Challenging Police Union Leadership in the War on the Poor and People of Color

Police Leadership in Manufacturing ‘War Zones’

Police increasingly describe the communities they occupy as war zones, their inhabitants as enemy combatants, and their jobs as wrought with danger. As a Pulaski County, Indiana Sheriff said:

The United States of America has become a war zone. There’s violence in the workplace, there’s violence in schools and there’s violence in the streets. You are seeing police departments going to a semi-military format because of the threats we have to counteract. If driving a military vehicle is going to protect officers, then that’s what I’m going to do.

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The Reason Mike Brown Can’t Get Justice Has Nothing To Do With Cameras

 

After Darren Wilson was released from legal responsibility for his murder of Mike Brown, it seemed everyone wanted to believe things would have happened otherwise were the killing captured on video by cameras. “Put a camera on every cop, and we’ll have fewer Mike Browns,” they said.

But this fails to understand the fundamental nature of both police and of video imagery. We might not need much sophisticated analysis to see this, since the same week Obama announced his campaign to put cameras on 50,000 officers, the videotaped killing of Eric Garner failed to even secure an indictment. Continue reading

A Short Script on On-Officer Wearable Cameras and Civilian Complaints

The scene is an interrogation room. A small room with brick walls, painted in light green-grey. A two-way mirror is on one wall and a surveillance camera is mounted in the corner. 

In the center of the room is a table with a chair on either side. An empty chair is on the side of the table facing a closed door. In the other chair is John, a Black male in his early twenties, wearing a black t-shirt, jeans, and some dried blood around one bruised eye. 

An officer in uniform, named Dick, enters the room and sits at the table across from John.

John: Look, I’m not talking to you without my lawyer.

Dick: I understand.

John: No, I don’t think you understand. I want to talk to a white shirt and file a complaint for what you did to me.

Dick: Look, John, we got you for driving without insurance, which is going to cause enough problems for you. But I want to show you something else…

Dick pulls a small device from his duty belt. It looks like a smart phone, only larger and more ‘heavy duty.’ He presses a button and a video begins to play.

Dick: Watch this, right here… I tell you to put your hands behind your back.

The video plays. We hear Dick yelling, “Hands behind your back… behind your back motherfucker… Stop resisting… Stop resisting…” John replies, “I’m not resisting! What are you arresting me for? I have my rights! Tell me what you’re arresting me…” His voice trails off and we hear the sound of tussling bodies and heavy breathing. “Ow! Damn!” Dick stops the video.

John: See, you hit me for no reason. I want my lawyer.

Dick: I told you to put your hands behind your back and you put your arms to the side to avoid being cuffed-

John: I put my hands out so you wouldn’t accuse me of going for a weapon!

Dick: John, I was just attempting to place you in cuffs for my safety, and you resisted. So I can also charge you with resisting arrest.

John: Bullshit, I-

Dick: And when I grabbed your arm you cocked back and elbowed me. That’s assaulting an officer. A felony. You could spend months in jail, maybe more.

John: I didn’t hit you, you hit me! Look at my face! I want to file a complaint.

Dick: Look, John, these complaints never go anywhere and you know that. But they are a real pain in the ass.

John: Well, I’m gonna be a pain in your ass when I sue you.

Dick: John. John. Calm down. Look, you’re facing charges for driving without insurance, resisting arrest, assaulting an officer. You’re looking at some serious time.

John: I want my lawyer.

Dick: How about we make this easier on both of us. If you are willing to let this go, we can stop this all right here and I’ll send you home with a traffic ticket. If you want to go ahead and file that complaint, this video will be played for a jury and you’re going to be doing some hard time. What do you say?

Fade out.

Civilians Less Violent, Cops More Violent, All More Visible

Policing Ferguson. Photograph by Scott Olson/Getty.

Police are safer than ever, civilians are less violent than ever, and violent force and imprisonment is more often to be expected by civilians—all under the watchful eye of cameras.

