewhipped in the public square: and I note that horsewhipping leaves painful, lifelong scars.
But we all know that isn’t going to happen. The officer who tried to incite the crowd to unconstrained violence will face — if anything at all — a nice father-son chat with his superiors, maybe a little administrative leave, and he might see his promotion schedule derailed by a few months. But he’ll stay on the force, and will be “supported” by his comrades, and he will remain exactly the same unrepentant, incompetent threat to himself, his companions, and the community.
We all know that this is how the police bureaucracy plays out — even if it isn’t true, it’s how we all know it works, because the “code of silence” ensures we never learn otherwise. As a result, the police forces in Ferguson will remain in dire jeopardy for generations.
I note that this is precisely why they didn’t dare release the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown until he had a chance to skip town. It was because of all the damage that has been done over the course of generations by bullying, racist cops with little dicks and big compensation issues; the Ferguson community is scared of them, and every member of that community is a potential bomb waiting to go off. The cops know this, which is why they feel they need tanks to control the community.
So I’ll say it again: you police chiefs and county sheriffs and top level police administrators in the Ferguson area are idiots, and you’ve put, and continue to put, your men, your communities, and law itself at risk.
The solution is simple, if unpalatable. It’s called truth and reconciliation, followed by transparency.
We’ve seen what happened in Ferguson when the highway patrol stepped in, put their guns away, and walked with the protesters. The shift was immediate, and dramatic. Ferguson has no beef with the State Highway Patrol. The State Highway Patrol has no beef with Ferguson.
The problem is not this community of black people. The problem is the local police, and the code of silence they hide behind.
The name of the officer who shot Michael Brown has been released. That’s a good step. Whether that officer ultimately goes to prison depends on a trial. Whether that officer remains on the force does not depend on a trial, and the community needs to know — and the police officers themselves need to know — that if you shoot an unarmed black kid, you lose your job. It’s one of the risks of the profession, right along with getting shot and killed by real criminals.
The police chief who thinks it’s the citizens’ fault for getting tear-gassed needs to resign, and needs to be replaced by someone who has some vague concept of how to actually de-escalate violence and keep protesters from rioting.
The “fucking animals” guy? He does need to be horsewhipped. His unit, which stood by and let him incite the crowd, needs to be disbanded for incompetence and being “unclear on the concept” of what police work is about. Their commanders need to be demoted or fired for letting such a testosterone pustule fester in the first place. And this all needs to be public and visible, because the community needs to know that this kind of thing will not be tolerated.
Just as, here, it would relieve my mind to know that the short white guy with a badge who thought it would be fun to face-plant a handcuffed prisoner nine years ago, is no longer doing police work.