Criminal Cops vs. All Lives Matter (Including Cop Lives)
Part Four will be about my attempt to sue the officers who had beaten me and done their best to give me a criminal record. I engaged an attorney and filed a lawsuit in Federal Civil Court, and later filed a complaint with the FBI, both of which ventures were as disappointing and fruitless as going to the Honolulu Police Commission.
Let's take a little break, though. POLAWA was written in 2002, and much has happened since then. In just a few short years we have acquired Black Lives Matter, Police Lives Matter, and All Lives Matter. More than a few of the issues resonate with my experiences of police misconduct, and the frustrations I encountered trying to bring the perpetrators to justice. Police are public employees, and from beginning to end, the public should be responsible for them.
Police have become increasingly militarized in the United States, and many citizens have grown resentful and hostile. Or is it the other way around - which came first? Some humans have a tendency to play the victim and get as much mileage out of that as they can. Too many people have been killed in confrontations, and "camps" representing opposite sides of the issues tend to hunker down, close ranks, and start taking pot shots at each other in the media, as well as on the streets.
Banding together and preaching to our respective choirs, and verbally bashing the other side might be gratifying, but in no way solves any problems. We are way overdue to start working together to find solutions. Our American Constitution and government are founded on compromise, and we seem to have lost sight of that.
Let me be clear about one thing right at the start. I don't hate all police officers. In fact, a close relative of mine is an officer, and so is her husband, and if anything, I hope that what I write here helps to keep them safe. I do NOT want to hear that one of them has been killed or injured by some nut who has a grudge against cops. The father of one of my best friends - Hiram Bell - was a police sergeant and trainer, and he was one of the most admirable men I have ever known.
On the other hand, about 1000 U.S. civilians were killed by police officers in 2015, which was way more than the number of convicted criminals formally executed in the United States that year. As our nation moves away from the death penalty, police have more than made up for it by executing people on the spot, without the benefit of an arrest or trial. Police have taken on the functions of Judge, Jury, and Executioner.
Executions in American states in 2015: 28
Cops killed: 127
Killed by cops; about 1000.
Statistics vary according to the reporting agency, but the numbers are pretty close. Reliable statistics aren't easy to come by. One of the best data bases I've seen is compiled by the Washington Post. They not only list the numbers, but separate out the different ethnicities, ages, situations, and whether or not the victims were armed with guns, knives, toys, (not included:soft drink cans, cell phones, etc). They don't identify (from what I could see) whether or not the presence of weapons was verified by independent observers, or just allegations by the officers. Other sources include The Guardian, the New York Times, the Officer Down Memorial Page, and The Counted. Many other individuals and organizations compile statistics, and I recommend that you view as many as possible, and maintain a skeptical attitude.
Granted, 2015 was a bad year for police relations in general. It was an even worse year for those who were killed, both civilians and police, and for their surviving relatives and friends. City governments or Police Commissions can conduct all the investigations they want after the fact, but none of the victims will be brought back to life. The grief and resentment that stems from having a loved one killed doesn't go away.
These are just deaths. The number of injuries from beatings, and false charges by police are overwhelming by comparison, but the public doesn't seem to care about those. A recent Google search listed at least 749,000 complaints against officers in 2015.
Black deaths are over-proportionate, and reports vary as to how many are youths, but no one thinks that the total number would be acceptable if the victims were spread around different ethnicities. (? Or not. No one has really stated such an opinion). I hope that both sides would prefer zero children killed by cops, and zero officer deaths. Is it possible that we start working toward achieving a goal of zero killings? Is it even a goal?
The ODMP (Officer Down Memorial Page) reported that officer deaths by gunfire were up by about 20% in 2015. Their reaction was to call for more protections for police, and totally ignored the reports of unarmed Black children killed by officers, as if there was no possibility of a connection. Just: the poor officers. Might there be a possibility that as more unarmed Black youths were killed by police that year, certain individuals took it upon themselves to retaliate? ODMP doesn't seem to think so.
