This is a post I was a bit hesitant to write. Not out of laziness, haha, but because I have looked at so much "stuff" regarding this issue before, and have seen so many horrible things on the internet about police brutality in the USA, for example video clips which are hard to bear, that I really was tempted to turn my eyes away. Also, I live in a country where police brutality is not even an issue. The whole German police force for example fired 85 bullets against people in total in the year 2012, which some US police officers easily managed to do in just one single incident. But don't be surprised if US cops fire up to 600 bullets in a single incident, apparently in order to make sure that absolutely everyone is really dead, including the hostage in this case as well.
Although there are of course single acts of police brutality each year in Germany as well, it is certainly not a widespread problem. Nobody here in Germany is "afraid" of the police in daily encounters, because there is just no reason for it. Also, the police forces in Germany are very well trained and educated. I am not saying that everything is perfect in this respect, no, there will always be "overzealous" or even bad policemen who might be too aggressive, or rude, but there is absolutely no indication that this is a common problem in Germany. Therefore, police misconduct is not a problem I myself encounter in daily life.
However, the problem of police brutality in the USA, especially the problem of US police officers killing citizens in cases where there is no apparent "self-defence situation" has become so horrifying, so shocking, so widespread, that it is just impossible to turn a blind eye. As bloggers we should try to make our modest contribution in order to tackle the issue.
The problem is complicated. There are also quite a lot of police officers killed "in the line of duty" each year in the USA. Wikipedia lists 103 deaths of US policemen so far for 2014, with varies causes, for example gunfire and accidents, a number of deaths which is of course far too high, and should not be accepted as "normal." However, journalists and bloggers reported that the statistics are particularly appalling when one looks in the other direction. It was for example reported in 2013 that from September 9, 2001 until November 2013, no less than 5000 citizens are believed to have been killed by US police forces within this time frame, although this is partially an estimate.
As the recent weeks have shown, police officers in the USA who kill citizens "in the line of duty" virtually never have to fear legal consequences, however shocking or unnecessary the killing might have been. It is not true however that every single killing by a police officer has no legal consequences. Yesterday, the BBC published an article in which they reported that they found a few cases where US police officers were actually charged. But in the very rare event of such a case going to court, an accused police officer does not lose certain privileges, as the BBC notes:
And once a case goes to court, and even a conviction, the tendency to give police officers every benefit appears to extend to the sentencing as well.
After his conviction, Blackwelder was given five years probation for the crime. He had faced up to 20 years based on the charge.
So what is going on here? What is the general problem? Well, there certainly exist lots of different problems, and to mention them all would be impossible in just one post.
However, one fact seems to be more than obvious, if not proven:
The issue of awful policing is not confined to a few police forces, but exists in many cities, in many police forces. It seems to be rooted in the system.
From the Huffington Post:
The various reports by the Department of Justice that the Huffington Post is quoting from read like reports from some third world country. There really is no nicer way to put it. The reports are absolutely frightening, and they clearly show that the problems have their roots in the system: The standards of training and supervision within the police forces are often shockingly bad.
One starts to wonder: Who actually supervises the local police forces on a regular basis? Who ensures that the police is properly trained? Nobody?
For example, from the 2014 report about the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) - read the PDF:
The Huffington Post quotes from further reports, where the Department of Justice reviewed the conduct of other police forces, and the results are equally terrible:
- New Orleans Police Department
- Newark Police Department
- Portland Police Bureau
- Seattle Police Department
The problems which are being mentioned in the reports often sound very similar. From the report about the Seattle Police Department:
In addition, just a few days ago, another report was published, about Cleveland Police Department, the police force which was responsible for killing 12-year-old Tamir Rice. The findings do not really come as a surprise, in light of the other reports, as the findings again sound very familiar indeed:
Excerpt from the report:
Why are so many police forces in the USA in such a terrible state, I would like to ask?
The police should aim to recruit the best and brightest, right? After all, you do not want incompetent police officers to make quick decisions about life and death, concerning US citizens, as well as other people?
This is what we would like to think, however there are reports which claim that exactly the opposite is the case:
Mr. Robert Jordan of New London, Conn. wanted to become a cop. The first step in that jurisdiction is for applicants to take a Wonderlic test. Many Americans have heard of this exam because NFL prospects must take it as part of the draft process.
