Police Departments Institutionalizing Violence

It seems like every day I read an article about police brutality like this one.

So often these stories of beat-downs, and even shootings, start with minor offenses such as speeding or jaywalking. In the story linked above, an 84-year-old man jaywalked in New York City. The police were apparently doing enhanced enforcement in the area due to a number of accidents involving pedestrians. KangWong got caught up in the dragnet. Witnesses said Wong didn’t understand the cop, according to the New York Post story.

‘The guy didn’t seem to speak English. The cop walked him over to the Citibank near the northeast corner of 96th and Broadway,’ said one witness, Ian King, a Fordham University law student.

‘[The officer] stood him up against the wall and was trying to write him a ticket. The man didn’t seem to understand, and he started walking away.

‘The cop tried to pull him back, and that’s when he began to struggle with the cop,’ said King, 24. ‘As soon as he pushed the cop, it was like cops started running in from everywhere.’

The beating left Wong bloody and bruised.

I posted the link on my Facebook page with a somewhat sarcastic message. “Keeping us safe by beating up old men.”

A lot of people get upset when anybody criticizes law enforcement. They argue that a few bad apples don’t spoil the whole barrel and that the cops in these stories don’t represent the majority of police officers walking the streets. But the fact that this story repeats day after day after day indicates that some deeper problem likely exists.

Honestly, I agree that most cops are not ‘bad people.’ But the problem is they work within an institution that has become increasingly obsessed with authoritarianism and violence. Sadly, even ‘good’ people eventually buy into their institutional culture. And when that culture embraces aggressive violence as an acceptable first response to any perceived resistance to its authority, it leads to old men getting the crap beat out of them because they try to walk away from a jaywalking ticket.

If I had any doubt about this hypothesis, it vanished completely when a friend from college who now works as a law enforcement officer responded to my Facebook post.

It’s funny how titles to articles are so misleading from reporters with a personal agenda. The cops didn’t send him to the hospital for jaywalking, they sent him to the hospital for pushing a cop that was trying to write him a ticket and then resisting the cop. The witness even confirmed it. Touch a cop and you better spend a couple days in the hospital before going to jail!

There you have it: a cop justifies beating up an old man because he dared “touch a cop.” And if you don’t show proper deference, you deserve a trip to the hospital too.

Gross.

Let me make something perfectly clear: no justification exists for beating down an unarmed 84-year-old man.

None.

I’ve heard the arguments. Cops face grave danger every day. They don’t know what they might be walking into. They must use overwhelming force so they can go home to their families at night.

Hogwash.

I’m sorry Mr. Officer, sir, if you can’t gain control of an old man guilty of nothing more than jaywalking without violence, you have no business with a badge, much less a deadly weapon strapped to your hip.

My friend’s comment points directly at the heart of the problem. Police department training and culture leads officers to believe any affront to their authority justifies an aggressive response. What do you expect? We’ve outfitted them with body armor, military fatigues, assault rifles and tanks. We’ve convinced them that they serve on the front line of a “War on Drugs.” We’ve militarized our “peace officers.” Why should it cause surprise when they behave like soldiers on the battlefield?

We’ve turned America into a police state.

You can’t lay all the blame at the feet of the cops. I blame nanny-state politicians who think they need to pass laws to protect us from ourselves. Of course, cops must enforce the laws. And law enforcement relies on coercion and violence. The result? Cops trying to protect an old man from getting hit by a car beat the hell out of him. Cops trying to keep a kid from smoking weed shoot him in a drug raid. Cops meant to protect, harm.

It must change. But it never will as long as most Americans embrace the notion that every negative behavior needs a law passed to stop it and every act by a cop is justified.

This post will make some people mad. I have friends who are cops. This will probably make them mad. I don’t care anymore. I’m tired of reading every day about somebody getting his teeth kicked in by law enforcement officers. I’m tired of the violence and coercion.

Michael Giordano sums it up better than I ever could.

Some might say it is unproductive to go after the police and the military but here’s the thing. Americans worship these institutions on a cultural level.

Until you deal with that, you will never reign in the police state or our out of control foreign policy, and if you fail to reign those things in you will never get government out of people’s lives or get spending under control.

They provide the cultural underpinnings of the government’s reasons for nearly everything it does and the general complacency with which Americans accept those actions.

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