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Monday, April 20, 2009

To Speak Ill Of The Dead Says Something Of The Living

As I progress through the police misconduct tracking project and review each day’s stories of police misconduct, one of the many things I think about as I enter each dismal story of police misconduct that occurs across the US into Twitter and into my tracking database is; “which one of these stories might grow legs and go national this time?”

It’s a difficult thing to figure out, after all, since each story is deserving of equally broad attention to me. Whether it’s a story about several officers being arrested on allegations of raping prostitutes, some of them children, in Memphis or a story about thousands of cases falling into question or being dropped because of multiple allegations against officers of lying on warrant applications for drug raids in St. Louis... all of these stories need to be heard and all of their victims are equally deserving of a loud voice.

When a story of police misconduct does hit the national mainstream media though, I try to figure out what it is about that story that sparked broad interest out of the multitudes of stories put out each day across the US. I do this because it helps me figure out just what the public is willing to hear and what they believe about the issue of police misconduct.

The latest story going national appears to be the story about an Erie Pennsylvania police officer who decided it would be great for laughs at a local bar to denigrate the dead, speak ill of those who mourned that homicide victim, and jest about tasering and clubbing suspects… and who didn’t think it was a problem until the video of his performance ended up on YouTube.

So concerned was he, that he and a fellow officer, the officer put in charge of the investigation into his performance on that video, went down to the workplace of the videographer’s relative to threaten him into a state of crying hysterics, saying if he didn’t do everything he could to make that video go away that there would be consequences for his relative.

Incidentally, it’s also interesting to me why the video itself is still getting all the national interest while the backstory of the subsequent efforts by the police to investigate and punish the person who took the video instead of investigating and disciplining the officer shown on the video.

Most curious to me, though, was why a story about an officer's words, his state of mind, would capture attention more than an officer's actual harmful acts of misconduct? After giving the matter some thought, I think I’ve happened upon an answer.

The video shows what we’ve only guessed at so far in the way it gave us a startling glimpse at how some police officers really think. It affirmed our inner-most fears about the police in this nation, that many really do consider everyone who isn’t a fellow law enforcement brother as an enemy, whether that person is a victim, an innocent bystander, or a suspect… It gave us notice that, to many of them, we are all the same to them and worthy of the same amount of respect, which is very little going by how he talked about the shooting victim and his grieving mother.

It made people pause, I think, to consider that… if this is the way this officer held a shooting victim and his mother in his regard, how might this affect how he treated others throughout his career? After all, if he considers the loss of a life and the grief of a mother in such disregard, how then does he treat the living?

More than this, I think, it makes people wonder how many officers like this might be working for their local police department and how many times their own city’s police officers might have spoken ill about their family or friends who have died or have been victimized in some way... or how they will treat them when they are suffering or how they will be described as they slowly die and officers stand around to watch.

I think that, perhaps, this video gives us the most startling, and frank, insight into the “Us vs Them” mentality many police officers have towards the general public to date… and I suppose that I shouldn’t be shocked that this glimpse was so disturbing as to merit national attention, especially since so many are still so ignorant of that mentality and the capacity for abuse that it nurtures.

Beyond this, though, are his actions after his public commentary in a public place went more public than he anticipated. His attempt to bully and threaten the family of the man who took the video was merely an effort to save his own job, in his own words in fact… which goes to show that not only does he hold others in such low regard as to mock their suffering, but that he holds others in such low regard that his job is more important than their rights and freedom.

So, why did the video make more headlines than the police response to that video? Maybe it's because both of the stories together would be too large a glimpse into an officer’s disturbing psyche when it seems that even this small picture into the mind of a problematic cop in a short video clip may already be too much for the public to stomach.


Anonymous said...

"When a story of police misconduct does hit the national mainstream media though, I try to figure out what it is about that story that sparked broad interest out of the multitudes of stories"

It is interesting which stories make it big. Personally I'm shocked that all of the sex crimes committed by police don't receive more attention. If you can't tell your children they are safe around the police what does that say about our country? Instead of seeing the pattern they want to treat the many cases like these as isolated incidents.

deputy indicted for kidnapping and forcing teenage girl to perform sexual acts in his cruiser:

deputy with history of abuses will not go to prison for threatening teen girl with ticket for sex

It's the old, "Yes there's a few bad cops out there. They may have a bad attitude or over do it sometimes but overall they still do their job keeping us safe".

You're right, this story made national news because for once we got to see the thinking behind the behavior.

Five Before Midnight said...

It's interesting what stories receive more attention and which ones don't. Our last police officer story that went national was because it was a probational officer who was fired and then went to trial on manslaughter charges in connection with alleged war crimes in Fallujah.

There's lots of sex crimes and misconduct that seems to be more regional than national. But it's a serious problem. Occasionally, there are articles that deal with the issue in general in national publications but it's pretty rare. And in some cases, rumors about these officers precede their busts so you know that if these are true, then the behavior's been going on for longer than is claimed in arrest warrants and charge papers.

I'm also following the situation with the new San Jose police auditor who's already resigned when news came out that his brother is a San Jose Police Department officer. I guess this slipped through the vetting process or the community wasn't notified about any conflict of interest as they were supposed to be.

The last two auditors were very good including Barbara Attard who's still forwarding San Jose Police news through several email lists. She didn't get a second term by one vote b/c she tried to push for more independence and more powers for investigating police-involved deaths and shootings. A lot of people rooted for her but she was out.

Wonder what will happen next.

Five Before Midnight said...

We've got a local sheriff deputy on trial for rape under the color of authority and he testified yesterday.

I went to the prelim a year or so ago and it was very depressing and the guy just sized every woman who he passed in the corridor on break in a rather creepy way.

I think he'll probably get acquitted.

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