 

In the United States, violent crime rates continue to drop. Murders fell by 4.4 percent from 2012 to 2013, and are now at the lowest in around 40 years. According to the F.B.I. crime report, the U.S. had an estimated 1.16 million violent crimes last year, the lowest since 1.09 million were recorded in 1978. Adjusting for population, there are 4.3 violent crimes per year, per 1000 population now, compared with 4.9 in 1978. Continue reading

Protected: American Policing and The State

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A Categorical Denial of Public Oversight of Police

Certifying Brutality

In the weeks since Roshawon Donley and others were brutally beaten by Troy Police officers, Troy city and policing officials have taken many opportunities to speak about the events. Routinely, they have described the officers’ actions on the scene as necessary, within department policy, and lawful. As shown in the video below, Police Commissioner Magnetto went so far as to say that were the same situation to happen again, he would wish for police to respond exactly as they did — by beating at least half a dozen patrons with baton strikes, including blows to the head.

A Department of Justice report from 2011 explains the current trends in use of force policies in US municipal and other law enforcement departments. “Most agencies do not allow baton use until the subject threatens the officer by assuming the boxer’s stance.” Policies informed by current research in use of force outcomes, criminal and civil case law classify baton strikes to the head and other areas of the body as deadly force. A model DOJ use of force policy states unequivocally that “deadly force is not limited to the use of firearms” and includes baton strikes to the “head, neck, sternum, spine, groin, or kidneys” and lists this use of force among ramming with a car and firearm use. The DOJ makes clear, “A subject who poses no imminent threat will not be struck with a baton or impact tool … During non-deadly force incidents, officers will use reasonable care to avoid striking suspects on the head, neck, sternum, spine, groin, or kidneys, as these strikes may constitute deadly force.”

It is rather clear that Federal standards for municipal and other policing differ widely from the activities officials in Troy wish to certify and advocate as standard practice. They echo a common sentiment among police. A US Department of Justice report found that about half of police agree, “Always following the rules is not compatible with getting the job done.”

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CFP: The Police and Theory of the State

Call for Papers:

The Police and the Theory of the State

Deadline: 28.02.2014

The editors of Theoria invite contributors to interrogate contemporary political and social theory through the lens of policing, with the view of connecting politics and policing. Well documented reflections based on a variety of case studies would be welcomed, with a non exclusive privilege given to the ‘Global South’.

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The Visibility of Police Violence as Transparency (and a Preface to My Research)

I’ve been studying surveillance rather intensively for the past four years, and policing for a little less time. But my close familiarity with the intersection of policing and surveillance goes back much further. I was becoming politically aware during the Rodney King events, a reception that was deeply conditioned by my prior witnessing and direct experiences with police violence. By the mid-90s, I was participating in Copwatch activities, mainly filming policing of demonstrations, marches, and other political events. For about a year at the turn of the century, I participated in weekly Copwatch “patrols,” when we drove around “high crime” neighborhoods with a police scanner and stopped to video record any police encounters with civilians.

Most recently, I’ve been researching the intersection of policing and surveillance. I’m paying careful attention to the intentional, politicized activity of documenting policing, or “copwatching.” But I’m also observing the newer and broader occurrence of incidental video documentation of police by civilians. Additionally, I’m researching the activity by political activists and other related actors who advocate for civilians to participate in this form of documentation. My initial research question was: “What explains the proliferation of video documentation of police violence?” This expanded to include the followup: “How can the increased visibility offered by widespread civilian video documentation coincide with the continued or expanded use of violence by police?”

The Rodney King events created a crisis for American policing. But why? For readers who were around for the public, activist, and/or academic discussions that exploded during the early- to mid-90s, you may remember some of the ubiquitous responses. This is one place where I begin my research. Because this was the first major political event in the United State that began with the incidental documentation of police violence, this alone is reason to pay careful attention to this as a genetic moment. But it is also important precisely because of the discourse that emerged in this time. One thing of which I was convinced early in my inquiry is that this discourse continues to saturate the popular, activist, and academic consciousness in all the obvious related matters: police, police brutality, racialization of social control, and so on. But it also saturates the way most intellectuals and theorists talk about citizen journalism, surveillance, media, and accountability of public officials. While commentary on Rodney King seemed to have exhausted itself nearly 20 years ago, the idea of this as a critical moment when incidental documentation of the police produced popular power persists. The remote witnessing, archivability, and recirculation of the video offered a kind of transparency that produced a new kind of accountability.

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