This is inversely related to stochastic terrorism. We know that some individuals will get psychologically pushed "over the edge," and retaliate when they perceive that injustice has been done. We have seen this in politics, when certain individuals have been portrayed in the crosshairs of rifle scopes, and later get shot (think Gabby Giffords). American police know that they are resented by a number of unstable people, yet they (police) insist on protecting criminal cops. Innocent individuals get killed by police, and someone retaliates by attacking innocent cops.
Usually, when somebody decides to push unstable populations over the edge, they target their enemies. The police policies bring actions against themselves. Go figure ...
This is the crux of the problem. Protection of police has got to the point where too many of them are shielded from justice. As in my case - I parroted an officer by repeating the exact same words and tone of voice that he used when addressing me. That was no reason at all to beat me unconscious, and file false charges against me. Even if I had actually asked to see a police ID, which I did not, that would not have been a crime. Even if I had called them "pigs," (which I did not) or some other derogatory name, they should have been mature enough to ignore petty insults and focus on the job at hand. Police have been called names for time immemorial, and should expect that it will continue.
There seems to be a general consensus that the situation is unacceptable. Citizens in victimized neighborhoods wish that officers would arrive bringing calm and stability, rather than paranoia and death. Officers wish that they would be looked on as respected and friendly, rather than being greeted with suspicion and hostility.
From what I've read, quite a few critics of police misconduct believe that racial inequality is written into existing laws, and that racism is thus institutionalized. Others, myself included, believe that enough individual officers are prejudiced and / or assholes to add up to measurable violations against minorities. A recent cartoon depicting a trap for President Obama with a watermelon for bait indicates that a substantial number of White Americans live with a stereotypical image of all Blacks as ignorant and uncultured. That substantial number will of course include police officers.
It's hard to believe that officers, Police Commissions, city governments, and the media, etc, don't get that there are negative consequences to wearing uniforms. If all cops on a force look alike, when some of them commit crimes, it might as well be any or all of them. Many police forces refuse to release the names of officers who have been disciplined, or charged with misconduct, and so the perception of guilt gets spread around to include all the officers in those forces. Maybe the general public doesn't care about this, but for the victims it means that an entire police force is complicit in the crimes. Especially when the officers close ranks to protect the perpetrators (their fellow officers), and hide behind a "blue wall," they are guilty. It is hypocritical, dishonest, and just plain wrong to take an oath to catch criminals, and then shelter and protect a certain group of criminals. And if you haven't heard of the blue wall, or blue line, you really haven't been paying attention. It's time to wake up.
Here's a principle that should have a name: We have to watch out for others in our group (especially those who look like us) who might make us look bad. One idiot getting out of line can bring down tons of retribution on the rest of us. Saying that there are "just a few bad apples" is no excuse. The actions of one "bad apple" cop can get another cop shot in the back.
If you've read the first three sections of Polawa, you should be aware of the resentment I had for the criminal officers who assaulted me, and I assure you that my resentment continues unabated some twenty years later. I consider myself to be a law abiding citizen who believes in the goodness of society, and does not engage in violent or revenge seeking behavior. So the cops are safe from me, but what about from those who are violent and vengeful?
A few other factors that come into play, especially as they relate to our perceptions and attitudes:
My grandfather, Al Arney, was a professional boxer, and knew as much as anyone about physical confrontations. He advised me more than once to be careful about creating resentment. "Don't make enemies," he said. "If you make enemies, you will have enemies, and they will lie in wait for you." Too bad police officers haven't had such good advice. I attempt to pass it on now.
The War on Drugs has been a huge factor in the arming of civilians hostile to Law Enforcement. As many have pointed out, Prohibition of alcohol led to a lucrative black market, which in turn led to vicious turf wars. Al Capone and other gang leaders weren't staggering around drunk when they pulled off their "gang related violence," they were capitalists fighting over territory, a custom that has prevailed for centuries.
This suggests another principle that should have a name. There are laws of Capitalism that most people seem to be unaware of (Americans, at least). I suggest: the Law of the Black Market. When something is made illegal, that does not mean that it stops happening. Whether it's drugs, gambling, prostitution, abortions, or whatever, this law means that somebody can (and will) start making money off that substance or activity, and the people most likely to do this are organized criminals. American drug policy has been a primary funding base for, and cause of, the rise in violent street gangs in the U.S. since the War On Drugs started. If Law Enforcement is so worried about officers getting killed, why do they support these policies? How many drug crimes are money related?