Jordan took the test on March 16, 1996 and scored a 33 (out of 50). He was not allowed to move on to the next stage of the application process because he scored too high on the test. The City of New London defended its policy, saying Jordan scored too far above the “normative median” of 21 and would “get bored” with the job and quit. The average NFL player also scores around 20 on the test, according to Bleacher Report.
Mr. Jordan filed a discrimination lawsuit in federal court alleging a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The district court dismissed the case, ruling that New London’s policy is “rational.” The U.S. Second Circuit Court Of Appeals affirmed. In other words, it is legal for police departments to purposely hire the least intelligent individuals they can find. (...)
A 2010 Michigan State University study found that cops with a two or four-year degree resorted to using force 56 percent of the time, while those with only a GED or high school diploma used force 68 percent of the time. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found in 2003 that 83 percent of U.S. police agencies require cops only to have a GED or high school diploma, and only one percent require a four-year college degree.
You have to be joking...!
The standards of training and conduct are one thing - and then there are also the actual "policies" which are being enforced. How good are they? Do they work?
Matt Taibbi writes in Rolling Stone about the controversial "Broken Windows" strategy, which in reality causes many more problems than it supposedly solves, when being enforced vigorously, as shown in the tragic case of Eric Garner:
The Garner case was a perfect symbol of everything that's wrong with the proactive police tactics that are now baseline policy in most inner cities. Police surrounded the 43-year-old Garner after he broke up a fight. The officers who responded to that call then decided to get in Garner's face for the preposterous crime of selling "loosies," i.e. single cigarettes from a pack.
When the police announced that they were taking him in to run him for the illegal tobacco sale, Garner balked and demanded to be left alone. A few minutes later he was in a choke hold, gasping "I can't breathe," and en route to fatal cardiac arrest.
On the tape you can actually hear the echo of Garner's years of experience with Broken Windows-style policing, a strategy based on a never-ending stream of small intrusive confrontations between police and residents in target neighborhoods.
The ostensible goal of Broken Windows is to quickly and efficiently weed out people with guns or outstanding warrants. You flood neighborhoods with police, you stop people for anything and everything and demand to see IDs, and before long you've both amassed mountains of intelligence about who hangs with whom, and made it genuinely difficult for fugitives and gunwielders to walk around unmolested.
You can make the argument that the policies work, as multiple studies have cited "hot spot" policing as a cause of urban crime-rate declines (other studies disagree, but let's stipulate).
But the psychic impact of these policies on the massive pool of everyone else in the target neighborhoods is a rising sense of being seriously pissed off. They're tired of being manhandled and searched once a week or more for riding bikes the wrong way down the sidewalk (about 25,000 summonses a year here in New York), smoking in the wrong spot, selling loosies, or just "obstructing pedestrian traffic," a.k.a. walking while black.
This is exactly what you hear Eric Garner complaining about in the last moments of his life. "Every time you see me, you want to mess with me," he says. "It stops today!"
Matt Taibbi adds:
This policy of constantly badgering people for trifles generates bloodcurdling anger in "hot spot" neighborhoods with industrial efficiency. And then something like the Garner case happens and it all comes into relief. Six armed police officers tackling and killing a man for selling a 75-cent cigarette.
That was economic regulation turned lethal, a situation made all the more ridiculous by the fact that we no longer prosecute the countless serious economic crimes committed in this same city. A ferry ride away from Staten Island, on Wall Street, the pure unmolested freedom to fleece whoever you want is considered the sacred birthright of every rake with a briefcase.
If Lloyd Blankfein or Jamie Dimon had come up with the concept of selling loosies, they'd go to their graves defending it as free economic expression that "creates liquidity" and should never be regulated.
Taking it one step further, if Eric Garner had been selling naked credit default swaps instead of cigarettes – if in other words he'd set up a bookmaking operation in which passersby could bet on whether people made their home mortgage payments or companies paid off their bonds – the police by virtue of a federal law called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act would have been barred from even approaching him.
There were more cops surrounding Eric Garner on a Staten Island street this past July 17th then there were surrounding all of AIG during the period when the company was making the toxic bets that nearly destroyed the world economy years ago. Back then AIG's regulator, the OTS, had just one insurance expert on staff, policing a company with over 180,000 employees.
This is the crooked math that's going to crash American law enforcement if policies aren't changed. We flood poor minority neighborhoods with police and tell unwitting officers to aggressively pursue an interventionist strategy that sounds like good solid policing in a vacuum.
Finally, I would highlight one particular, tragic case which is very well documented, from 2013. This case also shows that the victims of "excessive police force" are of course not always black, and this case again exposes the shocking incompetence so often observed within US police forces these days.
