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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Why Threatening Bad Cops Makes No Sense

Depiction of a group of vigilante "baldknobbers" from the 1919 movie "The Sheppard Of The Hills".
Baldknobbers were groups of vigilantes in Arkansas and Missouri who were responsible not only for attacking horse thieves, but also murdering their critics and their families, as well as several racially motivated lynchings in the mid to late late 1800's and early 1900's.

An act of police misconduct is nothing more than vigilantism. In fact, there is no difference between a police officer beating someone they suspect might have committed a crime as a form of "street justice" or you beating someone up if you suspect they committed a crime.

When the world sees acts of police brutality, it evokes a strong reaction on several levels for most people. It makes us fear what police could do to us, it makes us wonder at the kinds of people we entrust with the power to enforce our laws, it causes us to question whether our justice system is still just, and it creates a sense of outrage that a person can get away with a crime just because of their chosen occupation.

Needless to say, there are numerous reasons why videotaped images of a 15-year-old girl being attacked by King County Sheriff's Deputy Paul Schene sparked strong emotions across the globe. It also takes little effort to understand the outrage the video of Oscar Grant's death created when it made it into the public square.

So strong, in fact, that the lawyers for Schene and Mehserle both reported that those officers, their families, and the lawyers themselves began to receive death threats after the stories went public.

But... what does it make any of us if we lower ourselves to the same level as an officer who we believe has committed a crime when we seek to circumvent the law and threaten the lives of those officers, their families, and those who's job it is to defend them in court?

Does it not make us exactly the same as those officers when we stoop to their level and try to be judge, jury, and executioner just like they did?

After all, how just is it when we seek to answer an injustice with injustice?

Aside from the ethical considerations, making threats against officers accused of misconduct is ultimately counterproductive on a number of levels... worst of all these is that it gives police unions the ammunition they need to pressure legislators into enacting new laws that let them hide acts of misconduct and escape justice without any public scrutiny...

In other words, threatening officers such as Paul Schene and Johannes Mehserle not only makes you the same as they are... it gives the future Schenes and Mehserles the ability to do the same things those officers are accused of without the fear of being caught...

Threatening officers accused of misconduct creates more misconduct, not less. It creates more injustice, not less. It gives them more power, not less.

It is, ultimately, wrongheaded to seek to become that which you seek to fight. Just as it is wrong for a police officer to resort to illegal tactics in the course of their job, it is wrong for us to resort to illegal tactics to answer those acts of injustice. In other words, it is wrong for us to become them in answer to what they have done.

So, for any of you out there who might think about threatening an officer who was accused of misconduct, or their families, or their lawyers.... please don't, because all that will accomplish is to create more monsters and make it harder for us to spot acts of misconduct... not to mention that it turns you into the very same monster that you seek to fight.

Don't believe me? Just see what happened in Baltimore when an officer received threats after a video of him attacking a teenager was released to the public.

Sure, the system as it is might let all these officers get away with such upsetting acts... but the answer is to fix the system so that they are treated like any of us are when we stand accused, not think yourself above it like those officers did when they broke the law under the guise of enforcing it.

If you think otherwise, you might as well put on one of their uniforms now, because you're more like them than you'll ever know.

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