What about "three strikes you're out" policies, and their effect on criminals' likelihood to kill and / or flee? If suspects know that they'll be locked up forever if they're caught, they have nothing to lose.
Current legal wisdom holds that juries tend to side with the police, and if you sue an officer, it will be an uphill battle just fighting that trend. American media contribute to this constantly, even though they claim to be "fair and balanced," and impartial. When an off duty Honolulu officer was driving drunk and got into a road rage incident with a teenager, he got pushed over an overpass wall and killed. Subsequent investigations revealed that besides driving drunk, and initiating the confrontation, he had chronic domestic violence issues, (and numerous complaints) yet a Honolulu newspaper referred to him as a "centurion." The teenager was judged guilty, and carries a bad reputation, even though he was the one who was attacked by the officer.
Clint Eastwood and his ilk, with the Dirty Harry, "Make my Day" attitude, have swayed American perceptions in a tremendously negative and unproductive way. They encourage us to see some criminals as inherently evil who should be killed on the spot, and to see cops as frustrated and bound by the Law, who should do what they can to dispense justice outside of the Law.
Almost every time a citizen is killed by cops, I hear the slogan "suicide by cop," implying that the victim wanted to die, and deliberately provoked a confrontation with law enforcement. I have acquaintances who parrot this slogan as soon as they hear of any police shooting, as if it's a statement of fact. It's actually a poor excuse for killing anybody, and not true in most cases. People who are suicidal need therapy, not execution. "Suicide by cop" originated with cops who were guilty of killing someone, and wanted to make it look like they had no choice.
Then we have the success of TV shows such as "Cops," featuring low life "criminals" and the officers who have to put up with them. I detect a connection to the pecking order in my friends who watch these programs, and in the way the shows are presented and promoted. Anyone in the viewing audience can get a sense of relief in knowing that they are superior to the alleged criminals, in intelligence, lifestyle, and actions. It's appalling to see how often the cops take down the suspects by attacking them physically, without any aggressive move by the suspects. They are obviously low-lifes, and deserve to get manhandled.
Ah, that old pecking order. We don't hear much about it anymore, at least not overtly, but it hasn't gone away. In the U.S. especially, one's place in the pecking order is largely defined by financial status, but you can't deny that police officers have a unique and solid position above most of us. In what other occupation can you order people around at gunpoint, and assault them physically, lie about them in court, and not only get away with it, but get paid for it? Law enforcement personnel will have a guaranteed safe place in the pecking order for a long time to come. They might have to give lip service in deference to the government, but they will be needed to maintain order no matter who is nominally in charge. What order are they maintaining? The status quo, of course. The pecking order.
How does the NRA weigh in? They seem to think that every meth dealer and street thug should have access to assault weapons.
Just what is the mission of Law Enforcement - catching criminals, or preserving order, or dispensing justice a la Dirty Harry, or maintaining a sustainable harvest of criminals so that police have job security,* or being in a position where they can order people around at gunpoint?
All of the above?
What do citizens think about those options?
Are police supposed to have the powers of judge, jury, and executioner?
Are the police really your employees? Do you have any kind of handle on their operations? Are you responsible for them? How?
Once again: You will be judged to be the same as others in your group. If people wearing your uniform are brutalizing a population, that population will resent you when you show up in the same uniform. The number one group you have to monitor is those who look like you.
Five people were lucky the night I was assaulted. I was lucky that it was 1996. If the incident had occurred in 2015, I might have been shot as I reached into my back pocket to get my wallet and I.D. Reaching for a pocket in front of police can be fatal nowadays. The officers were lucky that they assaulted an individual (me) who believed that I could bring them to justice through the American legal system. Other victims would not be so naive, and might have hunted the officers down and shot them.