The victim in this case was David Silva from Bakersfield, California, here seen with his wife and his four children, who now have to spend their lives without him:
This basically a "textbook case" of what can go wrong if incompetent, poorly trained police officers are at work - from the local news:
Dad who died during arrest 'begged for his life'; witness videos seized
Blood stains are still visible on the sidewalk at the corner of Flower Street and Palm Drive, where a Bakersfield man struggled with as many as nine officers and later died this week.
David Sal Silva, 33 and the father of four young children, died early Wednesday morning after deputies say he fought with them and CHP officers who'd responded to a report of a possibly intoxicated man outside Kern Medical Center.
The question on everyone's mind: Why hasn't video footage of Silva been released?
Debate erupts over cell phone video of Silva beating by officers. Witness: "I can still hear him."
The Kern County Sheriff's Office says Silva resisted, a canine was deployed, more law enforcement arrived, batons were used and the man later had trouble breathing. He was taken to KMC, where he died. An autopsy was slated for Thursday, but no results have been released.
Some witnesses apparently took cellphone video of the incident but deputies moved quickly to seize the phones. The Sheriff's Office, after releasing a statement Wednesday and naming its officers Thursday, declined all further comment.
People who say they witnessed the incident as well as Silva's family members described a scene in which deputies essentially were beating a helpless man to death. They were indignant that cellphone video had been taken away by deputies.
"My brother spent the last eight minutes of his life pleading, begging for his life," said Christopher Silva, 31, brother of the dead man. He said he's talked to witnesses but did not see the incident himself.
At about midnight, Ruben Ceballos, 19,was awakened by screams and loud banging noises outside his home. He said he ran to the left side of his house to find out who was causing the ruckus.
"When I got outside I saw two officers beating a man with batons and they were hitting his head so every time they would swing, I could hear the blows to his head," Ceballos said.
Silva was on the ground screaming for help, but officers continued to beat him, Ceballos said.
After several minutes, Ceballos said, Silva stopped screaming and was no longer responsive.
"His body was just lying on the street and before the ambulance arrived one of the officers performed CPR on him and another one used a flashlight on his eyes but I'm sure he was already dead," Ceballos said.
However, there is not just this newspaper report. There is also the following gripping, shocking TV-report, which simply has to be seen and gives this case another dimension, which goes far beyond a printed report in the newspaper:
We should not forget that behind the statistics are these unbearably tragic cases - and very many of them.
Things have to change.
Police officers should not have special legal protections, when it comes to killing and assault.
The same laws should apply to everybody. When a police officer for example kills somebody, then a court, a prosecutor should apply the laws which also apply to other citizens. That is how it for example works in Germany, and it works very well, there are no problems with this concept at all. In addition, this most likely is one of the main reasons why for example German police in 2012 only killed six people in total - in a country with 80 million citizens.
Why should police officers have the right to kill somebody, if it is not in self-defence?
I don't know if this concept sounds too radical. I do not believe it is, and it works in other countries.
All I know is that these kind of headlines are totally unacceptable:
Things have to change, or they will likely get much, much worse.
Have a good weekend, everybody!
One of the first steps in trying to contain police brutality in the USA could be improving the training standards. As the reviews of the Department of Justice showed, there apparently exist huge problems in this respect all over the country, and significant differences between the police forces. In the USA, each police force seems to have their very own rules and standards regarding the training of police recruits. While it is possible to find police forces where recruits only have to train for 14 weeks, it was reported that the average training time for a police recruit is about 19 weeks. It some cases, training can be up to six months, but this seems to be the exception.
Afterwards, a police officer in the USA then usually enters into a probationary period, and this seems to vary a lot as well, depending on the police force, from several months up to 18 months. From what I have read, the average there seems to be about one year.
I can only compare this with the rules in my own country, and it is quite striking to me that police training in Germany is not only much more "standardized", but also significantly longer. In Germany, the individual states ("Länder") control the local police forces, but there seem to be few differences from state to state. I found an English presentation from the German Police University, which is a joint institution for all police forces, where an overview is given. A police recruit in Germany will undergo training for 2 1/2 years, and in order to rise up the ranks, candidates need to complete Bachelor and Master courses at the state police academies or the Police University. This system aims to ensure a high overall standard of education with the German police forces.
Some slides from this presentation:
From a different presentation (Berlin School of Economics and Law):
Such a system can provide high unified police standards all over the country.