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Sunday, March 1, 2009

What Happens To Justice When There Is No Video


The video of a 15-year-old girl being ruthlessly beaten by a much larger King County Sheriff's Deputy sparked interest across the globe, as it rightly should. Many don't believe that such abuse happens, and even with such videos there are many who still say that the girl, and any others brutalized by police, must have deserve it for some reason or another.

It makes us mindful of how far a climb we still face in convincing people that police accountability and transparency is necessary to protect the public from those that are entrusted with power to enforce our laws, lest they become lawless themselves. When even brutal videos like this cannot persuade many that abuse happens and shouldn't happen... what else can we do?

But more to the point, and I hope those reading excuse my brutal frankness, the girl that you see in that video is lucky.

No, she is not fortunate for being assaulted by a deputy that refused to control his rage, even when he knew full well that his actions would be recorded. But she is fortunate that her case was one of the very few that are recorded by video... and doubly so that this video actually made it into public view.

For every one case like this, there are hundreds that are not filmed, that are not witnessed, and that never reach the light of public view.

Even so, even when cameras record police brutality here in Seattle, Washington (in the middle of King County), and even when an internal investigation concludes such assaults were excessive force, and even when, as was true in Schene's case, the officer is less than truthful about such events, such as what happened in Mark Hays' case here in Seattle last year... there is still often no justice to be had.

If having video is a steep hill, imagine the cliff one faces when the brutality or mistreatment they suffer at the hands of police or jail guards is not recorded. imagine how hard it is to keep that to yourself for the rest of your life while knowing that if you tell others you'll be judged to have "deserved it somehow."

Imagine never being able to trust in the police again, knowing that you could never call them if you were the victim of a crime out of fear of being attacked again.

Imagine, being one of the hundreds whose story is never told, who never find justice, who never have lawyers take their case, or people all over the world demanding justice for them... but, of course, justice is not just a sack of money given to a victim to pay for their medical bills and the suffering they went through at the hands of the police. Nor is it just about holding the officer who did the crime to account.. it's more than that.

In response to the video I received a few messages from readers who felt the need to tell their own stories, one of which agreed to have it published...

I forgot the year but it was in the mid 80's. I wish I would have done something about it then but I was young and stupid.

I had been at the J&M cafe in Pioneer Square with fisherman friends from Alaska. We drove up to capitol hill, (a section of Seattle), to a house where a guy I met lived to see if his sister wanted to come with us for a little more fun on the town.

We pulled up to the house and I got out of the passenger side of the vehicle and went up to the house, knocked on the door and a guy answered and said no one was home.

I walked back to the car and got in and the driver started the car and all of a sudden police lights went off behind us. We had not moved at all. The police officer went to the driver's window and asked for license and registration. He immediately came to my side and tapped on the window. I rolled it down and he said step out of the vehicle.

I had a lit cigarette in my hand and as I got out he said put that cigarette out. I took one more puff and threw it down and the next thing I know the officer jumped me and threw me to the ground. (He) started hammering my face in the pavement as he kept saying "I said get your hands behind your back!" My hands were already behind my back but he kept beating me!

As he continued the beating he put the handcuffs on and pulled me up by my hair. Another officer had arrived and grabbed me and slammed me on the hood of his patrol car. A car was coming down the street and he immediately grabbed me by the hair again and walked me to the middle of the road. He slammed me on the hood of the oncoming car after they came to a stop. And he yelled! "This is what your going to look like if you don't get the fuck out of this neighborhood!"

They loaded me into a squad car and charged me with resisting arrest and threatening an officer. My face was covered with blood. They released me in the middle of the night from a holding cell with no medical attention.

I had a public defender come to my court hearing sometime later. He said that the officers statement reflected his concern that I was going to burn him with my cigarette. I remember the judge as she looked at the paperwork shaking her head and then calling my attorney up for a private conversation. At that point all charges were dismissed and my attorney said that's it, it's over. The charges were dropped.

I wish there was something to this day that I could do about it! They should have paid for what they did. God knows how many more people were beat by those officers. This had a profound effect on my life and the fact that I have no regard for law enforcement.

Thanks for providing a venue online to share this information. This is the first time I have talked about it since the incident.

You see, justice is supposed to be about returning a victim's life to as close to as it was before that person became a victim of another person's crime. It's also supposed to act as a deterrent for others who might think of committing the same crime in the future.

Yet, for victims of detainee abuse, there is never either, even when they win a civil suit. Because effective reforms never come that would help prevent future attacks. Officers often remain on the force to attack others in the future. And the victim must now face the world with the understanding that, while police might be there to protect others from criminals, nothing really protects them from the police.

Without reforms, there is no justice... and without video, for many, there isn't even acknowledgment that they were the victim of a crime... there is never anything even close to a normal life ever again.

The girl you've seen in that video still faces a tall hill to find a life that approaches normal again, even though she's lucky that the video was recorded and released... The rest of us, in the absence of video, still sit at the bottom of a cliff wondering if change will ever be possible when videos like this can't even move a molehill.

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