Wendy was not lucky. She carried a tremendous fear, due to a previous assault (she had been stabbed nearly to death years earlier), and witnessing the attack on me only made it worse. She was constantly looking over her shoulder, afraid that she was being followed, and remained paranoid for the rest of her life. I recently learned that she was hit by a car several years ago, and died shortly afterwards.
Not sure if we should consider this lucky or not: The officers voluntarily joined the ranks of stupid criminals by arresting me and bringing charges against me, actions that turned out to be not too bright. They could have left me on the ground, and I would not have known any of their names. Perhaps I would have remembered Officer Aina's name but what good would that have done? As it turns out, not only do I (and all of you, dear readers) know their names, but get to review their lies and commitment to dishonesty. Aren't you glad that you don't have to work with such slugs?
Allow me to suggest a few options.
Don't call the cops if your friend or relative is overloaded with current problems, but not normally a threat to others or themselves. If they are holding a knife or club, or something that can't kill at a distance, you can back off and stay away. Cops by default seem to view possession of any weapon as an excuse to kill someone.
Do you have problems with a neighbor? Try talking to them first, before calling 911. Try talking to them before any problems come up.
If you, a relative, or a friend have been been criminally assaulted by Law Enforcement officers, don't retaliate with physical violence, and don't waste your time with Police Commissions or Courts. Do what I have done here with Polawa: get the names of the guilty into the public domain, and don't give up. See: the Police Wall of Shame.
On the other hand, lawsuits do provide a way to get the names, statements, and other information about the perpetrators. As we will see in Part 4 of Polawa, the officers couldn't keep their stories straight, and obviously conspired to lie. It was obvious to me that the Honolulu Police Commission simply ignored or glossed over discrepancies. They report that they do complete and impartial investigations, but that is just talk.
I wouldn't have learned most of this if I hadn't filed charges.
Do your own research. Maintain a skeptical attitude.
For the police, police commissions, and blue wall advocates: the police have too much to hide behind already. They have become increasingly insulated from justice, and this has passed the point of diminishing returns. Victims who are resentful of police crimes will take it into their own hands to retaliate. Is this a reversal of Dirty Harry, or are dirty cops just more "evil" criminals? The chickens have returned to the roost. What goes around comes around ...
* Maintaining a sustainable harvest of criminals, so the police have job security.
This is a topic that we don't have room for here, but "sustainable harvest" is a factor in many bureaucratic institutions. When I was working for a City transit bus system, one of the mantras was: "increased ridership equals increased job security." For law enforcement, that would mean increased - or at least manageable - crime. The world's diverse armies and navies need international conflicts in order to keep their jobs. In the U.S. the Homeland Security Agency depends on terrorist threats and illegal immigrants. The Police have a nice balance going with a pool of relatively harmless criminals that can be caught and processed steadily. None of these institutions are going to put themselves out of business any time soon by establishing peace, or catching all of the criminals.
When I observed a purse snatching in Waikiki, and followed the perp as he sped away in a car, I called 911 and informed HPD of what was going on. They pulled me over and allowed the thief to escape. Later, I asked a police contact about this, and he explained that they didn't want a speedy arrest and trial. That wouldn't provide much support for the bureaucracy, they needed to spread the work around, and share it. What they wanted was a case, so that the detectives, clerks, and other staff would have some work to do. More about this in Part Four.
OK, intermission is almost over. As I said earlier, quite a few of the issues I dealt with in the last century are still resonating in the U.S. twenty years later. We obviously have some issues to work on; I couldn't resist commenting on them.
Let's go back to December 30, 1996. After a brief trial, I had been declared "not guilty" by the judge. That was a relief, but I was stunned and angered, hearing all the lies from the officers testifying against me. My memory had been jogged, especially by hearing Ronald Lopes' smooth voice, and felt that now it was time to set the record straight, and bring some American Justice home to the officers.
Wendy had remained outside the courtroom, not sure if she would testify. She reported that the prosecutor had come out of the courtroom at one point and told the officers to shut up - they could be heard from inside the courtroom laughing and joking about the incident.
"They made a mistake," Wendy said. "They were waiting for someone else when we came along. But they didn't care. They had fun punching you out."